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Cultural landscape as a key resource for tourism in protected

areas converging initiatives in Upper Minho
Andreia Pereira
Centro de Estudos em Geografia e Ordenamento do Territrio (CEGOT)
Phd student in Physical Geography in the Faculty of Arts of the University of Coimbra.
PhD fellowship of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology

Upper Minho, placed in north-western Portugal, is a predominantly rural
territory, marked by an ancient and intense, though scattered, human
occupation that encompasses outstanding landscapes with a strong cultural
dimension. The interest on the preservation of this singular landscape mosaic
and of the ecological values in this region encouraged a number of
classification processes, which lead to the creation of several protected areas,
headed by city councils or associations of municipalities. The sustainability of
these cultural landscapes relies on the survival, renewal and competitive
adaptation of the agro-pastoral systems that ensure their maintenance. Thereby,
alternative ways must be found to make economically viable these rural
communities, through an integrated approach that brings together the
promotion of local and traditional products with the development of a tourism
offer anchored in natural and cultural heritage.
Committed with this challenge, this research work aims to:
Promote the acknowledgment of cultural landscape unities at a regional
Conduct a broad analysis of the regional tourism offer centred in the
protected areas;
Complete the diagnostic of tourism routes and pathways at a regional
Show how the identification and characterization of cultural landscape
unities may be a crucial instrument for the conception of interpretative
touristic itineraries;
Propose a product of cultural and landscape touring in Serra de Arga.
In this way, we intend to enhance the interest of exploring the specificity of
cultural landscapes for territorial marketing, place branding and tourism.
1. Nature based Tourism: trends and strategies in the European, national
and regional levels.
The most recent edition of World Tourism Organization report on Tourism
Highlights (UNWTO, 2012) states that in 2011, despite the economic crises,
Europe, [...] was the fastest-growing region, both in relative terms (+6% tied
with Asia and the Pacific) and absolute terms (29 million more visitors).
Aligned with this trend, Portugal has also shown a good performance in
2011s outbound tourism growth rates:
The robust growth of international tourist arrivals in Southern and

Mediterranean Europe (19% share of world tourism) was mostly driven by

the larger destinations: Greece (+10%), Turkey (+9%), Portugal (+9%),
Croatia (+9%), Spain (+8%) and Italy (+6%) (UNWTO, 2012).
These figures of international tourism encourage the accomplishment of the
national and regional strategies for the increase of tourism competitivity.
Indeed, these trends make us wonder if tourism, when well integrated with
local development policies, may mean more that a panacea for stagnant
economies, playing a decisive role on the diversification of income sources and
creation of profitable synergies with other activities, namely those that are
based in local know-how and productions.
In territories marked by the prevalence of natural and rural areas, merged in
outstanding cultural landscapes, nature based tourism may catalyze the
sustainability of the eco-sociologic systems that they rely on. The selected
case-study, the region of Alto Minho (Upper Minho), placed in north-western
Portugal, stands as clear example of a complex and fragile cultural landscape
mosaic that depends on the survival, renewal and competitive adaptation of the
agro-pastoral systems that ensure the continuity of the practices required to
avoid the disturbance of biophysical processes conditioned by human
intervention. Thereby, alternative ways must be found to make economically
viable these rural communities, bringing together the promotion of local
products with the development of a tourism offer anchored in natural and
cultural heritage.
In this framework, it is important to discuss the concept of nature based
tourism. No precise definition of this broad and encompassing concept was, so
far, established among researchers. Nevertheless, some aspects gather
consensus, including the practice of learning, recreation and adventure
activities in natural surroundings, taking advantage from natural resources
(Wurzinger & Johansson, 2006; Tangeland & Aas, 2011).
In contrast, ecotourism, a specific niche of nature based tourism, requires
the prerogatives of sustainability, responsibility and environmental
conservation. Ceballos-Lascurin, who claims the introduction of the concept
of ecotourism in 1983, proposed the following definition:
That form of environmentally responsible tourism that involves travel
and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas with the object of
enjoying, admiring, and studying the nature (the scenery, wild plants and
animals), as well as any cultural aspect (both past and present) found in
these areas, through a process which promotes conservation, has a low
impact on the environment and on culture and favors the active and
socioeconomically beneficial involvement of local communities. (CeballosLascurain,1987: 14; 1991)
The Quebec Declaration on Ecotourism (UNEP & WTO, 2002) goes even
further, stating that ecotourism:
Contributes actively to the conservation of natural and cultural
heritage; includes local and indigenous communities in its planning,

