Surrounded by nature, above the Paiva River and its foaming rapids, with only the sounds of the river and singing birds. What a wonderful way to get away from the city for the day.
The Paiva Walkways provide a trail of 8.7km of wooden footpaths and steps, that follow the course of the river between Espiunca and Areinho. The walkways provide easy access to this stretch of nature for the nominal cost of €1 per person, but tickets must be booked in advance, as there is a limit on the number of daily visitors.
Visitors can start the walk at either end of the trail – at Espiunca or Areinho. The walk from Espiunca to Areinho is considered to be the more difficult of the two, as it climbs uphill, against the flow of the river. So, those wanting the easier route will begin at Areinho. For those wishing to walk both directions, it is suggested to begin at Espiunca and get the uphill segment done first, so that the return leg is mainly downhill.
I had decided to walk the full length of the trail in both directions, so I set my TomTom for Espiunca. The first part of the ride was on the motorway and toll road but then the route took me along some curvy country roads with some lovely scenery on both sides. The route was about 50 miles (80km) each way.
There is a spacious parking area, alongside the river, a few hundred metres from the start of the walkway. I had fitted my panniers to the bike so that I would have somewhere to stow my riding gear whilst I went walking. There’s no way that I could have made the walk wearing motorcycle boots, jacket and trousers!
There is a small cafe at the starting point in Espiunca, where visitors can purchase drinks and snacks, but no cooked food. I picked up a couple of bottles of cold water and started my trek. The walkways rise and fall along the route, following the terrain. In some places, they are close to the river level and in others they rise several metres above it. One of the attractions on the first half of the trail is the Gola do Salto rapid, the strongest rapid on the Paiva. It is rated as a class V+/VI rapid, on a scale of I – VI. Due to the danger associated with this rapid, the rafting companies will no longer permit tourists to ride this section.
Approximately half-way along the route is a rest area with toilets and a small cafe that advertises water, coffee, sandwiches, etc. But the cafe was closed. Perhaps it only opens during the summer. This section is accessed by a road, so those who can’t make it any further can call for a taxi to take them back to the start point.
Beyond the half-way mark, there is a small cascade alongside the walkway. There is also a wider and (seemingly) calmer area of the river that has a rope swing hanging over the water, for those who are feeling adventurous. There is also a suspension bridge that crosses the river, to take hikers to a more challenging trail (visitors on the walkway do not need to cross the bridge).
Until that point, the ascent of the trail had been rather gentle. But then it starts a steep climb to the summit of the ridge, above the river, culminating in a series of steep steps to the top. But the higher elevation provides a nice view of the river below, and of the Aguieiras Cascade on the opposite side of the gorge.
I had reached the top of the steps within 90 minutes of starting but discovered that, whilst the ticket checkpoint is just 100 metres from the steps, the car-park and the other facilities were at the bottom of the valley on the other side. Lots more steps (downhill) and about 20 minutes to reach the car-park.
There were taxis waiting to transport walkers back to the other end, where they’d parked their cars. But I was just there to replenish my water supplies before heading back in the other direction. There is a bar next to the car-park, with adjoining toilets. It was lunch time but there was no indication of there being any food available – except for chocolate bars and bags of potato chips/crisps. So, a quick purchase of water, a Snickers and a Bounty and I was heading back to the trail.
Anyone starting the ‘easier trail’ at Areinho gets an early shock. Before they can start their ‘downhill walk’ they have to climb to the top of the ridge, up several sets of steep steps. But, once they have passed the ticket-checkpoint, it becomes much easier. I was able to keep a good pace on the way back and I didn’t stop for as many photos, having taken them on the way up.
Along the route, there are several notice boards that educate visitors about the flora and fauna that can be found in the region. These include several species of butterflies and dragon-flies.
When I got back to Espiunca, I treated myself to an ice cream whilst I rested for a few minutes, looking over the river. The return leg only took me about 85 minutes to complete and I had completed both legs Espiunca – Areinho – Espiunca in 3.5 hours. That’s a pretty good pace, as the website suggests that an average time for the easier Areinho to Espiunca leg alone is about 2.5 hours.
Before I headed home, I took a few minutes to see some of the beautiful schist cottages in the nearby village and further up the hill. These traditional cottages are built using shale and their roofs are made from large pieces of slate/shale. They’re very impressive.
It turned out to be a lovely day-trip. I left Porto about 9.15am and was home again just after 5.00pm. I got in some nice riding on the bike as well as a brisk 17.4km walk, surrounded by nature. Awesome!
The Paiva Walkways website has a lot of information in its FAQ section, for anyone contemplating a visit.