Edwina Pitcher, author of the new Wild Guide to Portugal, shares her favourite spots in the wild swimming paradise of Europe
With good rainfall coming in from the Atlantic, and a varied series of mountains, canyons and uplands, Portugal’s freshwater dips are some of the best for wild swimming in Europe. Combine this with a set of paradise islands, and a wild and varied coastline stretching right down to the Mediterranean, plus great value food, drink and accommodation, and you can understand why Portugal is a perfect place for a summer wild swimming adventure.
Ponte de São João, Rio Coura, (North of Porto)
A scrabble down a steep stony track through woodland yields a vast azure pool surrounded by smooth granite rocks. You can dive from these rocks, swim into quartz caves and plunge under the gushing waterfall. The mountain water, springing from the monastery of São João, is so pure that the light filters through to the bottom in dancing sunbeams. There is a legend that the many covas or pits in the landscape around here were formed by two giants as they threw a blacksmith hammer between one another. This hidden pool is one such pit and, with its enchanted air, it’s easy to believe fantastical legends.
From Covas (Coura bridge) follow the N301 west towards Caminha. After 1.5km you pass over an old bridge; park on the roadside, and on the right is an overgrown path down. 5 mins, 41.8775,-8.7156
Ponte Medieval da Moimenta, (North east of Porto)
Tras-os-Montes e Alto Douro translates as ‘Beyond the Mountains and Above the Douro’. It’s as far-flung as the name suggests and has earned the moniker “the forgotten corner of Europe.” This is a timeless place with a distinct heritage and even its own language, Mirandese. Moimenta is an ancient village in the Montesinho Natural Park. An old Roman way leads down the hill, along wide flagstones, and over a medieval bridge across the River Tuela. Stop here for a dip in the deep and thrilling Tuela, a smooth-sided, open gorge with flat rocks for sunbathing and deep channels for snorkelling.
From Igreja de São Pedro turn left at the fountain and here begins the Via Romana. Follow the lane with heavy flagstones downhill until the Roman bridge. 20 mins, 41.9426,-6.9696
Rio Teixeira, Couto de Cima (South-east of Porto)
The River Teixeira is one of the cleanest rivers in Europe. Hidden deep in the woodland of Aveiro in northern Portugal, tributaries rush over gleaming ores and glinting river stones. At this point, just below the bridge, there is a poço, a deep pot in the riverbed, carved by two millennia of water. Further down, the river snakes between mottled feldspar and granite worn to smooth pebbles. The river belly dips deeper again and a rope swing dangles over. The water is soft, cool and slow-moving; it’s a secluded spot perfect for a skinny-dip.
From Couto de Cima take M569 north to Parada and continue on the N227. Park in the lay-by just before the bridge. Follow the path down some rocks, steep scrabble.
2 mins, 40.7957,-8.2565
Foz de Égua, Piódão (South-east of Porto)
Time seems to have overlooked the district of Coimbra and its mountain villages. This is a wooded region, dense with pine trees and fretted with rivers. At Foz de Égua two streams meet at a tiny hamlet. The dry-stone walls and sparkling rivers are emblematic of the region’s villages, built mostly with schist, a sparkling, golden rock. A signed and circular 7km footpath leads from here to the mountain village Piódão, with its tangle of tiny stone alleys made entirely of stone, just over the hills. If you walk up to Piódão, remember to try the honey and sweet floral liquors in tiny thimble cups - elderflower, chestnut, cherry or walnut.
From Piódão follow signs downhill for Foz de Égua on CM1134. 2 mins, 40.2487,-7.8134
Lagoa do Fogo, São Miguel, (Açores)
A blue lagoon reflecting the sky from the Água de Pau volcanic crater. Calm and still, the last eruption was in 1563. Take a scrabbly track down to the blue waters. This is one of the largest lakes in the Açores islands and the surrounding banks form a nature reserve. Look out for grey wagtails and blackbirds hidden in the foliage. The still shores invite you to swim out and float on your back. Dry off on long stretches of pebbly beach and attune yourself to the overpowering silence.
From Ribeira Grande take the N5-2A to Lagoa do Fogo. Park at the signed viewpoint and walk down. 15 mins, 37.7626,-25.4925
Pego das Pias, Odemira (North-west of Faro)
Large sculptural rocks plunge into a deep canyon. This is a wild place, with rope-swings the only sign of human intervention. In summer, boys leap from the high rocks and families make little campfires in the natural potholes in the stone. You can swim for several hundred metres through the gorge. Pack a picnic and spend the day lazing in the sunshine. You can while away the afternoon or follow the Rota Vicentina footpath which passes by here. This long-distance, signed walking route from Cabo São Vicente to Santiago de Cacém follows smugglers’ routes and shepherd tracks inland, and is signed from Pego das Pias.