development and operation, contributing to their well-being; interprets the

natural and cultural heritage of the destination to visitor; lends itself better
to independent travellers, as well as to organized tours for small size
Although this is the exact type of tourism that should be incited in
protected areas, we argue that the respect for ecotourism principles do not
exclude the building of bridges between the tourism offer centred in protected
areas and other nature based tourism products anchored in the adjacent lowdensity rural spaces, with clear benefits to the joint promotion of natural and
cultural heritage and to local economies.
Nature based tourism is considered to be one of the fastest growing markets
within the sector, with a growth rate between 10% and 12% per year
(Tangeland & Aas, 2011; Fredman & Tyrvinen, 2010). Previously to the world
economic recession that bursted in the second half of 2008, the European
nature tourism market had achieved a sustained growth. In 2004, 22 million
trips had been made having this product as main motivation, corresponding to
9% of all trips made by Europeans. This product was expected to rise to 43.3
million trips in 2015, corresponding to 7% annual growth (AEP, 2008).
However the present economic frame prevented the confirmation of this
numbers, the main evolution trend still is a meaningful indicator.
In the case of Portugal, the current development level of nature based
tourism points to an annual growth rate of 9% in a 10 years scenario, a value
even higher than that estimated at a European level (AEP, 2008).
Taking into account the major trends in international demand, the Plano
Estratgico Nacional para o Turismo (PENT- Portuguese National Strategic
Plan for Tourism) for the period 2006-2015 defined the key tourism products,
selected according to their market share and growth potential, as well as the
suitability and competitive potential of Portugal. PENT establishes both a
product strategy, which addresses the consolidation of 10 strategic tourism
products and the guidelines for the regions, aiming to develop distinctive
offers, capitalising on the natural vocation of each region and developing their
enhancement factors (Turismo de Portugal, 2007). In what concerns to the
region of Porto and North of Portugal, where Alto Minho is inserted, PENT
establishes that the products with potential to catalyse short-term growth are
City Break, Touring and Nature Tourism. Focusing our attention in this last
product, it is important to highlight the following conclusion of the diagnosis
presented in PENT:
Despite the fact that 21% of the national territory is considered to be a
protected area, Nature Tourism in Portugal presents clear gaps in terms of
infrastructures, services, experience and know-how, as well as lack of
competitive capacity of the companies operating in this field (Turismo de
Portugal, 2007).
Considering the previous diagnosis, this research work aims to conduct a
critical analysis of the regional strategy for nature based tourism of Alto
Minho, which is been drawn and implemented by the Comunidade

Intermunicipal do Alto Minho (Inter-municipal Community of Upper Minho)

an association of 10 municipalities that has been strengthening its position in
the coordination of regional development projects, particularly by acting as an
assembly of conciliation of interests and through the management of several
financing instruments.
In this scope, will be addressed the tourism offer of protected areas, the
ongoing organization of the regional network of hiking treks, as well as, the
possibilities of integrate nature tourism with other products with clear
complementarities, such as rural tourism and cultural and heritage touring.
Deepening this integrative approach to tourism offer, the acknowledgment
of cultural landscape unities at a regional scale will be presented as a crucial
instrument for the conception of interpretative itineraries, joining different kind
of tourism resources, from natural to cultural heritage.
At least, a product of cultural and landscape touring in Serra de Arga will
be proposed, in order to test the applicability of this methodology.
In this way, we intend to enhance the interest of exploring the specificity of
cultural landscapes for territorial marketing and tourism.
1.1. How Alto Minho tourism strategy fits in regional and national frames?
The north-western region of Portugal, Alto Minho, considered here as a
natural and historical division, develops between the river Lima, which defines
its southern limit, and the river Minho that draws the boundary with the North
of Spain, more precisely with the region of Galiza.
Although Alto Minho has never been an administrative unity, it has a strong
regional identity rooted both in natural and cultural factors, namely the
specificity of its geomorphologic features, climatic conditions and vegetation
cover, as well as, a common historical background, influencing together land
use options and settlement patterns, whose conjunction defines an unique
landscape character.
In the past, the tourism promotion in Alto Minho was managed by a
regional agency Regio de Turismo do Alto Minho (Upper Minho Tourism
Region), extinct by the decree-law 67/2008, of April 10th. This legal
framework, adopted in 2008, created a new division of tourism regions,
triggering a deeply transformation on the scale, concepts and strategy of the
Portuguese tourism promotion, which now is focused on three main pillars:
territory, destinations and products.
Consequently, the organization and promotion of tourism offer of Alto
Minho is only supported, in an official level, by the Entidade Regional de
Turismo do Porto e Norte de Portugal (Regional Tourism Authority of Porto
and North of Portugal).
Considering the major differences between the several sub-destinies
represented by this entity, in what concerns to the singleness of its tourism
products, its degree of maturity, its international acknowledgement and the
economic weight of the sector for the regional economy, there still is space and
need of initiatives of inter-municipal origin.
The gaps in the regional organization of nature based tourism products
induced the Comunidade Intermunicipal do Alto Minho (Upper Minho Inter-

