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.

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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L’Isle de Noirmoutier

Noirmoutier is an island off the coast of France, in the Atlantic, just below Nantes and Brittany. We vacation here frequently as there’s a summer cottage of the family in a small town, Herbaudiere, at the far end of the island beside the port. The island is flat. So flat that at times with the combination of a high tide and a storm, at times the ocean has made its way completely over the island. It is just 12 miles long and only 4 miles at its widest beam.

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San Remo-San Lorenzo Bike Path

Along the Ligurian coastline of Italy, just east of Nice, there’s a wonderful oceanside bike route that has been created from a previously removed train track path. This old coastal railway track operated in the nineteenth century and linked the Riviera to northern Europe, from Genoa to Ventimiglia, but was abandoned in 2001 and moved further inland. It currently runs 24 km from San Remo to San Lorenzo however it is a work in progress and when finished it will provide 70 km of great biking riding. For those who enjoy casual bike rides on flat surfaces, it’s a great excursion for everyone in the family.

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Biking in Paris on Sunday

Biking along the Seine

On Saturdays and Sundays, from March to November, Paris shuts down some of the highways the run along the Seine. On the Right Bank the road is closed to motorized traffic from the Tuilleries to the Pont Charles De Gaulle. On the left bank, a portion of the Voie Expresse Rive Gauche is also closed, from near the Eiffel Tower to Bridge de la Concorde, where you can then switch to the right side. During July and August it may always closed to motorized traffic. Bikers share the highway with “rollers” and pedestrians. Since the views along the Seine are spectacular, this is a popular outing and something we try to do every Sunday we are in Paris.

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Biking in Paris

Flo on route

There’s not a better way to get around Paris and really see the town. But its not for the faint of heart!

The transportation systems in Paris are first class, with a proven metro grid, functioning bus system with on-time routes, and fast-running trains that provide easy access in and out of one of the world’s most fascinating cities. But within Paris, getting around is quick, easy and more enjoyable by bike, especially using the Velib system implemented a few years ago. For just a couple of dollars a day, one can use one of the thousands of bikes available at hundreds of locations throughout Paris. Just charge your credit card and the bike is yours for 30 minutes, which is usually quick enough to get to your next destination. Want to ride longer? The cost is just one euro every 30 minutes. But the best way to use Velib is in 30 minute increments and then there’s no extra charge. Ride, park and walk. When ready, ride again for 30 minutes and then park and walk. That way your ride is never more than $2 dollars a day. Continue reading “Biking in Paris”