Ilha do Picoto river beach, Avo, Portugal

Having spent years as a beach bum, I quickly switched my affections to river beaches when I arrived in central Portugal for a number of reasons. Each one is unique and although I have a few firm favourites locally, I’m always keen to check out different river beaches, the most recent visit being to Ilha do Picoto in Avô, a small town that lies between the mountain ranges of Estrela, Caramulo and Açor.

There are several ways of getting to Avô, all of which involve a certain amount of hairpin bends and plenty of stunning scenery of terraced hillsides, forests and rocky outcrops.

A recent forest fire has turned a large portion of these slopes into charred terrain and scorched some of the forests but luckily most of the greenery has escaped damage and the rest of it will soon grow back. The town itself is spread over a few small hills and its focal point is the river beach of Ilha do Picoto, named after the small island that has formed between the River Alva and the Pomares stream.

Ilha do Picoto river beach
Ilha do Picoto river beach

Ilha do Picoto has got everything you could possibly want from a beach: a sandy area, complete with lifeguard and board walk; a grassy slope with plenty of trees for shade and picnic tables dotted around and a river-fed paddling pool for the little ones.

Oh, and calm water that’s deep enough to swim in, dive bomb into from the high rocks near one of the many bridges, or to venture further upstream in a boat or pedaloe. You can even go fishing, if you like.

Paddling pool, Ilha do Picoto river beach, Avô, Portugal
Paddling pool, Ilha do Picoto river beach

The bright, clean and cheerful Sanzalla Caffé is open throughout the day and evening and has live music and DJs in the summer and organises other activities such as paint balling, abseiling and canoeing. They even offer transport from Oliveira do Hospital, the nearest market town which is 10km away for €2 each way.

Because the main beach area is a small island, there are several bridges linking it with the town and river banks, providing a perfect excuse to stretch your legs and go for a little wander if you get bored of lying around relaxing. If you’ve got more time and energy, there’s a longer walk you can do along the river towards Ponte das Tres Entradas (The bridge of three entrances) and back again.

Alternatively, you could walk around the town of Avô, up through the cobbled streets, past the medieval granite houses with their wooden balconies to the remains of the castle.

This was originally built by the Romans, taken over by the Moors and rebuilt when the Dom Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, gave the order back in the 12th century. Push open the heavy wooden door and clamber along the stone walls for views of the river beach and the terraced farmland that surrounds the town.

For more old buildings, you can head away from the castle to the chapels of Our Lady of Angels and Our Lady of the Snows or admire the imposing 19th century parish church.

View of Ilha do Picoto river beach in Avo from the castle walls
View of Ilha do Picoto river beach in Avo from the castle walls

My first impressions of Avô and its river beach were so good that I’m considering staying overnight next time I visit. There are several accommodation options including campsites, guesthouses and hotels nearby so the hardest part will be choosing where to stay and how long for.

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21 Comments

  1. there is a beach now in Ponte das Três Entradas 😉 and I can suggest Agroal (very cold water!), nice, calm place in the mountains (pass Avô direction Pomares and continue on that road).

  2. My absolute favorite is Fragas de São Simão — but shhh! it’s a local secret. A small rocky natural swimming hole between 2 cliff faces, with sparkling pure water, a shady river path past ruined water mills and a great little café during the season…

    1. Author

      Hi Shiralee, Thanks for the tip. Someone else has mentioned Fragas de São Simão so it was on my list – you’ve just bumped it higher though.

  3. my favourite river beaches are the one at Lapa dos dinheiros and the one at Loriga check them out if you haven’t already. we holiday in this area every year as we have a house in the Serra da Estrela natural park not only do they have wonderful river beaches for the summer, you can ski in winter too.

    1. Author

      Hi Mal,
      Thanks for the tips. I’ve had Loriga on my list of places to check out for a while but Lapa dos Dinheiros is a new one on me so I’ll look into it.

  4. it looks lovely … must put it on my list for next year … ones I like locally are two in Gois ( you can swim the 500 metres or so between them if your energetic ) and the one near the castle in Lousa … I imagine you know them well .

    1. Author

      Hi Sharon. It really is worth checking out. I do know the ones in Gois and Lousã, although I hadn’t realised you could swim between the two Gois ones. Have you been to the one at Casal de Ermio yet? It’s lovely.

  5. Constancia on the River Zezere is a good spot for camping and canoeing, Julie. Many thanks for the nudge. Hope all’s good with you?

    1. Thanks for the tip, Jo. I’ll add it to my places to check out. All’s good here although I’m still tinkering with my blog after switching to self-hosted. I hope it’ll be worth the effort one day!

  6. What a marvellous find, Julie! I do hope Alan and I will be able to pay this beach a visit next time, it looks perfect. x

    1. Author

      Hi Vivienne, You’re right, it’s lovely, and I’m sure you’d both enjoy it. It’s only 30 minutes drive from Andrea’s place so hopefully you’ll get chance to go there x

  7. Looks beautiful Julie, I remember passing through Avô many years ago, can´t remember a river beach then, maybe this is recent.

    1. Author

      Hi Sami, I think it was revamped in 2004, or thereabouts. The whole network of river beaches in central Portugal tends to have been very well done with excellent spaces and facilities.

  8. This is a gem of a place, Julie. I’m thinking of a visit to the Coimbra/Aveiro area maybe next year and I’m rapidly amassing places to visit.

    1. Author

      Hi Marianne, I agree, it is beautiful and I love that it’s so green even in August.

  9. Praia Fluvial Da Ponte Das 3 Entradas. It’s very near to Avô actually (rio Alva bathes it too of course), and my wife has a summer cottage in this area. We find it very pleasant, as it’s in the heart of the countryside as well. A pinch of houses here and there, a small café and a small night pub, a small grocerie store and a butcher. Besides from these, just endless green.

    1. Author

      Thanks, João. I’ll definitely check it out next time I’m there… maybe walk from one to the other if it’s not too hot 🙂

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