Municipal Community) to lead the development of a number of projects,

coordinating the intents and efforts of the different municipalities.
The strategy for the sustainable and profitable management of the
environmental resources of Alto Minho adopted by the Inter-Municipal
Community establishes two main guidelines: the qualification of the greenways
and the valorisation of the areas of environmental excellence. The main goal to
the period 2012-2013 is to consolidate the greenways network, as well as, to
explore the potential for cross-boundary integration with similar initiatives
promoted in the international hydrographic basin of river Minho.
Aiming to create a backbone of the walking routes of Alto Minho,
approaching the valley and hilly areas, two new great routes will be
implemented: the littoral route and the mountain route (Pereira, 2012).
At the infrastructural level, the network of greenways Alto Minho is due to
be extended to 164 km long, benefiting from different projects co-financed by
ON2 O Novo Norte (The New North). In terms of promotion, priority will be
given to the international certification of the quality of the major greenways of
Alto Minho, as well as, to the progress on its cross-border integration,
implementing directional and interpretive signage, developing joint animation
programmes and cooperating in the enhancement of historical paths.
The global outlook of this strategy highlights the strong focus on
pedestrianism as a way to promote leisure and tourism in natural areas.
Thereby, aiming to achieve a deeper approach to this strategy, some important
issues must be addressed:
- Which is the market of this type of nature based tourism in northern
- What criteria are being observed in the restructuring of Alto Minho
greenways, namely the projected great routes?
- Is being properly considered the articulation between natural and
cultural heritage?
- May Alto Minho greenways take advantage from exploring
complementarities and synergies with heritage and cultural landscape
The reflection on these questions may contribute to improve the regional
nature based tourism strategy, enlarging the growth potential of this
1.2. Tourism motivations: articulating primary and secondary demands in
the promotion of nature based tourism
According to a report on tourism motivations produced by Turismo de
Portugal (2007) Sun and Sea arises as the main primary motivation, being
pointed out by 37.8% of all tourists. Landscape and Cultural Touring is the
second primary motivation (29.7%). Crossing both results, one can conclude
the existence of cross-touring between these two motivations. This means that
Sun and Sea tourists have as secondary motivation Cultural Touring and vice
versa. However, in the particular case of the region Porto e Norte de Portugal
(Oporto and North of Portugal), the Landscape and Cultural Touring is the
most relevant tourism motivation, referred by 46,4% of those who participated

in the survey.
The study Turismo de Natureza. 10 produtos estratgicos para o
desenvolvimento do turismo em Portugal (Nature Tourism - 10 strategic
products for the development of tourism in Portugal. THR, 2006) states that
96% of the demand for nature tourism and active tourism in Portugal
corresponds to inbound tourism. Most of the outbound tourists are visitors who
have travelled to Portugal for other reasons and that, once in the country, get
interested in some form of nature tourism. This reveals two important facts: the
weak position of Portugal as a destination for nature tourism trips in the
international market (as main reason) and the importance of the concept of
secondary demand: those visitors who, once in the country, could be a target
public to which direct the offer and the communication campaigns of nature
The secondary demand of nature tourism comprise the set of travels
undertaken by other main motivations but in which travellers carry out, with
greater or lesser intensity, nature-related activities. The notion of secondary
demand is extremely relevant to the tourism destinations that are unable to
attract specific nature tourism demand, although they can provide an adequate
supply of nature activities to complement, diversify and enrich other types of
tourism offer.
Despite the short-term growth potential of nature tourism in northern
region, its expansion may benefit from the development of a more integrated
offer, widening the motivation spectrum through the combination of nature
tourism, in a strict sense, with other tourism products, taking advantage of the
diversity of resources present in a territory. Given the proximity and the
intrinsic relation between the majority of natural environments, namely the
protected areas, and the rural spaces in Alto Minho, Heritage and Cultural
Landscape Touring may play a crucial role in the articulation of different
tourism resources.
This goal can only be attained through a comprehensive assessment and
inventory of the tourism resources present in the natural and rural spaces, in
order to support the conception of interpretative walkways, focusing the interrelation between men and nature.

