Calm water, perfect for swimming, at Cascalheira river beach, central Portugal

The river Alva flows more or less past our house in Moura Morta. Unfortunately, even in August it’s so cold that your feet turn blue and start to hurt after more than a minute in its waters so while it’s great for cooling beers in, there’s no chance that I’ll be swimming in it.

Assuming that this iciness was an inherent feature of this particular river, I’d been avoiding its river beaches in favour of those on the banks of the Ceira and Mondego. Imagine my surprise, and delight, to find that the Alva doesn’t have to be this way.

I made this thrilling discovery at Cascalheira river beach near Secarias, Arganil.  On one side of the river, imported sand coats the terraced slope of the river bank. Wooden benches and slate seats are scattered between the mature beech trees. I share the beach with a family; grandparents and father smile indulgently at the youngest member as he squeals excitedly and shows off in his Winnie the Pooh armbands.

Plenty of shade at Cascalheira river beach, central Portugal
Plenty of shade at Cascalheira river beach, central Portugal

Aside from this, the overriding sounds are the rhythmic sawing of crickets and the wobble and tumble of water over rocks. An occasional breeze ruffles the leaves, making a sound like waves being dragged over shingle. In the distance, I can just about make out the faint thud and weak warble of the café radio.

Further upstream, past the café and the blue plastic floating jetty, groups of fishermen have congregated. Their lines are like strings of sunlight as they wait for a nibble. As I swim, water boatmen rest on the surface of the water and dragonflies hover just above.

A gnarled concrete walkway, about a metre wide, extends out from each side of the river, capping a dam. In the middle, an ankle-deep gap allows the water to flow over the dam and create a waterfall. There’s no avoiding wet feet if you want to cross.

Crossing Cascalheira River Beach
Crossing the River Alva at Cascalheira river beach near Arganil, central Portugal

On this side of the river, there’s plenty to keep visitors occupied including another café, lime green pedaloes and canoes for hire and a riverside path. Heading away from the river, a rough track snakes upwards through eucalyptus forest, which overlooks a well-maintained picnic area with covered cooking / washing up area.

I’m more interested in peering through the window holes of the ruined stone cottage as I clamber down to sit on the rounded grey rocks that poke through the water in the shade of a tree.

Once there, curiosity gets the better of me and I grope my way along the dripping, moss-covered wall of the dam, gingerly finding my footing on the slimy underwater rocks. Most are smooth but my tentative explorations find some jagged, sharp edges that could do some serious damage.

I want to sit under the waterfall so I’m thrilled to find a perfectly placed stone to sit on at the edge of the plunging water while manoeuvring myself into optimum position. What could be better than a free hydro massage with the view downriver of an old stone bridge and distant hazy mountains?

View downstream, Cascalheira River Beach
View downstream, Cascalheira river beach, central Portugal

Getting there:

Take exit 13 from the A1 to join the IP3 towards Viseu / Coimbra. Take exit 13 again for the IC6, direction Covilhã/Oliveira do Hospital/Arganil. Follow the signs to Arganil along the N342. From Arganil, continue on the N342 towards Côja. After about 3.5 kilometres, there’s a small roundabout. Take the second exit, EN337 direction Mouronho, and look out for the brown ‘praia fluvial’ sign on the right. GPS coordinates: 40º14 56.19N 08º02 09.12W

Have you got a favourite river beach? Please share it with us in the comments.


  1. Hi Rogerio
    I,m coming to your area within the next 3 weeks thinking of buying a small piece of land that I can park my Motorhome,and spend many months each year I,m 74 just want to relax mix with local people ,always wanted to be close to a river,
    I,m thinking maybe within a 10 mile max from Arganil , just want a quiet cheap retirement,any information would be appreciated,
    I,m on the Algarve my first time in Portugal, I’m getting a real nice feeling being around Portuguese people,
    Merry Christmas

  2. its a beautiful country with beautiful people, anywhere anytime of year. So inviting & welcoming. love it, one day I will be able to move for good.

  3. lovely river beach at ceiera near gios. beautifull any time of year

  4. There are several nice River beaches on this river, in Coja and on towards Serra da Estrela, there was also a lot of growing concern in recent years because of some of the industries upstream. I would strongly recommend you try the river beach in Gois, which is the river Ceira which has crystal clean waters with no big industry on its banks. also in Gois near the Fire-brigade post there is a road that goes into the mountain, towards Cabreira where there are also some lovely beaches, and mountain views. just make sure you stay on the LHS bank as you drive. in Cabreira there is a bridge where you can cross the river and a small beach below, but dont cross carry on the road u were on you will come to another beach that has a damn with a very old(possibly Roman) bridge, and some quaint stone storage houses where the old folk kept their cereals before and after going to the water mill. If you head towards Relvas on this road you end up meeting a road that takes you back to Arganil through the mountains +/- 30Km i think :s the views are so great you loose track of the distance.

    1. Author

      Hi Rogerio, thank you so much for this tip. I’ve made a note of the directions and plan to check it out, hopefully before the end of this summer.

  5. Hey how nice place! It is inviting place for a visit when in Portugal. I love Your photos too.

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