10 Glimpses of Northern Portugal: 4.Parque Arqueológico do Vale do Cóa

If prehistory is your thing then you will want to visit the Coa Valley.   In the early 1990’s,  engravings were discovered when the area was being surveyed for a dam.   Thanks to national and international pressure,  plans for the dam were shelved and archaeologists moved in.   To date,  thousands of engravings have been found at the UNESCO listed site.   While much of the art is difficult to make out,  open air sites are rare (there are numerous art sites in caves) so its worth giving up the wine tasting for a half day and venturing into the great outdoors!

The park is huge and is a working site so you have to go with a guide.   We were offered a tour to the Ribeira de Piscos site with Gloria who was our driver and guide for the morning.   Seven of us bundled into her jeep and bumped our way for over 30 minutes before walking about 2km in total.


Off we go…..




….are we there yet?





The river bed is dry at the moment (June).



The engravings are spread out along the ribeira on vertical schist slabs like this one.

DSC_6298 (1)


The art is either carved,  incised or picked but rarely painted.



The engravings date from 22,000 to 10,000BC so there are variations in style,  theme and development.











Sometimes we need extra help to see the complete drawing.   It can look like very little at times but Gloria and the other guides put it all in context and bring it to life.





The trail opens out into the lovely Coa Valley.

Eyes right….


…eyes left….


….evidence of a recent dig can be spotted directly across the river from us.



I’m not sure about this bit…



What do you think?



One of us should go….



I’ll just hold the sketches for everyone…



My hero!



Doesn’t look so bad from this angle!



I’ll just have a look around while I’m waiting…









I recognise this one – almonds.  Apparently the micro climate here is perfect for them.



We’d spotted what looked like an abandoned village on the way to the site and Gloria stopped on the way back so we could have a look around.





This is an abandoned pigeon house – the landscape around here is dotted with them.   At the beginning of the 20th century pigeons were raised for meat and the guano was used in the fields.   There are pigeon holes inside and a raised table for collecting the guano.DSC_6393

There’s a posh one – nicely painted and has a roof!



Back at the museum,  state of the art technology is used to present the findings.








Small Stuff


Getting There:

All tours set out from the museum in Vila Nova de Foz Coa.   The museum is actually about 3km out of town but is well signposted.


Tour Options:

There are actually 23 art sites with 3 of them open to the public.   The tours vary in length (ours lasted almost 3 hours) but not all will be available to you in your given language so keep an open mind and be prepared to taken what’s offered.   You have to book in advance.   (You could of course,  opt for 2 tours – a morning trip and then out again in the afternoon).

Parque Arqueologico do Vale do Coa



It works out at €15 per head but there’s a minimum tour cost of €40 if there’s no one else around (unlikely in high season of course!)

You will pay your guide directly so bring cash.



Our tour (Ribeira de Piscos) was the one with most driving and walking.   It would not suit anyone with mobility issues.   At least one of the other tours allows the jeep to park right beside the engravings so there should be an option to suit most people.


What to Bring:

Just the usual common sense stuff – walking shoes,  water,  hat,  sun screen….

Don’t wear your white jeans!




The museum is well worth a visit even if you’re in the area and don’t get a tour.   If you are going on a tour then try and get to the museum beforehand – it will help put things in context and add to the experience.


Food and Drink:

There is a cafe in the museum and a few places around town.




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