José Manuel dos Santos, our information, was trying a bit of sheepish. “You must perceive,” he mentioned, “the seashore isn’t usually like this.” We have been sitting on a low bridge under the gorgeous village of Avô, proper within the centre of Portugal, toes dangling above the crystal-clear River Alva, the solar on our backs, dashing water filling our ears. “It is advisable image it full of individuals.”
Portugal map
I heard what he was saying, however silently rejoiced that we’d acquired to the river seashores of central Portugal earlier than the crowds. Unfurling itself from its snowy slumbers, the Serra da Estrela nationwide park to the east was in resplendent springtime temper. Purple-pink heather painted the hillsides, birdsong stuffed the air, and there was water, water all over the place.
The nation is known for golden seashores on its stunning shoreline, however Portugal’s less-visited inside can be house to lots of of rustic river seashores. Some are giant, most are small, however all, to the final pebble, are pristine, well-maintained and open to everybody.
Between them, the Serra da Estrela and Serra do Açor mountains a number of miles south have 21 “official” praias fluviais (river seashores with primary companies and, from July to September, lifeguards).

Praia Fluvial de Loriga, Serra da Estrela. {Photograph}: Paulo Magalhães
River “financial institution” can be a extra correct phrase than “seashore”, particularly within the mountains. Not a lot a spot for buckets and spades as picnics on the grass or, if you happen to’re within the temper, dive-bombing from boulders into the river.
To get a really feel for Portugal’s river seashores, I took a brief highway journey in and across the Serra da Estrela, between the historic metropolis of Coimbra and the Spanish border.

Our first cease was at 1,437 metres above sea stage, on the glacial lake Vale do Rossim. I shouldn’t have used the phrase “glacial”: it gave our two boys – aged 9 and 11 – the jitters. To encourage them, I dipped a toe within the water. It’s effective, I lied. “However finest seize lunch first, no?”
We duly retired to the close by Casa de São Lourenço, a trendy new resort with a splendid restaurant and panoramic views. Over fish soup, slow-cooked goat (an area favorite) and regional cheeses, José laid out the programme for the approaching few days. He reeled off half a dozen rivers, seashores and waterfall swimming pools. Had the boys introduced their swimming trunks? Now they appeared sheepish. “Err … perhaps,” mumbled the youngest.

Casa de São Lourenço. {Photograph}: José Vicente
Delaying our first dip till the subsequent day, we spent a stunning afternoon exploring the shepherd’s huts and remoted cottages round Penhas Douradas, an elevated plain of granite boulders and durable shrubs in between the resort and the lake.
On the flip of the final century, lots of the buildings had been used as a sanatorium for Portuguese city-dwellers affected by tuberculosis. Right now, the bulk stand empty. It’s the similar up and down these once-busy valleys: homes abandoned, roofs collapsing, gardens run wild.
As soon as necessary centres within the wool and textile trade, the remoted villages and hamlets of Serra da Estrela – referred to as aldeias do xisto (schist villages) – have step by step develop into depopulated. Fontão, within the south of the park, is all the way down to its final year-round resident.

Poço do Inferno, a waterfall within the Serra da Estrela. {Photograph}: JMF Almeida/Getty Photos
We realized extra of the world’s historical past subsequent day from Célia Gonçalves, the cheerful consultant of a newish government-backed challenge referred to as Aldeias de Montanha (Mountain Villages), working with some 40 rural communities within the southern half of the park.
As a part of the challenge, residents in some villages organise weekend festivals highlighting particular native traditions. In Alvoco da Serra over the penultimate weekend in June, as an illustration, there’s a two-day celebration to rejoice the summer season solstice. Each different July, in the meantime, singers and musicians carry out in a glade within the woods simply exterior Lapa dos Dinheiros (which additionally has a river seashore).

Celia’s historical past lesson was delivered over lunch, this time in O Vicente, a small restaurant within the village of Loriga, with a terrific view throughout the valley to Serra do Açor. Goat was on the menu once more, however this time with a starter of broa de Loriga (a maize bread explicit to the village) and a slab of buttery Serra da Estrela sheep’s cheese, famend throughout Portugal.
On the excessive slopes of a glacial valley, Loriga is house to one of many space’s hottest river seashores. The watercourse is partially dammed in the summertime to create a deep pool, which is as calm as the principle present is ferocious. Each are freezing.

