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 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.
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.
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.
BEFORE YOU GO...
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