Serpins

The sleepy little village of Serpins in central Portugal may have seen better days but there are still a few treats both in and around it. As well as having its own river beach, there’s a beautiful gorge a little further upstream below a charming hilltop viewpoint.

Its unusual curved railway bridge was designed by Gustave Eiffel, as in Eiffel Tower, (spot it at around 0:50 in the aerial video below) and, surprisingly, it has an impressive photograph/art gallery. Serpins is also celebrating a major anniversary in 2014 – it’s now officially 500 years old!

Happy birthday, Serpins!

Various activities have been planned throughout 2014 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of being recognised as a town by royal charter. One of the highlights is the mini medieval fair which is due to take place on 26th and 27th July. The charter itself is a work of art, don’t you think?

Serpins royal charter
Serpins royal charter

Modern art in Serpins

Since its official opening in August 2013, Hannah’s Art Gallery has already hosted the works of ten photographers from various countries. If you’re quick, you can catch the current exhibition of still life photography by Ken Williams. Hannah, aka Joke Weier, plans to change the exhibitions every four to six weeks so check the website to find out what’s on and check opening times (don’t be afraid to ring the bell if it looks closed during opening hours). My “Souvenirs of Portugal” photos are also on display there and will be available to buy year-round.

 

Photos by Julie Dawn Fox at Hannah's Gallery in Serpins
Photos by Julie Dawn Fox at Hannah’s Gallery in Serpins

River beaches in and around Serpins

Senhora da Graça river beach, Serpins

Travellers staying at the Serpins campsite need only cross the road to get to the Senhora da Graça river beach, named after the church on the hill above it. On one side of the river, there’s a small café bar which has live music during the summer months. Behind the café you’ll find a grassy area with newly installed picnic tables and barbecue stalls plus ample space to kick a ball around or swing yourself into the river from a dangling rope. If you want to.

The other side has a tiny sandy beach and a concrete facility that was built for functionality rather than aesthetics. It does, however, include useful things like  toilets, showers and a kiddie pool plus handy steps into the water for those that don’t fancy hurling themselves in.

Sra da Graça river beach in Serpins, central Portugal
Sra da Graça river beach in Serpins

Cabril, the end of the line

At nearby Cabril gorge, it’s still possible to see the opening of the tunnel for the railway that was intended to connect Coimbra with Arganil. The plan literally hit the rocks at Cabril; at that time, the machinery and know-how required to bore through such hard stone either didn’t exist or simply wasn’t available in Portugal, which is how Serpins came to be the end of the line. Sadly, the train service is now defunct but there are regular buses between Coimbra and Serpins.

 
Cabril gorge and Ceira valley
Cabril gorge and Ceira valley

Cabril’s dramatic gorge flanks the river, making it an attractive place to cool off during summer months. I still haven’t managed to see this view myself. I tried approaching the gorge from the Vila Nova de Ceira direction, got well and truly lost and put a dent in the car (shhh, don’t tell Mike!). If you want to go to Cabril, use this Google Map and the attached photos to help you locate it. You can park just after the ‘lake’. Good luck and let me know if you make it! I will be trying again as it looks lovely.

I did, however,  manage to get a glimpse of it from above, at the Senhora da Candosa viewpoint just off the N342-3. Also worth a look.

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Canaveias river beach, Vila Nova de Ceira

If getting to Cabril sounds too tricky, you can continue on the N342-3 to Vila Nova de Ceira and follow the signs for Canaveias river beach. This is an understandably popular one. Even so, there are more picnic tables than you can imagine ever being necessary: some in the small woods next to the café, others in front of the toilet and shower block and yet more on the grassy area closest to the water. There’s plenty of natural shade and space for sunbathers and a sandy area for those that want a more authentic beach experience. Kids enjoy the rope swing and swimming to the rocky islet.

Canaveias river beach, near Vila Nova do Ceira, Portugal
Canaveias river beach, near Vila Nova do Ceira, Portugal

Bogueira river beach, Casal de Ermio

Heading in the other direction from Serpins towards Lousã, you’ll find Casal de Ermio, a cute little village with another great river beach called Bogueira. This one has a large shaded terrace outside the café on one side of the river and picnic tables scattered along the riverside path through the plane trees which leads to the barbecue area and sports facilities. The multilevel jumping off platform proves popular with children. You can also hire canoes and rowing boats if you fancy venturing further upstream.

To get to the other side of the river without swimming, you’ll need to cross a slatted wooden bridge which takes you to a terraced area with a decent-sized paddling pool. The large grassy space which doesn’t yet have enough shade when it’s busy so bring a beach brolly or arrive early to grab a spot under a tree. Keep an eye out for stray footballs landing in your lap though!

Despite having spent more time at this river beach than any other over the years, I haven’t got any decent photos of it. I found this video instead, which shows you what it’s like. Just add lots of people on a summer’s day.