Walkers in Vale Glaciar de Loriga Indice (the Glacier Valley of Loriga)
A lone group of bikers was trying down from the Roman-era bridge above the seashore on the day we visited. Beneath, a number of kids have been taking part in on swings and slides. A cluster of picnic tables and a small cafe hugged the financial institution.
As with all of the river seashores in central Portugal, the delights of Loriga’s grassy banks and snow-melt waters are largely loved by an area crowd. The one different group who are available any numbers are Portuguese emigrés, house for the summer season.
“Spending the summer season months taking part in on the river seashores with different children their very own age – it provides their kids one thing enjoyable to sit up for,” Celia notes.
Regrettably, my pair weren’t at hand to place her declare to the take a look at. The night time earlier than, we had booked into one among six self-catering cottages at Chão do Rio, a large farm on the sting of the tiny village of Travancinha.
Exterior the spacious cottage, the boys had found hammocks and bikes and acres of house to discover. Come morning, they weren’t for budging.

The lake at Chao do Rio. {Photograph}: Pedro Ribeiro
In the long run, their obduracy proved fortuitous because it gave me a day to hit the hills alone with Célia and José. Each highway is a switchback in Serra da Estrela, which is nice for jaw-dropping vistas however not so good for carsickness-prone kids filled with Chão do Rio’s plentiful breakfast.
Leaving Loriga after a delicate post-prandial stroll across the village (every village within the scheme has signposted walks of differing lengths), we headed throughout to the neighbouring valley to the fantastic waterfalls at Poço da Broca – one other labeled river seashore.
The route took us previous Trutas do Aguincho, a backwoods trout farm run by Carlos and Paulinha, the place guests can carry their very own rods and check out their luck in a big pond beside the breeding pens.

A room at Chao do Rio, Travancinha
It was a weekend afternoon once we referred to as in and everybody was filled with the fun of spring. They have been additionally filled with wine and fried trout, which Paulinha cooks in her “secret” beer-infused sauce.
Again at Chão do Rio, I discovered the youngsters on the farm’s “organic pool”. Adorned with lilies and populated by frogs, the artifical pond supplied them with a day of riotous, water-splashing enjoyable.
And after that, there was no stopping them: bouldering throughout the higher reaches of the Zêzere River, wading beneath the Fraga da Pena waterfalls, skimming stones on the shingle seashore of Caneiro de Côja. You identify it, they have been in it.

One of many writer’s sons at Avô. {Photograph}: Oliver Balch
By the point we reached Avô and the River Alca, the snorkel had come out and the boys have been straight into the depths, any trace of squeamishness gone. Wasn’t I going to hitch them, José requested. Certain, after all. “However …” I test my watch. “After lunch, eh?”
Getting there
Take a prepare from Lisbon (1hr 44min) or Porto (1 hr) to Coimbra, which has a number of automotive rent shops (there’s barely any public transport within the nationwide park, so a automotive is crucial)
The place to remain
Chão do Rio has thatched cottages sleeping 4 from €160 an evening B&B. Quinta da Palmeira, a rustic home resort in Cerdeira, has doubles from €70 B&B. O Vicente in Loriga has doubles from €57 B&B. Casa das Penhas Douradas in Penhas Douradas has doubles from €115 B&B• The journey was supplied by the Heart of Portugal tourism board
5 extra inland seashores
by Edwina Pitcher, writer of Wild Information Portugal
Praia Fluvial do Alamal

About 100 miles north-east of Lisbon, reverse the village of Belver, the Tagus River runs sluggish and extensive previous banks of sentimental sand. Medieval Belver Fortress rises imperiously from the wooded hills, and the riverside cafe by the tenting space does nice fish.• Signposted from Gavião. Map location: 39.4880, -7.9675
Praia Fluvial de Mondim da Beira
On this northern Portuguese village, stone steps lead down from the Romanesque bridge to the riverbank. The Varosa River fills shallow swimming pools, excellent for younger kids. There’s a cafe and picnic tables, and woodland up and down river.• From Lamego take the N226 in direction of Tarouca. Map location: 41.0143, -7.7503
Fonte do Pego
The Ponsul River winds by way of the drier plains of central Portugal to tumble over granite and quartz into this pool. Close by rocks teem with hint fossils: identified regionally as “painted snakes”, they’re regarded as 490 million years outdated. There are impressed trilobite-shaped pool-floats to play on, and compost loos.• Signposted from Penha Garcia. Map location: 40.0438, -7.0143
Praia Fluvial do Poço de Corga

Two hours’ drive north of Lisbon, three tiers of bathing swimming pools of various depths are stuffed by the River Pêra. After drying off on giant boulders, vacationers can go to an outdated olive oil press and museum upstream.• From Castanheira de Pera take the N236 north. Map location: 40.0250, -8.1902
Praia Fluvial de Alte
Simply exterior the peaceable Algarve mountain city of Alte, with its low, whitewashed homes, are two stone swimming swimming pools every stuffed by a spring, Fonte Grande and Fonte Pequena. There are cafes and bars close by.• Arriving at Alte, comply with the indicators for Fontes. Map location: 37.2375, -8.1732
On the lookout for a vacation with a distinction? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a spread of incredible journeys