Crashing, freezing waves not really your thing? Fed up of salty skin and sand that finds its way into everything? Looking for a cheaper way to cool off in summer? Portugal’s river beaches could be the perfect solution.
Here’s a quick run down on why they beat the seaside hands down:
You can actually swim in the rivers
With calm waters and no nasty undercurrents or danger of anyone accidentally drifting or being swept out to sea, river beaches are safer and easier for both splashing around and serious swimming. And, while the water can still be on the chilly side, it’s definitely warmer than the Atlantic Ocean.
Most river beaches also have a lifeguard on duty and a first aid point during the official opening period, just in case.
River water is clean
The only things likely to be floating around in Portuguese river beaches are leaves, unlike the detritus that rides the waves of coastal beaches. You might get the odd dragonfly or damselfly hovering around to add to the natural beauty while you swim.
Look for the Blue Flag (Banda Azul), which denotes quality tested water.
River beaches offer varied settings
No two river beaches are the same. Some, like the one in Goís, import sand to create an island in the middle of the river. Others, such as Bogueira in Casal de Ermio, and Canaveias build wooden walkways to ease your way across the river to the on site café and bathroom facilities.
Some of the best river beaches Portugal has to offer are in the Centro region but there are some in every region.
The Wild Guide Portugal by Edwina Pitcher is a good source of wild swimming spots and other off the beaten track locales.
There are more activities and options
Most river beaches have some kind of rope swing set up in an overhanging tree. Some even have proper jumping platforms and ladders. As well as water that’s deep enough for diving and swimming, there are usually places where you can position yourself to let the cool water gently trickle over your legs or sit and let your feet dangle in the river.
For the little ones, you should find some kind of children’s play area if not a paddling pool.
If you’re feeling more energetic, at Casal de Ermio and Praia de Palheiros do Zorro near Coimbra, you can hire a kayak or canoe or do a spot of fishing. There’s usually a grassy area for sunbathing or knocking a football around, although the two don’t necessarily mix well.
Walkers will find footpaths leading to castles, convents and schist villages at Lousã.
Reasonably priced cafés are a common feature at these riverside areas. Some river beaches, like the Blue Flag beach at Vimieiro near Penacova, have the added bonus of a restaurant.
If you want to bring your own food, you’ll usually find picnic tables and possibly outdoor barbecues but if you’re really keen to cook your own meat, it’s best to check the facilities beforehand and respect the restrictions during periods of elevated risk of forest fires.
Free shade at river beaches
At some river beaches, for example Cascalheira, you can sling a hammock up between trees and gently sway the day away in dappled shade. Even without a hammock, those who don’t fancy baking in the sun can easily find respite under a tree.
It’s not necessary to fork out for a beach hut or bring your own brolly although it is possible to hire shades and sunbeds at some places, such as Piscinas da Fraga near Vila Nova de Poiares.
No beach tat
It’s rare to rind tacky souvenirs, beach towels, inflatable dolphins or football shirts for sale so the only financial demands your kids are likely to make on you are begging for an ice cream.
So, if you fancy a stress-free day at the beach where you can relax and enjoy the water free from annoyances, check out what the Portugal’s river beaches have to offer.
Note: Portuguese river beaches are great, but seasonal. Some are only fully operational in July and August while others run from June to September.
However, if you have your heart set on spending time by the ocean, check out my guide to the best beaches in Portugal.
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