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12 Comments

  1. We finally made it to Cabril! We’ve come to this area a lot, and searched for the gorge a few times, but this summer we finally worked out how to get there, thanks to a decent phone and Google satellite. And it is indeed wonderful.

  2. Outstanding! This is perfect. I didn’t mention that we are going in July, so that will work out fine. Thank you!

  3. Hey Julie! Your blog is really great. I would never have considered visiting river beaches if I hadn’t seen a couple of your posts, but all the reasons you appreciate them make total sense.

    I’m planning a two week trip to Portugal. It will be me, my wife and my 10 year old boy. My plan is to rent a camper van, so we’ll be staying at campsites. I was thinking of visiting Coimbra and I thought it would be fun to spend a couple days (particularly for our son) visiting towns nearby and trying maybe two different river beaches.

    My problem: after reading your posts, your readers’ comments, and seeing others’ suggestions, my head is spinning. I literally have jotted down a list of about 15 different beaches to consider.

    Let’s say you had a family visiting you for two days who wanted to see interesting local villages and also take in a couple of beach visits, where would you take them? Any advice you can share to help me narrow my focus would be much appreciated!

    1. Author

      Hi Geoff, I think I’d be inclined to base myself somewhere near Lousã or Gois. You’ve got a selection of river beaches within easy reach of each of these towns, plus campsites if you choose not to use the one in Coimbra. My personal favourites in these areas are the river beach at Casal de Ermio (near Lousã) and either Peneda or Canaveias (near Gois). You’ve also got some schist villages within easy reach of both places, for example Talasnal, Cerdeira and Candal near Lousã and Aldeias de Dez near Gois.

      Just bear in mind that the river beaches are only fully operational between July and August. I went to the one in Gois last week and they have already taken down the boardwalks that cross the water.

  4. I’ve been reading your blog all week (we’ve been staying in a house near V N de Ceira) and really enjoying the information and your insights into the area. Last year, we spent most beach time at Pego de Escuro (quieter of the Gois beaches) because we have two small children and prefer beaches with some sandy shallows – and the picnic place there is rather lovely. But this year, I think Canaveias has won us over, and I love the grass. I also enjoyed watching small ‘Viperene water snakes’ hunting the river fish – they’re harmless unless you’re a fish or a frog, and I found it fairly easy to forget about them while swimming! Next year, we’ll try to find the Gorge, for sure.

    1. Author

      Hi Ellie, I’m glad you’ve been making the most of the local river beaches. Canaveias is a particularly good one, although I’ve actually spent more time at the Gois one this year!
      I did finally make it to Cabril, by the way, although not the best way if you’re coming by car – there is a drivable track just after the bridge between Serpins and VN Ceira but we ended up having to walk along it because we’d had to abandon the car up a hill on a different dirt track. Once we got to Cabril, it was worth it. There are no facilities and the banks are a little overgrown but if you are happy to make the most of it, it’s a very pretty setting and swimming through the gorge is a wonderful experience. The water’s warm, too.

  5. This is very nice, Julie. Some of our favourite spots. We go to Casal do Ermio regularly in the summer (in fact, we had a swim there today after a walk in the Serra da Lousã) – the great thing is that you can actually swim way upstream, under or between trees, and escape from all the noise. And the bar is always a friendly place for a drink. We’ve only been into the gorge from Keith’s end (the Serpins end) once – in our cycling days, and we were able to swim right into the canyon – lovely. But that was years ago and I’m not sure I remember how to get there. From VN Ceira you can more or less walk along the river (about 30m each way?) to the beginning of the gorge – and it used to be possible then to climb up for the views. But the last time we tried that it was horribly overgrown and we got scratched and overheated, so I wouldn’t recommend that.

    The Canaveias beach is also a favourite, if a little bit further from Coimbra.

    Hope you and Mike are having a great summer!

    1. Author

      Hi Robert, we actually made it to Cabril last week, although still not by the ideal route. This time, we ended up nearly killing the car on an uneven dirt track in Braçal before abandoning it and walking the last 20 minutes or so. I know there’s a better route and a dirt track that is actually driveable because we walked along it! It was worth the walk though (and the car survived) – the water was warm and swimming through the gorge was a wonderful experience. I also tried walking to it from the VN Ceira way and like you, had to give up in the end.

  6. Are these quite near to you then, Julie? It looks a charming area, especially Cabrils gorge.

    1. Author

      Yes, they’re’ all less than 30 minutes driving from me.

  7. We are heading to Gois in August and really looking forward to it as we´ve never been to the region before. I have been following your emails with interest, especially the last one regarding Serpins and are now even more excited! Thanks so much for all your interesting posts. Very much appreciated. x

    1. Author

      Hi Anna-Marie, thanks for commenting. I think you’ll really like the area. I didn’t mention the river beach at Gois itself because I was planning to incorporate it into a separate article but it’s one of the best in the area. Have a great time!

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