AH Sortelha – AH Castelo Mendo
Great Bicycle Route
Castelo Mendo, Sortelha
Places of passage: Urgueira, Sabugal, Ozendo, Soito, Alfaiates, Rebolosa, Aldeia da Ribeira, Vilar Maior, Malhada Sorda, Freineda.
This route starts from Devesa, going up close to Portela de Sortelha, at a height of about 800m. From there, it begins to descend, crossing the Nave stream and the tar road. The descent continues along a dirt road towards Urgueira, where it separates from the Meimoa-Sortelha Dam leg. After passing the centre of the village of Urgueira, the route turns northeast towards the Côa valley, to Souto do Rio, where it turns right, before crossing the river and going up to the castle of Sabugal. Before going up to the Castle, the GR22 crosses the GR of the Côa valley, which follows the river from its source to its mouth. After crossing the old centre, the route takes a right on Praça da República towards the industrial area, circling it from the south and turning right, to the east, in an unpaved path. It passes the Arnes stream and continues until it meets the road, near the village of Torre. Inside the village, the route turns right onto D. Dinis street and just outside the village it turns left, entering a series of pathways to the road that goes into Ozendo from the south. Going north from the Amoreira street, the route crosses a less populated area, passing by marshes on the way to Soito, which is reached from the northwest. Leaving Soito, next to the chapel of São Brás, it crosses the road and turns right on a cobbled road. From there, it goes down walled paths between farming fields and it passes the Alfaiates stream, to find the dam further ahead and then the village that gives it its name. Crossing Alfaiates, the route heads towards Rebolosa where, next to the Bullring, it reaches a path that goes up to Cesarão river. It follows this river, first until the village of Ribeira, then until Vilar Maior, passing through livestock farming fields, with cattle gates on the way. In Vilar Maior, it crosses the village and continues along the Medieval Bridge over the Cesarão river, rising towards Malhada Sorda. It crosses the village and goes down dirt roads to the place of Medronhal, near the Côa river. There the stone railway bridge across the valley can be seen. The route moves away from the river and begins to go up to Freineda, passing through the centre of the village and leaving it, heading west. It crosses the railway line and starts to go down the Côa valley, crossing the river by a riverside beach (the crossing may not be possible during winter; check the map for an alternative way). Then begins a demanding climb to the HV of Castelo Mendo.
Fauna and Flora
_SORTELHA_ Since the HV of Sortelha is mainly a granite area, when we pass through the village of Santo Antóni, which is a schist area, we witness a clear change of landscape. There is a significant patch of Pyrenean oak, where Western Bonelli's warblers can be found and where chestnuts and heathers most often appear. The diversity of the avifauna is linked to the diversity of habitats, which means we will find bird species associated with the forest, such as the Eurasian jay or the European green woodpecker. Among the existing shrub species, we highlight the narrow-leaved mock privet, the common hawthorn, the broom, and the purple gromwell. _URGUEIRA_ A mosaic of meadows delimited by walls and lines of Pyrenean oaks. The meadows are used to feed cattle, but they house an interesting faunal variety. Different species of butterflies, such as the Cardinal (Argynnis pandora), the great banded grayling (Brintesia circe), and the Spanish festoon (Zerynthia rumina), are merely some of those that give a colourful dynamic to the green meadows. Flocks of Iberian magpies (Cyanopica cooki) noisily roam the fields and the spotless starlings (Sturnus unicolor) walk around on the ground, following the cattle and the bugs they shake off. Meanwhile, the black redstart (Phoenicuros ochruros) wanders around on the roofs and backyards of the village. There are also some centuries-old chestnut trees here, some of them already dead, but still conveying respect for sheer size. _SABUGAL_ In this area, the Côa river goes around the west part of the village, from the south to the north. This sector of the river and its gallery of alders have been designed for leisure space. However, it is a good place to appreciate the behaviour of some birds, such as the common kingfisher (Alcedo athis), the short-toed tree creeper (Certhia brachydactyla), the grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), and several tits. The high Côa, with its cold and oxygenated waters, presents excellent conditions for the brown trout (Salmo trutta) and the Iberian frog (Rana iberica), a small endemic amphibian of the northwest of the peninsula. About two kilometers upstream, the river has been dammed at Sabugal Dam. In the reservoir you can find the great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), the great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus), and the red kite (Milvus milvus), among other bird species. _SOITO_ Set in a flatter landscape, the surroundings of Soito make up a complex tracery of plots of land, representing an agroforestry mosaic of great ecological value. Some of the plots are farming fields, while others are grazing land for cattle, especially bovines. These smallholdings are almost always bordered by granite walls with hedges of shrub species, such as the common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), or tree species, such as the Pyrenean oak (Quercus pyrenaica). Crossed by numerous waterways, they are protected by a gallery of narrow-leaved ashes (Fraxinus angustifolia), also with some willows. This particular habitat offers conditions for the existence of a great diversity of fauna, of which we highlight the Iberian magpie (Cyanopica cooki), the common genet (Genetta genetta), and the Iberian emerald lizard (Lacerta schreiberi). _VILAR MAIOR_ Vilar Maior is situated on a granitic hill that reaches almost 800 meters in height, nestled between the valleys of the Cesarão river and the Alfaiates stream. In the slopes of these watercourses, and in the plateau zone, there is an important patch of Pyrenean oaks (Quercus pyrenaica) together with evergreen oaks (Quercus rotundifolia). By the castle, during spring and summer, a large colony of common swifts (Apus apus) can be seen, but the blue rock thrush (Monticola solitarius), the rock sparrow (Petronia petronia), and the black redstart (Phoenicuros ochruros) can also be found here. During winter, this whole area of the bank becomes an important wintering spot for the red kite (Milvus milvus), an endangered species. Also worthy of highlight is the Guadarrama wall lizard (Podarcis guadarramae), an Iberian endemism associated with rocky environments. _CASTELO MENDO_ In the framework of the Historical Village of Castelo Mendo, we are in an environment of cereal crops; however, in the wetter areas, we can find orchids of the genus Serapias. After crossing the Côa river, we enter a more open area with less trees, where some patches of oak trees and evergreen oaks can be found. This is an area where grassy plants predominate and where fields are now bordered by stone walls. Species such as the white stork, the black kite, the Montagu's harrier, the northern wheatear, or the red-capped lark can be seen. It is also noteworthy that in the valley of the Alfaiates stream, among the narrow-leaved ashes and the alder trees, there is an abundance of Eurasian blue tits, Eurasian blackcaps, wrens, and Western Bonelli's warblers, among other species.