2. Upper Minho nature based tourism resources

More than inventorying the cultural and natural values that may support
the development of nature based tourism products, it is important to stress how
they can contribute to differentiate Alto Minho as a tourism destiny?
In this scope, the concentrated diversity of potential tourism attractions
and the combination of natural and cultural heritage elements, expressed in an
evolutionary cultural landscape, stands as main distinguishing factors.
Therefore, we considered particularly useful the presentation of a
synthetic description of the nature based tourism resources of Alto Minho
within the interpretation of its cultural landscapes, including the explanation of
its physical and historical conditioning factors.

2.1. A complex and diversified landscape mosaic

The organization of the landscape of Alto Minho is defined by four
main vectors: the contrast between lowlands and hilly areas, more specifically
between the alluvial plains and the surrounding mountain ridges, as a
consequence of the regional relief structure, an agro-pastoral and forestry
matrix built over several centuries, a scattered settlement pattern, where only
stands some medium-scale urban centres and, at least, the strong fragmentation
of rural property.
The complexity of the organization of this territory results from the
superposition of land occupation models of different time periods,
accumulating the impacts of successive strategies of human appropriation of
Indeed, the historic and archaeological research conducted since the
second half of the last century revealed that the regional organization of
landscape clearly shows the most important marks of the human presence in
this territory. In this way, the archaeological remains, as well as the built
heritage in a broad sense, offer meaningful evidences for the interpretation of
the evolution of the cultural landscape.
The integrated study of natural and cultural heritage may contribute to
increase the knowledge about the options and strategies that were followed by
different communities and time periods in what concerns to the location of
population centres, the land use patterns, the exploitation of natural resources,
the mobility networks, the models of landownership, not forgetting the reflexes
of the social organization and relations on the territory.
The landscape mosaic of Alto Minho highlights the crucial influence of
the underling relief structure. The antagonism between the riverside and the
hilly areas has a remarkable impact on the settlement models and on the
distribution of the productive activities. In a closer look, stands out the
importance of tectonic valleys, granitic alveolus and small plains inserted in
hillslopes - tectonic flat levels, locally know as rechs. Similarly, the lithology
strongly influences the landscape mosaic, conditioning the pedologic properties
and the soil suitability for cultivation. Its influence is particularly evident in the
contact areas between granites and schits and in the alluvial plain of river
Lima, whose characteristics are due to the exceptionally high fertility of the
alluvial soils.
According to Ferreira (2004) the relief of Alto Minho is a mosaic of
blocs, defined by the intersection of tectonic lineations of the hercynian (NWSE / NNW-SSE) and alpine (NE-SW / ENE -WSW) orogenies. The open
valleys, conditioned by the betic direction, are delimited by a sequence of
horsts, which elevation decreases from east to west. These mountainous
massifs are mainly constituted by granitic rocks, deeply cut by fracture
alignments of late-hercynian (NNW-SSE) or alpine orogens, which directions
determine the major rivers in the region and its main tributaries (Rebelo, 1992).
Despite the intense fracturing, it is still possible to identify several well
preserved flattened levels in the mountain systems of NW of Portugal such as
those of Gers, at 1400 meters high, of Peneda about 1100-1200 meters, of

