Portugal // Porto and the Rio Douro //

Vila Nova de Foz Côa

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Sitting high above the Côa valley, 60km southeast of Pinhão, the small town of VILA NOVA DE FOZ CÔA would attract no interest at all had it not been for the discovery in 1992 of the most extensive array of outdoor paleolithic art in Europe. The engravings are of a similar style to those found in caves elsewhere, but their uniqueness lies in the fact that they are carved outside on exposed rock faces in a river valley. With the oldest dated at around 23,000 years, their survival is remarkable, and they are now under protection as both National Monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are three rock-art sites to visit, though the restrictions on numbers and visiting hours mean you can’t see more than two in any one day. Depending on how keen you are, this might mean an overnight stop in Foz Côa, though there is no earthly reason otherwise to stay. Although the blistering midsummer heat and winter cold makes it hard to believe, the town benefits from a Mediterranean microclimate, proof of which is provided by the locally produced almonds, fruit, cheese, wine and – especially – olive oil, among the country’s finest. The monthly market is on the first Tuesday of the month next to the football field, and the blossoming of almond trees draws the crowds in late February and early March.

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