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?
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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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