Cabreira around 900-1000 meters and of Arga Hill at a 800 meters (Feio,
1951). These levels correspond to conserved remains of extensive erosion
surfaces (Martin-Serrano, 1988).
The tectonic action is patent in the orientation of the hydrographical
network and in the enlargement of the main valleys.
Consequently, the pre-ordovician schist-greywacke complex, the
ordovician quartzites and different types of hercynian granites stands out in the
geologic frame.
Three specific features of the regional morphology determine, in a great
extent, the location of the rural agglomerations, particularly the mountain
villages, as well as the distribution of the agricultural area. We refer to the
cross-profile of the main valleys, the great number and remarkable dimension
of the granitic alveolus and the importance of the tectonic flat levels in
hillslopes (rechs).
Once completed the interpretative reading of the biophysical support,
we will focus the main historical processes that allow us to reconstitute the
evolution of the territory organization in Alto Minho, starting by the
development of the hill forts culture, which played a key role in the shaping of
the landscape of the mountainous areas in this region. During the early
centuries of the first millennium B.C., the region of Alto Minho sees the
development of a new agropastoral and forestry scenery structured around the
population settlements fixed in middle slopes. Almeida (1996) identifies, only
in the watershed of river Lima, 31 hill forts: fortifications that defined the
population concentration on strategically defensive points of the mountain
complexes. The need for arable soil and pastures in the influence area of each
Hill Fort triggered the deforestation and prevented the growth of the shrubs in
the highlands (Almeida, 2008). Despite the multiplicity of theories on the
continuity of land occupation in Entre-Douro-e-Minho, it is interesting to
reflect on the hypothesis launched by Sampaio (1979), exploring the idea of
continuity between Pre-Roman, Roman and Medieval settlement, granted in
part, by the continuity of the population itself, but also by the maintenance of
physical space. Therefore, nowadays mountain settlement may be regarded as
an evolutionary heritage of the Pre-Roman land organization. Hill forts persist
under the Roman domain, often having continuity until the Middle Ages.
Roman settlements established themselves, essentially, on lower valley
areas, near watercourses, with a smooth morphology and endowed with deeper
and more fertile soils, as stated by Caldas (1991):
Up North, due to the latter occupation, the implantation of the Roman
structure was harder. The armies from August moved on the thick
jungle, which dominated the low lands, with populations defended on
hill fort positions, walled in neighboring mountain summits that were
clean from trees for pasture and agriculture fires. To establish Roman
Villae it was necessary to put down the jungles and to drain marshes,
using draining works never made before.
A careful reading of the previous quotation outlines the importance of
the Roman occupation in the deforestation process of the areas of alluvium

plain of the north-west of Iberian Peninsula, modifying the patterns of

territorial occupation, stimulating the evolution of agro-forest systems and
deeply transforming the landscape.
The disperse settlement and strong property parcelling that characterises
the lowlands of Alto Minho find its genesis on the Roman period, whose land
occupation matrix, agrarian organization and property division is cemented and
rebuild over new power and social hierarchies during the Early Middle Ages,
reconstructing and reformulating itself on the picture of the feudal manorial
The Roman villaes consisted in agro-cattle proprieties, whose
exploration was commonly carried out by slave or employed workmanship.
According to Sampaio (1979), the north-western settlement in the Roman
period would lie on a villae network more or less disperse, dominated by
civitates capitals, which would rise while administrative, economical and
religious centres. However, the villae typology found on the north-western
region differs from others in what respects to its dimension and to the lineage
of its owners. The archaeological evidences make clear that the existence of
wealth possessions and of great dimension was scarce. This regional
particularity of Roman settlement might be mostly explained by the strong
productivity degree of alluvial soils associated to irrigation. They favour the
practice of an intensive agriculture, allowing self-sufficiency and, therefore, a
reduced specialization. On the other hand, these relatively small villae, with
simple architecture and little ornamentation, allow us to infer that their owners
belonged to the autochthonous people. Consequently, the high number of villae
smaller than the ordinary has conditioned the little territorial expression of the
great manorial domains in Northwest, throughout the transition period between
the Later Roman Empire and medieval times. We must still add the reduced
suitability of the region morphology to the development of spatially unified
feuds. In contrast, the considerably rough relief of the Northwest, even if
without great orographic accidents, is determinant to the strong parcelling of
these domains.
Making a synthesis, Martins (1992) defends that the modern northwestern agrarian landscape was shaped during Proto-History, with the hill fort
settlement, which would concentrate itself in the border sides of the great
valleys. The subsequent settlement, Roman and medieval, would not have
made more than to organize and increase the density of the valley occupation,
drawing the details of a landscape architecture still perceivable today. Notice
that the influence of the hill fort settlement pattern still remains visible at
present, in a system of isolated places of small dimension, perfectly
individualized between them. These hilly villages, core elements of the
concentrated settlement system, were regulated by the self-sufficiency
principle, imposed by precarious accesses, combining until the 1950s
agriculture, cattle breeding, and silviculture. One may conclude that the
settlement organization in the mountainous area of the northern region and the
formation of the agro-pastoral systems that had prevailed until the second half
of the 20th century goes back to the Bronze and Iron Ages.
The previous synthesis of the cultural landscape evolution in Alto
Minho, combining natural and historical factors, contributes to the


understanding of the present landscape mosaic.

