Note from Julie: This blog post was the first in My Personal A to Z of Portugal series, which I started in 2012 as a way of reflecting on life in Portugal.

Look downhill from my balcony and you’ll see a U-bend of the River Alva flowing past our house before it curls back around the village. The water froths and tumbles over the rocks beneath the tiny weir, providing a constant soundtrack to life in Moura Morta. I hardly notice it these days but on hot summer nights, when the bedroom window is open, its constant dull roar is quite soothing.

River Alva, from our balcony, Moura Morta
River Alva, from our balcony, Moura Morta

The chameleon qualities of the Alva fascinate me. Its water is usually clear, and appears dark from above, but when the sun’s at the right level, it’s transformed into a patchy silver snake.

Occasionally, diamonds of light flash on the surface like fireflies providing a mini light show below the balcony. At other times, the sunlight turns the pebbles into golden coins. After heavy rains, the water turns to a swirling, churning caramel milkshake or a cloudy pea soup.

Smoke on the Water, Rio Alva
Smoke on the Water, Rio Alva

Down by the ruined mill on misty mornings, I can’t help humming Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water and conjuring up images from the Heart of Darkness as whorls of steam rise from the dark liquid. On clearer days, the mimosa trees and clumps of reeds are mirrored back from the still, glassy surface. Until Daisy decides to go for a swim, that is.

Daisy the dog fetching a stick from the River Alva
Daisy in the Alva

I used to be a bit of a wimp about swimming in the river myself, finding the waters a tad too bracing for my comfort levels. However, I’ve since decided to stop being such a baby about cold water and have found that having a river beach just 7 minutes walk from my house is something to be truly grateful for.

The Alva starts way up in the Serra da Estrela Mountains and retains that icy feel all year round in Moura Morta, thanks to the dam a few kilometres upstream in Fronhas. Despite this, it’s a perfect spot for a river beach and the local authorities steps have started providing facilities here such as a portaloo, barbecue and picnic tables.

The Praia Fluvial de Moura Morta is still a very off-the-beaten-track location and I appreciate having it to myself most days.

Trout seem to love the cold water so we’re more likely to see fishermen in waders than bikini-clad bathers as there are several spots along this part of the river that are used for fly fishing competitions.


  1. Hello Julie Dawn, I’m Rob Lee,retired in Adk Mtns of NY and am interested in paddle/portage an inflatable kayak from the Alva source to Coimbra in May ’19. Planning 2 wks, camping and visiting villages along the way. I am gathering info on the area and river conditions and would very much appreciate any help. Thanks, Rob

    1. Hi Rob, Even the short section of the Alva between the dam at Fronhas and my village is tricky for kayaking. Fallen trees and weirs make it challenging and dangerous unless it’s been cleared. I wouldn’t recommend it.

  2. Thanks Julie, that is really helpful!

  3. Does the river Alva ever overflow? I would love a place near the Alva river but would be concerned if flooding is a possibility. Loving the blog by the way!

    1. Author

      Hi Dominique, yes, it does. We have seen the river flood at least once a year over the last 8 years. This year was the worst – it took out the dirt road that ran alongside it in our village and destroyed several walls. You’d want to be several metres above the water level if you want to be near it or any other river.

  4. Beautiful description and came to this through Jo’s A to Z.

  5. I like your dog Daisy swimming through the river ALVA …

  6. Great pictures Julie XD Congrats!

  7. Great idea to do this a-z!

  8. Lovely spot Julie, we lived about 1h south of you – Carregal do Sal, between Coimbra and Viseu. That central area of Portugal has some lovely villages.

  9. You could always wear a wetsuit 🙂 The pictures look lovely

  10. what a fantastic photo of the light on the water – no wonder you like living there!
    I couldn’t possibly choose my favourite beach down here in the Algarve – every time I think I’ve found it – we find another one! But Ferragudo still has my heart!
    Great post – lovely descriptions and I am enjoying the new series of posts already!

    1. Author

      I haven’t spent much time in the Algarve yet but I can see how it would be difficult to choose. I’m planning to check out Ferragudo in April after everything you’ve said about it 🙂

      1. then give us a shout if you are coming our way – happy to put the kettle on for you! 🙂

        1. Author

          I may very well do that! It’d be nice to meet face to face 🙂

  11. Certainly looks a lovely spot Julie- how did you pick it? Expect that’s the subject of another blog. Love that “smoke on the water” shot- it’s a stunner.

    And you know where my favourite watery place is, don’t you?
    Looking forward to B.

    1. Author

      I assume that’s Tavira?

      Funnily enough, I didn’t pick the spot. It came with my husband. He’d bought the house the year before we met and although we considered moving a bit closer to Coimbra, there’s a lot to be said for where we live so we decided to stay.

  12. So pretty! I’ve only been in Portugal for about a week (and just in Lisbon…heading down to Faro tomorrow), but it’s been enough time to fall in love with the beautiful coast and to wish I lived by a river full time.

    1. Author

      Thanks. Glad you’re enjoying Portugal, it really is beautiful. I’m sure you’ll have a lovely time in the Algarve.

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