The Dao Region of Portugal – Biking & Boarding

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.”

Dao River

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.

Madeira, Portugal

Madeira is a place we’ve been wanting to visit since we first began visiting Portugal about five years ago. It’s an archipelago  that is part of Portugal, made up of the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo and the Desertas with an overall population of less than 300,000.  It’s situated to the south of Portugal about 500 km off the coast of Morocco. Madeira was claimed by Portuguese sailors in the service of Prince Henry the Navigator in 1419 and settled in 1420. From Lisbon it’s just a little over 1 1/2 hours flying time. Covid caused us to cancel our trip last year, but in March we decided to try again as it was open to Portuguese residents as long as you had a Covid test recently done. 

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Exploring Northern Portugal

Our trip into northern Portugal took us to the very top of the country, to a region that has the Spanish border both to the north (which follows the Minho River) and to the east (marked by the Peneda-Geres National Park). To the west is the Atlantic ocean while the Lima River forms this region’s southern border. Through the middle flows the Vez River from the north until it empties into the Lima River. 

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A visit to the Arabida Peninsula

Well, after a few delays caused by a couple of dreaded the “C” diseases (Cancer and Covid), we have finally been able to venture out of our apartment and do a little exploring once again. It seems that our travels for awhile will be limited to Portugal as the borders in Europe are not all open yet and flying anywhere right now is not only a little risky but downright complicated. So we’re happy to just take this time to get to know Portugal a little better.

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Exploring Obidos, Portugal

We were in need of a weekend getaway so we decided to head north and visit the town of Obidos that we’d been hearing so much about. And we weren’t let down! Obidos is a captivating medieval walled town an hour or so north of Lisbon, surrounded by rolling hills covered with orchards and vineyards. It’s set on a hillside, along a narrow ridge, allowing just a couple of streets barely wide enough for a car to run its length, and which are connected by a number of steep alleys and staircases.

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Biking Portugal

Anyone considering biking in Portugal, there’s an essential tool you must have and that’s the National Cycling Network guidebook, which maps out nearly 5,000 km of routes and includes GPS tracks in KML and GPX file formats, so you can follow the routes on your smartphone. As well, the guide has great photography and descriptions, so you have a really good idea of what your trip will entail before you begin.

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Obtaining a Driver’s License in Portugal

(If you’ve ever had to deal with bureaucratic red tape, you’ll love the short clip above)

We became residents of Portugal in 2017. Initially we purchased a small apartment in the Alfama area, the old town district of Lisbon, and then began the process of establishing everything else that comes with residency – bank accounts, home services, tax accountants, and deciding whether to buy a car/motorcycle or not, or both. We decided on both. And that’s where the fun began.

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