In the north of Portugal, just above Coimbra but below Porto and a little east towards the Spanish border, lies a region known as the Dao. Through it the river Dao and alongside it were once tracks for a train that ran between the towns of Santa Comba Dao and Viseu from the 1890s to the 1980s. It is about 50 kilometers in length and back then it provided transportation for locals and delivered them supplies. When it was discontinued a “Rails-to-Trails” was put in its place. This is the process of converting abandoned rail lines (“Rails”) into bike paths (“Trails”), and it has become very common in both Europe and North America. In Portugal these bike paths are known as “Ecopistas.”
The Dao Ecopistas is the longest in the country and from what we’ve been told, the most scenic as well. We have biked a fair bit now in Portugal and this was definitely the nicest bike path we’d done, perhaps better than those we’ve done in France as well. It’s in very good condition, the majority of it is through countryside and riding along the Dao is especially inviting.
The path follows the Dao out of Comba for about a third of the distance, until the Dao becomes just a small stream, and then makes its way through numerous small villages and as many abandoned train stations, to Viseu further north. A few of these stations have been turned into restaurant/bar/cafes to serve hungry and thirsty bikers.
The best time to do the Ecopista is in the spring, before it gets too hot and while the multi-colored wild flowers are blooming.
We decided to do the ride in two sections, riding first halfway up from Santa Comba and then driving with our bikes up to Viseu to then ride down to the halfway point – which is close to the town of Tondela.
We did the path in the mornings and in the afternoons we enjoyed paddle boarding on the Dao River. The river is quite flat and somewhat narrow near Comba, with few markings left by man along its banks.
We left Lisbon around 10AM and arrived in Santa Comba Dao at just after mid-day. Check-in wasn’t until 3PM so we went to a terraced restaurant, Cota Maxima, along the river for lunch. Flo had the meat dish which came with roasted potatoes, rice and a salad. I just had soup and shared her rice and salad. We had a 50 mil of wine with it and coffee afterwards. Price? 10 euros. How is that possible? But it wasn’t a mistake.
After that we walked through the sleepy village of Combal. “Sleepy” is definitely overused but that best describes this village. Very few cars or bikes. Very few people around except sitting on benches in the many parks in the center of the town or in front of their homes. Very, very slow pace. We then went and checked in to Quinta Lusitania, a lovely 200-year old farm house that has been in the family all that time and now is operated as “chambre d’hote” by owners Miguel and Christine.
Viseu is quite a bit larger than Santa Comba and has been recognized a few times as the best place to live in Portugal. It is a beautiful, easy-to-walk-and-explore town, which we enjoyed doing on our final day before heading back to Lisbon, just 2.5 hours away.