From Odemira take N120 for São Luís. At Reguengo Pequeno, right and follow track for 200m following signs to ‘Pego das Pias’. Park at the fork. 10 mins, 37.6452,-8.6187
Berlangas Archipelago, Peniche (North of Lisbon)
Bounce over the high seas from the Peniche coast to the mysterious Berlengas archipelago, just 7km offshore. Berlenga is the largest of these islands. Pink rock and green grass slope down to the emerald water and hundreds of seagulls wheel and caw overhead. A 16th century fortress, built on monastic remains, can be reached by a bridge zig-zagging over rocks, or by a short swim. There are a couple of beautiful small beaches here for a swim, and caves can be reached by swimming, paddle-boarding or kayaking. Cova do Sonho is one of the best of
Boats leave every morning and evening from Peniche harbour: call Viamar +351 262 785 646.
39.4149,-9.5075. For diving call AcaSubOeste +351 918 393 444, www.acuasuboeste.com. For day-trips call SUP Academy +351 962 374 793, Standupportugal.pt
Praia do Amália, Brejão (Noth-west of Faro)
This sandy beach is hidden between green cliffs on the Costa Vicentina, the southwest coast of Portugal, facing the Atlantic Ocean. The famous Fado singer Amália had a retreat here. She would escape the crowds of Lisbon to this secret beach where she could swim in peace. A waterfall cascades down from the verdant hills, coursing in small rivulets over the sand to the sea, perfect for a shower after a salty swim. The Rota Vicentina, a 400km walking trail along this coastline following fishermen’s trails and smuggling tracks, passes by here.
From Brejão take the coast road towards Azenha do Mar. At the yellow flower sign turn right down track though raspberry fields. Park outside Amália’s house. Walk left downhill and follow the track to the beach. 5 mins, 37.4828,-8.7941
Praia do Baleal, Peniche (North of Lisbon)
Surfers gather here year-round and from any point in the town you can glimpse the ocean. The great thing with Peniche peninsula is that if there are no waves on the one side of the peninsula then there will be on the other. But there are also long sandy beaches, calm coves and limestone cliffs with ravines, crevices and sea caverns worn by the sea. Wander along the Baleal peninsular until you find a small cove or secret beach. Waves come in gently here, lapping on the sand, having crashed in on larger rocks further out. Perfect for small children.
Park up in Casais do Baleal and walk down to the beaches. 5 mins, 39.3727,-9.3384
Ponta da Ferraria Termas, São Miguel (Açores)
At Ferraria, the cliffs give way to a wide black belt of volcanic balsalt, a fajã, level with the sea and formed into giant hexaganol stones, like a Giant’s Causeway. There are some deep, thermally-warmed plunge pools right on the ocean, with ladders to descend, and also rock arch bridges through which the waves crash. Only 20m beneath this bedrock stirs molten lava and magma. Feel the lava-warmed and cool waters mingle around you in these tidal pools. Grasp onto a rope as you are swept back and forth by the tide. The pools are best at low tide, and can get busy but creep down at dusk, and take a dip under a canopy of stars, to have it all to yourself. There is also a great restaurant on the rocks with regional dishes and Açorean wines inside. Try the alcatra, Açorean pot roast, made with either octopus, dark red meat or beans.
Take the N9-1A north past Ginetes, turn left at signs for Ferraria. Park by the Termas and walk down the steps to the left of the swimming pool to the natural pools. Rua Ilha Sabrina, Ginetes, 9555-102 Ginetes +351 296 295 669, www.termasferraria.com 37.8603,-25.8538
Cascata da Ribeira da Salga, São Miguel, (Açores)
A secret waterfall, on the northeastern coast of the island, hidden in a grassy valley, with views out to the sea. The little stream tumbles over thick rock strata, veined with layers of green lichen, and fills a deep, cool bathing pool with beach. This is a perfect spot for a skinny dip and a shower under the pummelling cascade. Afterwards, follow the waters down to the beach, just 200m or so away. At the top of the road is a belvedere with a scattering of picnic tables and communal barbecue grills.
From the coastal road from Salga to Lomba de Maia, at 37.8497,-25.3120 follow signs for ‘Miradouro da Rocha’. Park at the viewpoint and follow steep road downhill to the waterfall. 10 mins, 37.8573,-25.3073
Wild Guide Portugal: Hidden Places, Great Adventures and the Good Life by Edwina Pitcher (£16.99, Wild Things Publishing) contains over 200 wild swimming locations. wildthingspublishing.com
Readers can receive 25% off and free P&P with coupon OutdoorSwimmer at checkout.