The cartography of the main levels of landscape organization in Alto
Minho, presented in figure 1, was based in the weighted correlation between
elevation, lithology, slope and soil use, following a methodology similar to
those presented in Batista, et al. (2011). The digital elevation model, with a 5m
x 5m spatial resolution, was reclassified and converted into a raster map with
five classes, with the break points of 50m, 200m, 500m, 750m, and 1400m,
expressing the altitudinal contrasts on the land use options. The inclusion of the
slope map aimed to express the impact of the morphology in the landscape
shaping. The break points of the defined slope classes were 2, 5, 11, 18, 30
and 45. The lithology, with a clear relation with land suitability for agroforestry, was also included in the equation, being considered the following
lithological formations: granites and related rocks, aplo-pegmatites, schistgreywacke complex, schists, greywackes, quartzites, alluviums, sand dunes and
aeolian sands and, at last, sands and gravels. In what concerns to the soil use
map, the reclassification process resulted in the following classes: agricultural
areas (including the permanent and annual crops, as well as, the complex
croplands), permanent pastures, woodlands, open forests and shrublands and
areas with scarce vegetation cover.
The resulting map allows us to identify six main levels of landscape
organization in Alto Minho, expressing the relation between the soil use and
the biophysical support.
1) Alluvial plains / smooth slopes with dominance of irrigation crops,
2) Lower to middle hillside croplands or terraced croplands,
3) Complex agroforestry areas,
4) Middle hillside woodlands and scrublands,
5) Sparse shrub / natural grasslands or pastures,
6) Uplands with scarce vegetation cover.
The conservation areas present in the region, also represented in figure 1,
includes the National Park Peneda-Gers, the Protected Landscape of the
Lagoas de Bertiandos e S. Pedro de Arcos and the Protected Landscape of
Corno do Bico, as well as the sites of community importance and special
protection areas of the rivers Minho and Lima, Litoral Norte and Serra de
Arga, integrated in Nature 2000. Notice the strong diversity of habitats,
including mountain areas, estuarine corridors and coastal environments that
mark this network in Alto Minho.
With more than 61200 ha of its territory included within the Nature
2000 network and 34300 ha of conservation areas, Alto Minho reinforces its
potential for nature based tourism with a rich cultural landscape mosaic.
3. The principles behind the structure of Alto Minho greenways.
According to Tovar (2010) the National Park Peneda-Gers, partially
comprised within the region of Alto Minho, is one of the most important
trekking areas in Portugal. Nevertheless, the chances of hiking in Alto Minho
are not limited to the offer concentred in the national park. The most recent
inventory completed by the Inter-municipal Community of Alto Minho counts,


at least, 73 hiking treks, mostly classified as small routes, with exception to the
eco paths of rivers Lima and Minho, as well as, the great route of river Coura.
The challenge embraced by this entity is to transform this disperse and
under organized walking routes into a complete nature based tourism product.
The strategy adopted to achieve this goal is rooted in the following lines of
- Analyze the existing routes, considering its geographical and thematic
scope, and select a number of them suitable to a effective management
and promotion;
- Connect the small routes in a network through the creation of two great
routes of regional scale, one centred in the mountain areas with about
120 km, the other on the littoral strip, with 44 km.
- Develop a guide of nature activities in Alto Minho, presenting the
products, services and enrichment activities related to ecotourism. The
guide, under development, identifies the centers of natural
attractiveness, proposes nature experiences and itineraries, provides a
list of enterprises, suggests events in natural areas and promote the
traditional products.
This collective strategy corresponds to the consolidation of a process with
more than a decade. The regional organization and promotion of the
ecotourism is being achieved by the joint coordination of projects supported by
different financial instruments.
With this approach the Inter-municipal Community wills to reach
meaningful progresses in the building of the nature based tourism product in
Alto Minho, promoting a greater balance in the tourism use of the different
natural areas, ensuring the effective management of the promoted hiking treks,
integrating the tourism resources, infrastructures, services and entrepreneurial
actors, strengthening the image of the destiny and clarifying the institutional
and normative framework that regulates the action of private operators.
Simultaneously to the restructuring of the regional tourism based offer, it is
important to look at the market demand. According Kouchner and Lyard (2001)
hiking involves about 3 million practitioners in Italy and France, 10 million in
the United Kingdom and 30% of Swedes are dedicated to walking in forests or
rural roads. These authors also states that this activity is booming in all
European countries. However, despite the scarce statistics specifically directed
to pedestrianism, the existing reports on nature based tourism points out that
Portugal in not an internationally recognized destiny for this kind of tourism.
Moreover, a market study carried out under the development of a national
program of visitation and communication in the Portuguese network of
protected areas (ThinkTur, 2006) shows the prevalence of the spontaneous
visitation over the structured visitation. Families, students and researchers,
mostly coming from the regional hinterland, compose its main public. It is
estimated that, currently, the spontaneous visitation can represent over 80% of
visits to protected areas, and the structured visits less than 20%. The structured
visitation may by promoted by the development of regional clusters, inducing
networking, or by the creation of thematic clusters, focusing on one or more
specific resources, targeting more restrict niche markets.


