Peneda-Gerês, Portugal's Only National Park, As Seen By National Geographic

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Peter Essick/National Geographic

The village of Pitões das Júnias is in Peneda-Gerês, Portugal's first and only national park. At 270 square miles, it's small compared to sprawling parks such as Yellowstone, the world's first national park.
The village of Pitões das Júnias is in Peneda-Gerês, Portugal's first and only national park. At 270 square miles, it's small compared to sprawling parks such as Yellowstone, the world's first national park.

But packed within its borders is a highly concentrated mixture of things wild and domesticated. Forty endangered Iberian wolves share the terrain with some 11,000 people, who live in more than 80 settlements formed long before the park was established in 1971.

In fact, people and wildlife have lived in close proximity here since the Stone Age. Whether they exist today in delicate equilibrium or constant tension depends on whom you ask.

Tucked into a craggy corner of northern Portugal, hard against the Spanish border, Peneda-Gerês is carved by mountain ranges, rivers, canyons, gorges, and streams. Most villages are situated in the lower valleys, where the climate is milder and the terrain more accommodating to people and livestock. The park's wild heart is in the high country, a realm of rugged granite massifs, windswept moors, and bare uplands greened in places by stands of giant holly.

Text courtesy of National Geographic. All photos by Peter Essick for the July issue of National Geographic, on newsstands now.

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Portugal's Peneda-Gerês
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Peneda-Gerês, Portugal's Only National Park, As Seen By National Geographic (PHOTOS)

A blend of wilderness and civilization, Portugal's Peneda-Gerês National Park faces a tricky challenge: Protecting nature while accommodating people.

Matted with mosses and hairy with epiphytes, an oak forest flourishes in the Homem Valley. Peneda-Gerês encompasses a mosaic of natural habitats, from verdant valleys to stony summits.

Windowpane clear and bracingly cold, the Homem River and other swimming spots draw thousands of visitors to Peneda-Gerês on summer weekends.


The seasonal invasion challenges the park's year-round residents and wildlife.

Sure-footed even on the sheerest heights, the Iberian wild goat is recolonizing the park. The first goats crossed the border from a contiguous park in Spain about a decade ago and now number about a hundred individuals.

Perched on stone posts to keep mice at bay, traditional corn cribs and their nearby threshing floors have been centers of agricultural life since the 17th century—shortly after Portuguese and Spanish explorers brought back corn from the New World.

National Geographic's July issue

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