Portugal – the best wild swimming – rivers, waterfalls, lakes and hidden coves


Edwina Pitcher, author of the new Wild Guide to Portugal, shares some of hr favourite wild swim spots.

With mountains that stretch down to the sea, plus sunshine and rain, Portugal is a wild swimmer’s paradise. The Portuguese culture of visiting praias fluviais – river beaches – then reaches its zenith, and Sundays are idled away on river banks, cooking lunch on the communal stone BBQs, chilling a bottle of Vinho Verde – green wine – in the sparkling river and leaping back in again after lazing in the sun.

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Ponte de São João, Rio Coura

A scrabble down a steep stony track yields a vast azure pool. Dive from huge rocks and swim into quartz caves. The pools are filled by a gushing waterfall, the spring of which begins high in the hills at monastery of São João.
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


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Benagil Sea Caves

Take a kayak to explore the Algarve’s salty pantheon. Waves lap in on low tide beneath this sun-filled cavern, and blue sky is glimpsed through its high round window. Accessed only by water but you can peer in through the window down from land. About a 200m swim east from the cove. Kayaks for hire on beach and in town. Call +351 969 617 828 or find the kiosk at Praia de Benagil. Park in town and walk down.
5 mins, 37.0870, -8.4238


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Rio Teixeira, Aveiro

The River Teixeira is one of the cleanest rivers in Europe. At this point, just below the bridge, there is a poço, a well, carved by two millennia of water. Further down, the gleaming river snakes between mottled feldspar and granite worn to smooth pebbles. The river belly dips deep and a rope swing dangles over. On a sunny afternoon the water is shaded by a green, dappled canopy.
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


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Berlangas Archipelago

The Berlengas archipelago is composed of three islands, the largest of which is Berlenga at 1.5km long. Pink rock and green grass slope down to the emerald water. Hundreds of seagulls wheel and caw overhead. Hidden nearby is the 16th century fortress of São João, built on monastic remains on an island off this island. It can be reached by a bridge zig-zagging out over blue sea or by a short swim. 39.4149,-9.5075

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There are a couple of beautiful small beaches here, the water is surprisingly warm with semi-precious rocks and caves to explore, and colourful fish. For diving call Berlenga Sub +351 965 107 728. Boats leave every morning and evening from Peniche harbour: call Viamar +351 262 785 646.


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Lagoa Azul, Açores

A blue lake forms half of the Sete Cidades lagoon on São Miguel island, Açores. A wild peninsula reaches out into the water which fills the impressive volcanic crater and makes a perfect spot for a skinny-dip. Deserted but for the birds; a path through woodland leads down to gently lapping water.
From N9-1S, turn right before the bridge separating the two lakes and keep left. Park after 500m and walk down.
5 mins, 37.8602,-25.7841


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Queda do Vigário, Algarve

A beautiful waterfall hidden inland from the well-trodden coastal Algarve. The name- ‘fall of the vicar’ – conjures beguiling nymphs and heady sunlight; this waterfall with its deep cool water, flowery banks and a hidden cave, certainly provides the requisite Pre-Raphaelite backdrop. Inside a nearby cave, stalactites drip like hundreds of guttering candles in a long-forgotten chapel.
From Alte head out along the N124 towards the cemetery; at the roundabout turn left and park by the cemetery. Follow the track downhill until you reach the pool below.
10min 37.2317, -8.1792


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Fragas de São Simão, Leiria

A towering gorge over crystalline water which moves gently down below. Further downstream, the water forms a large green pool with jumping rocks and a fallen tree across. There are several waterfalls before the river disappears into woodland, perfect for a picnic.
From Aldeia de Ana de Aviz, take the N237 towards Bacelo for 3km. Turn right onto M525, follow signs to Fragas de S. Simião. Park before the bridge and walk up past the old mill houses.
5 mins, 39.9155,-8.3195


About Wild Guide to Portugal

From Wild Guide to Portugal (£16.99, Wild Things Publishing)– a new compendium of adventures, from the best-selling and award-winning Wild Guide series now released for Portugal, one of Europe’s fastest growing adventure holiday destinations, brimming with wild swimming waterfalls, secret beaches, ancient forest and amazing wild places to eat and stay. See more about the book on Tumblr and Twitter. Also available from Amazon.

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