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