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river beach review

Now that the kids have gone back to school and the temperature has dropped a few degrees (enough to feel like actually braving the outdoors), I thought I’d grab a towel and do the rounds of the local river beaches. The whole “river beach” concept is somewhat foreign to Australian ears. We have the beach which is located on the coast and contains water from the sea. Anything else may be called a dam, a river, a creek or a pond. But on the whole we don’t make a day of swimming in them as us Australians try to live within a sensible distance of the seaside. Anywhere else is too damn hot, anyway.

I’ve just thought of an exception and it is the billabong. Secluded, perfectly natural, still clear water warmed by the sun. Stunningly beautiful. Full of crocodiles.


Except that this one is somewhere in Central Portugal and is our favourite-by-far swimming place. It shall remain secret. And silent.

This kind of natural setting for bathing led me to think there would be a more relaxed attitude to swimwear than there is at the real beach. Hardly. In three years I’ve never seen a nudie, nor even a bare breast. On the other hand neither is the river beach luxury swimwear central, the Portuguese are a conservative bunch in terms of covering up. Certainly there are plenty of bikinis about, most indeed of the skimpy brazilian-style derrière (somewhat unsuitable for the european female of any age), but waterwear generally is very modest and non-alternative. So what that all means is –  you can’t just wear your undies, Australians!


fragas de são simão

My second favourite place I call “Little Australia”. Fragas de São Simão is shaded by old eucalypts and is in a deep valley, so on an exceptionally hot summer’s day it is several degrees cooler than anywhere else. There are lots of nooks you can tuck yourself into for privacy, but there’s also one flat open area for the big family BBQ and kicking balls around. Gorgeous. Note – no cafe (actually they say there is one but I’ve never seen it open), and the parking is a bit hairy. For lunch or dinner you can heave yourself up to Casal São Simão (a very nice Aldeia do Xisto) to their charming new restaurant, which I havent been to yet, but should. You’ll have to check ahead for opening times.


fragas de são simão

I have been to the restaurant at Louçainha’s river beach. I can’t recall the food but this beautiful location makes me want to go there again anyway. Nice river beach, Louçainha. Two decent sized pools with clear sweet water, one for swimming the other for water toys. The sunbaking areas are a bit lacking but the parking is excellent and there’s a cafe.



While we’re on Praias Fluviais with good restaurants, I still haven’t been to the Lagar at Mosteiro. Exceptional river beach, large grassy flat areas, some shade, deep and clean water and pretty as all hell.


poço corga

Castaneira de Pêra’s Poço Corga also has a restaurant worth going to. This is a really nice river beach, with lots of lounging areas, two large pools and one shady area on one side of the bridge where they allow wookies! Good cafe, not bad parking and crystal clear water.


poço corga

All of these beaches are connected to the River Alge, or they come down from the southern side of the Serra da Lousã. On the northern side there’s the praia fluvial of Lousã, in the shadow of the castle. Again, a great restaurant, but the parking is tricky and the water is usually very cold, as it’s very deep in the valley and doesn’t see a lot of sun. Bogueira, hidden away in the village of Casal do Ermio just outside of Lousã has lots of sun, covering a large flat grassed area. Very patchy parking but a very attractive cafe with view of children trying to drown each other.


Further north of the River Alva, we started with Secarias, which has a nice wide strip of straight calm river and cafes on either side. There’s not a lot of sunbaking space, but those needing a hit for goggle-flipper-earplugs and vai e volta – doing laps – then this is a good spot. Same goes for Serpins’ river beach. Not much chop for a picnic but a good wide straight run of deep water.



For a proper day of sun slacking and even a little coffee-and-cake idling, I have two recommendations. Coja is a stunning little town, and its river beach does justice to the word beach. There are lounge chairs, sandy stuff, a nice waterfall-ish, a 4-metre diving tower which looks potentially quadriplegic, and both paddling areas and deep water. Most fun is the swim up river against the current. Cafes on either side of the river and plenty more in the cutsie and curious town centre.



Avô would have to be charming as well. “Grandpa” has a huge grassy area, a nice looking cafe, a couple of charming bridges and more than a splash of Tuscan gorgeousness to it. Check out the stone verandah on the pink house. Yes, please.


ilha do picoto, avô

Up river (or further east anyway) there are many more, but the further we went the muckier the water got. Maybe that’s just this year. Of course, there are bucketloads more south-central Portugal, following the river Zezere south as far down as the Barragem do Bode, where lies the beautiful Aldeia do Mato, so nice it´s worth a weekend away. 😉


fragas de são simão

All beaches are marked on ‘post map’ page with this icon


  1. Peter Wilton-Davies September 8, 2010 1:30 am Reply

    Great review, let’s hope you don’t increase the footfall too much! Also, have you been to both bots of Fragas de Sao Simao as I can only see photos of the lower, not so nice part, away from the cafe?