These figures stress the need of finding innovative ways to expand the
market of nature based tourism in Alto Minho, taking advantage of its
undeniable potential. One of the possible solutions that is not being properly
explored is the integration between different tourism products, creating
favorable conditions to the expansion of the secondary demand. A practical
example of this approach will be deepened for the case of the valley of river
4. Drawing a regional strategy: exploring synergies in the valley of river
According to the Annual Reports of the Rural Tourism, published by
Tourism of Portugal, the number of rural tourism establishments increased by
33% between 2002 and 2011, while the accommodation capacity, measured in
number of bed places, grew 58%. In the same period, the number of nights
spent increase over 90%.
In northern region, where rural tourism has a greater expansion and
tradition, the number of establishment rose by 30%, and the accommodation
capacity registered a growth of 48% between 2002 and 2011. The number of
nights spent increased by 83.62%. In 2011, this region gathered near 40% of
the total accommodation capacity provided by rural tourism in the country and
represented about 31% of the nights spent in this kind of lodgement.
The promising evolution trends of rural tourism in Portugal, and the
importance of the offer centred in the northern region, opens new perspectives
to the reinforcement of secondary demand of nature based tourism.
The pertinence of exploring this possibility is confirmed by the motivations
and expectations of rural tourists and eco-tourists.
It is interesting to remark that a survey on German tourists (European
Commission, 2002), one of the most important European outbound markets for
nature based tourism 1, states that the four most important expectations for
tourists seeking nature and culture orientated holidays are as follows:
50% expect small accommodation businesses run by locals;
45.6% want to go hiking by themselves and want to be furnished
with good information;
41.2% expect local cuisine with local ingredients;
41.2% expect strong local hospitality; they want to feel welcome.
This survey highlights how the conciliation of the offer of nature based
tourism and rural tourism may fulfil the expectations of this market, valuing
the combination of locally based hotel businesses, local productions and easy
access to autonomous trekking.
An inquiry on the motivations of the guests of rural tourism establishments
(Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Econmicos, 2008) pointed out that the
discovery of a region and the contact with nature were the most cited reasons to
choose this kind of accommodation (Table 1).

The main markets for nature tourism at European level are Germany, UK, Netherlands,
Scandinavia, France and Italy (representing together 91% of the European market).


The valley of river Lima was the cradle of TURIHAB, a network of

characterful rural properties, under the brand name Solares de Portugal,
comprising small hotels, individual homes and apartments. TURIHAB was
selected as a case-study in the report Towards Quality in Rural Tourism
(European Commission, 1999), being pointed out as a successful example of a
profitable management of this wealthy heritage by the creation of quality
branded accommodation. This rural tourism network of excellence may be
enriched by the integration with the regional offer of nature based tourism,
specially by favouring the access to the hiking treks spread all over the valley
of river Lima, both inside and outside of the conservation areas.
4.1. Climbing the hill: understanding a cultural landscape
Sustaining the thesis that the identification and cartography of cultural
landscape unities is a crucial instrument for the conception of interpretative
itineraries and fulfilling the need of connecting the walking routes of the
alluvial plain of river Lima and those present in the surrounding hilly areas, a
road route was developed in Serra de Arga aiming to:
- Conceive a demonstrative itinerary of the diversity of cultural
landscapes unities,
- Stimulate the practice of hiking by rural tourism guests,
- Show how the interrelation between built heritage and cultural
landscape may enrich the process of discovering a territory.
The Cultural Itinerary of Serra de Arga, presented in the figure 2, consists
of an open route of 34 km, designed to be done by car, which guides the visitor
through an interpretative narrative of the human occupation of this territory and
of the shaping processes of its landscape mosaic, taking advantage of an
integrated analysis of the environmental and built heritage.
It begins on the edge of river Lima, facing the so-called Lugar da
Passagem: a river crossing site integrated in a pre-Roman route, later
consolidated during the imperial occupation and continued to be used during
the medieval ages. The ancestry of this route was attested by the finding of two
dugouts dated to the 4th -2nd centuries BC. Then, the itinerary follows the
national road n. 202, which develops on the fertile plain of the river Lima, a
sediment deposition area intensively occupied by irrigated crops. The several
archaeological remains that were identified nearby this part of the route prove
the occupation of the alluvial plain and of the low hillside sectors by
agricultural hill forts, during the High Empire, as well as the implementation of
roman villae or even medieval agricultural exploitation unities based on family
cells. This starting point provides a clear perspective of the contrast between
the alluvial plain of river Lima and the south-western hillslope of Serra de Arga
in terms of their morphology, land cover and soil use.
The route veers towards a secondary road that goes through the Protected
Landscape of the Lagoas de Bertiandos e S. Pedro de Arcos, crossing the
valley of the river Estoros and enabling the possibility of hiking in a small
route that penetrates into this conservation area - the only wet zone that


