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The wonderful river hiking trail Ecovia do Vez near Arcos de Valdevez in the far north of Portugal

Hiking over wooden footbridges, balancing over stepping stone bridges and jumping into the water

Since we walked the most popular wooden footpath in Portugal, the Passadiços do Paiva, we know how wonderful trekking along a river can be when it has beautiful river beaches. In the midst of green and flowering nature, often under shady trees, it is a pleasant walk. The river itself forces the path to always be challenging and lets an overheated hiking group cool off at any time. You can observe all kinds of animals and often pass historical monuments such as castles, bridges and water mills.

The same is true of Ecovia do Vez, which was recommended to us by a family friend before our summer holiday this year. We followed the advice to start at Ponte Medieval de Vilela and walk towards Sistelo. Before we reached the river, we passed the pretty Eco Bar do Vez, where we would have loved to take our first break, so comfortable were the excursionists and taxi drivers sitting there in the shade. But we walked down to the river by the beautiful bridge and saw the first very inviting river beach.

We brought scooters for our children, so that they could make good progress and happily try out the very different terrain. However, the two of them turned it into a ride with wild horses and responsibly provided them with water and grass as often as possible. Most of the time, they took a pleasant path above the river, which is occasionally cheered up by wooden walkways and bridges. There was just one section that demanded a lot from our riders – because the horses had to be carried there – which looked more like an old Roman road that had not been repaired for thousands of years. And the Romans actually used the banks of the Vez as a secondary route from Braga to Monção.

After a leisurely half hour, the beautiful river beach of Carreira / Sá came into view. We didn’t want to stop yet, but we couldn’t resist the view of the river dammed up by a small weir on which some bathers were floating with air mattresses, the inviting stepping stone bridges leading to a pretty island and the tufts of grass between the water and the stones. We enjoyed the cosiness and freshness for an hour.

We look at frogs and dragonflies, and the children constantly threw small sticks (their dogs) into the water, which then swam away in a hurry around stepping stones and tufts of grass and had to be rescued in increasing panic.

Many other families seemed to spend the whole day here. There was even an inviting shady bar on the other bank, but we left it unvisited to continued the walk. Along the way, there were beautiful information boards about plants and animals (e.g. wagtails, yellow sheep-wagtails, dippers), but we didn’t see any of these, surely because there are many hikers on the way on this day. Unfortunately, we also did not see any otters, grass snakes or viper snakes, water lizards or even pearl lizards, the largest European lizards. Such observations can probably only be made in the low season and with very quiet children.

After a longer stretch of road, we reached the Poço das Caldeiras, a deep section of the river formed by the rocky riverbanks. Here, some young men and women jumped from the rocks into the cool water, while whole families watched them do so. Unfortunately, there is still a difficult section of the trail missing at this point, which is why we were then allowed to climb up the slope with difficulty and cover a few kilometres of road. Fortunately, the small road is only rarely used, but for Laura, it became disastrous, as she had a small riding accident. We advise particular caution on this stretch, as the road surprises several times with a considerable gradient just after the next bend.

The way to the Tibetan-looking Sistelo was still long, the small horses and riders were tired and bruised, the evening descended to the valley and we decided to return to the starting point by taxi. At the crossroads, where some other families were already thinking about the same thing, and we all realised that the mobile phone network was not sufficient to find a taxi number, and hardly enough to actually call one. Even short walks in the surrounding area do not lead to any improvement. So make sure you take a taxi number with you and don’t rely too much on your smartphone!

The Ecovia do Vez trail is about 32 km long, starting in Arcos de Valdevez and climbing up to Sistelo. We were torn between coming back and walking another stage or spending a whole summer’s day on one of the pleasant river beaches. But the lack of campsites in the surrounding area tempted us to continue to then Porta do Mezio, which is not far away, and so we postponed our next hike along the Rio Vez until our next visit to this beautiful part of the Minho.

Information about Ecovia do Vez:

Starting point for the last stage:
Ponte Medieval de Vilela
GPS: 41.921365, -8.442321
Parking is available on both sides of the river

Eco Bar do Vez
Directly at the bridge
Open: 9am – 7:30pm
(in the low season apparently only on weekends)

Another bar is located directly at Praia fluvial da Carreira / Sá
(probably also only open in the high season)
GPS: 41.929541, -8.439767

We strongly recommend writing down taxi numbers in advance because the mobile network is sometimes very weak or even non-existent.
Near Arcos de Valdevez for example: +351 966 492 858

Observable animals:
Otters, many bird species, lizards, water snakes, dragonflies, frogs

On the road:
The path is made up of easy to walk on, unpaved footpaths, wooden footbridges and a few sections of old, very uneven stone paving. An all-terrain pram can be used without any problems.

Bring along:
Water shoes are very useful for all river beaches, because only with these you can walk relatively painlessly and without danger on the rocks or pebbles.

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