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  2. Nuno H September 8, 2010 1:36 am Reply

    Very nice post; with the usual quality we’ve grown accustomed to. :]

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  3. matt September 8, 2010 9:19 am Reply

    Lovely Emma, beautifully written and document by your colourful and skillful photographs. Love your comment about undies too. So true. Look forward to your further stories. Peace. Matt

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  4. Beth Jennings September 8, 2010 3:45 pm Reply

    Oh wow Emma! You’re really going to become a travel expert on Portugal before long! And that you won’t tell us the first location…boo! but so beautiful, thank you for your beautiful pictures

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  5. Riccardo del Toro September 8, 2010 9:27 pm Reply

    River beach!?!? No seriously. This is like feeding greasy mud eels to someone acustomed to dining on shrimps on the barbie. Mediaeval architecture we may not do so well……but we Ozzies can fill the gap between headlands with some fine golden sands.
    Love the blogs……but this one just made me look forward to an Aussies summer. Bring it on!

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    Simon Pownall   Reply: September 9th, 2010 at 2:38 am

    @Riccardo del Toro,
    And what’s wrong with greasy mud eels??? Just check this out – http://blog.panrotas.com.br/panrotasemviagem/index.php/2009/01/20/

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    Riccardo del Toro   Reply: September 9th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Mmmmm……looks like a beach worm on steroids. My taste buds remain unconvinced.

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  6. Paulo Reis September 9, 2010 1:21 pm Reply

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and rest is history. There is a saying “do not waist your time arguing with an idiot he will bring you down to his level and beat you with experience.”

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    Ana Teresa   Reply: September 9th, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    @Paulo Reis, Eh eh eh… Well said, Paulo. But the post is about “river beaches”, not lovely sea, sandy beaches, Ricardo. If salt is what you like, we also have plenty. Just ask Emma. She knows. 🙂

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  7. Maria Silva September 9, 2010 2:20 pm Reply

    Hi Emma, Another terrific blog and this one really touched a nerve! We, Portuguese, love these River beaches, and explore them whenever we can. I remember as a kid spending summer holidays at one such location at Rio Dao, near Viseu! Those were the days, my friend … Keep having fun! 🙂

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  8. Kris September 10, 2010 2:44 am Reply

    Beautiful places! Here in land-locked Nebraska, USA, we have river beaches galore. The river 1/2 mile from our home is a slow, sleepy river with a bed of sand which makes for glorious sand bars to frolick on!

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    Emma   Reply: September 19th, 2010 at 9:17 am

    sounds delicious. one day…

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  9. Kerry September 15, 2010 7:12 pm Reply

    Beautiful! We recently spent a weekend at the campsite at Foz de Alge (dog friendly, yipee!) and explored a few of the praias you visited, definitely liked the Fragas de São Simão the best… so far. Very curious about your “secret location”, will have to come back soon to explore…

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  10. Emma September 16, 2010 10:50 pm Reply

    I’d like to add my recommendation. At Vimieiro, near São Pedro de Alva off the IC6, there is a great river beach with fab restaurant and good parking. It’s not very beachy, no sand at all in fact, but has picnic tables, bar and loos and lots of shade for those hot, hot summer days. The water is icy cold & crystal clear.

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  11. virg September 28, 2010 10:54 pm Reply

    Lovely swimming holes Em. I remember these, totally gorgeous, ‘cept the water was so damn freaking COLD!!! But what about megapool? You’ll have to do a special on OTP swimming spots next.!

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    Emma   Reply: September 29th, 2010 at 4:31 am

    That´s the thing about the sneaky spot…. it wasn’t even cold! And megapisspool oh pleeeese. What is OTP? is that like OTT?

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  12. emma littlejohn May 27, 2011 6:08 am Reply

    I have such found memories of portugal and have two things that I would love to know – what is the saying- Devil be deaf dumb and blind…..? ANd how do I find those amazing garden baskets made of reeds from Madiera?

    Love the River Beached section!


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  13. IsabelPS May 28, 2011 7:54 am Reply

    O Diabo seja cego, surdo e mudo!

    Or (knocking wood 3 times):

    Lagarto, lagarto lagarto!

    An Italian in the same circumstances would make the signof horns…

    As to the Madeira baskets, come to Tomar and I will show you where to buy them 🙂

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  14. Phil June 29, 2011 6:18 am Reply

    I’m glad you haven’t revealed the location of your favourite spot.
    It is mine also and is 1/2 mile from my house.
    I swim there in summer and fish there when it is too cold to bathe.

    Please keep it in your trakkies….
    (I was told this meant don’t talk about it by an ozzy friend.)

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  15. Celia July 29, 2011 7:21 am Reply

    Not fair, Emma! I’m going to Portugal (from America) in September. Please email me your favorite spot, pretty please 🙂 I would love to have you show me around the pretty towns. I want to know where you get all the good cakes you post on facebook. We’re staying in Amioso do Senhor – that’s my village. We had this talk before, but not sure if you remember, since you’re a TV star now 😉 (HGTV). Looking forward to hearing from you, Emma.

    Celia Strouse

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    Emma   Reply: July 29th, 2011 at 7:52 am

    Hi Celia, my favourite spot is a secret, but at the moment I quite like Mosteiro and Casal do Ermio. For the cakes, I’ve mostly shooting at Rocha in Avelar and Pote de Mel in Condeixa. xx

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