benefits of a special protection status in northern Portugal - conducting to its

Environmental Interpretation Centre.
Following the road that climbs the southeast slope of Serra de Arga,
towards the small village of Cerquido, one may observe a clear fault scarp.
Situated in the northwest boundary of the parish of Estoros (Municipality
of Ponte de Lima), this village develops between 400 and 430m high, in a well
defined tectonic flat level. With a privileged geostrategic location, Cerquido
has a unique visual basin, encompassing the valley of the river Estoros and
the middle sector of the alluvial plain of the river Lima. It also benefits from
the protection of the scarps of granitic core of Serra de Arga, located upstream.
Keeping up in the climbing path to the central granitic massif it is possible
to observe the geological contact between the granite of Serra de Arga and
black schists of the Unit of Minho. Following along the tectonic flat level we
found the three main hilly villages of this route, surrounded by a complex
agricultural area constituted by a mix of croplands and natural pastures.
Between Arga de Cima and Arga de Baixo there is possible to have access to
several small routes that leads us to the hilltop surface, area with a strong
geomorphological interest, considering the diversity of granitic geoforms.
Starting the way down, after the village of Arga de S. Joo, we will find an
Early Middle Ages monastery that still is an important pilgrimage place: the
Monastery of S. Joo de Arga, dated from the 13th century.
At least, the route meets the tectonic depression of Dem. This graben is
marked by the agricultural use of the base of the slopes through terracing
archaic structures. In a dominant elevation nearby the parish church we found
the remains of a hill fort known as Castro da Boucinha or Castro do Germano,
which probably has explored the fertile soils of the neighbour depression. The
fertility of the soil of this graben is not due to the geological schist substrate
but to sediment accumulation from upstream of slopes.
5. Final words: some advices on the promotion of nature based tourism
The exposed exercise aimed to show how the exploration of the concept of
cultural landscape may contribute to a comprehensive interpretation of the
territory and to the construction of a space-based narrative to guide its
discovery by the visitants.
The tourism promotion strategy based on the complementarity between
rural tourism, nature based tourism and cultural and landscape touring is the
most advantageous one in the case of low density rural areas, with an ancient
human occupation and high diversity of natural and built heritage, such as the
region of Alto Minho.
The success of this type of strategy may benefit from the following
Analyse the profile of the tourists that already visit the region,
particularly at the segments of rural tourism and landscape and cultural
Design walking routes considering the demand of soft nature
consumers, in order to satisfy the expectations of rural tourism guests;


Pay special attention to the suitability of mobility solutions and meet

the information needs of the target publics;
Attract and guide potential hiking practitioners by the conception of
interpretative road routes linking the existing footpaths;
Diversify the scenic context of the walking routes, avoiding monotony,
and the typology of interest points, offering a holistic overview of local
environmental and cultural values;
Take more advantage of the tourism infra-structures and services
already available in the territory, by exploring the networking and
multi-task concepts.
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Figure 1 Regional Landscape Organization


Figure 2 Cultural Itinerary of Serra de Arga exploring the classification

of landscape unities.

Table 1- Motivations of the guests of Rural Tourism (multiple answers)


Discovery of a region
Contact with nature
Health and wellness
Gastronomy and wines
Visiting family and friends
Events and festivities
Sports and adventure
Rest and holidays
Socializing with family or friends


Adapted form: Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Econmicos (2008).