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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Back to the Algarve (again)

I’ve written about the Algarve here, here and here, but it is worth revisiting once more to recommend a couple of beach places we’ve discovered and enjoy for long beach walks as well as cliff exploring. The cliffs of the Algarve, primarily found around Carvoeiro, are fantastic for hikes, but if you just want to walk the beach and feel the sand between your toes, the beaches here are too small and short. Great for hidden hideaways, but not if you just want to walk the shoreline for as long as you can. That said, we’re also not big fans of pure beaches that offer nothing but beach; (like around Faro) – a rocky shoreline and cliffs provides a little color and variety which we prefer. We have two beaches that have become favorites of ours.

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Back to Auron

We returned to Auron in mid’ February of 2013, but this time to ski not just to visit. We arrived on a Monday and it had been snowing all the night before and continued all the way up. We took the bus, which was a good idea as there were a lot of cars along the side of the road, and we reached Auron in 2.5 hours. When it cleared up in the afternoon we had more than 15 cm. of new snow on the hill. We took an afternoon pass (US$20), and enjoyed fresh power and sunshine. The next day they opened the other side of the mountain; so more fresh powder and even more sunshine. Not a cloud in the sky by mid’ afternoon.

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Ultimate Room Service at Manoir de la Begaudiere, Brittany

Room at Manoir de la Beguadiere

Our special in-room dinner service began with a wonderful massage for both of us, which was just what we needed after a long day of exploring medieval chateaus and towns in Brittany. It was followed by a fire lit in the large fireplace in our room, served with a demi-bouteille of champagne and appetizers. As the last sips of the champagne went down, the Manoir staff re-appeared to set up our table with salad plates, a bottle of Bordeaux and a wooden cutting board with a large raw coté de Boef steak and aluminum wrapped baked potatoes. They then set up a special grill in the fireplace and left us with instructions that when we were ready, to grill the steak five minutes each side and reheat the already baked potatoes. We followed the instructions shortly after and the end result was a fantastic dinner for two by the fire in our room. Quite something. Oh yes, almost forgot. Dessert were to small pots, individual-sized with an apple crisp topped with chocolate chunks. A few minutes on the grill and we had hot dessert to finish off an unforgettable dining experience at the Manoir de la Begaudiere.

Cooking dinner at Manoir de la Beguadiere