January 9 – February 6, 2022 (Winter)
Porto was an absolute treat, but even with Covid and the offseason pushing down prices, accommodations were a little much. So we decided to split our stay between downtown and a cute bedroom community down the coast. Espinho gives off major SoCal vibes. Beachy and residential, we found it an ideal place just to be for a bit.
Our beach-view apartment unfortunately didn’t mean instant beach access. A wide road cut between the dunes and development, and our closest underpass was a few blocks away.
But it was always worth the journey. The waterfront is packed with beauty and variety. Scrub-covered dunes roll beneath a sprawling network of boardwalks. Gorgeous rock formations break the Atlantic’s fury. And huge waves carry surfers before shrinking over golden brown sand at Praia das Pedras da Maré.
We preferred to stick to dry land. A robust wooden trail stretches up to the coast, past innumerable beaches and (mostly-shuttered) cafés meant for summer crowds. By foot we could be back in our beloved Porto in just 3 or 4 hours. Frequent trains have us back in São Félix da Marinha in 20 to 30 minutes.
The town of Espinho was not particularly noteworthy. A few historic buildings can be found in the shadows of the major casino complex that is the city’s other main draw beside the sea, and modern oceanfront high-rises house tourists and commuters.
The dining at least was out of this world. Fishermen still sell their catch on the seawall to those who pass by at the right time. Danielle’s optometrist in Porto made the best restaurant recommendation of the stay: A Fidalguinha de Espinho. Their squids, great and small✨, were cooked simply with garlic and olive oil but tasted of absolute heaven.
Boca Mar is the beginning of the Rota da Água – Rota do Atlântico. The beautiful walking and cycling route connects our little slice of the coast with Villa Nova de Gaia.
The next stop north was the beach at Aguda, a former fishing village that still hangs on to tradition while tourism presses in on all sides.
We walked through the expansive Praia da Aguda, around fishing boats, and through the small town. Even with plenty of room to build, modestly-sized but ornately-tiled homes still stood shoulder-to-shoulder.
Kilometers of erosion control fences help rebuild the dunes. And kilometers of boardwalks keep people off delicate areas and make walking the coast more attractive than driving.
Our pace slowed a bit on the sandier stretches, but sometimes it was worth the delay. The Capela do Senhor da Pedra, a seaside chapel, is the most recognizable landmark on the road to Porto.
Our long walks brought to the mouth of the Douro, and swinging a right conveniently led straight to the Port warehouses opposite downtown Porto.
From here we could replenish some calories at favorite plier of Pasties de nata Manteigara. Or if it supper time, Letraria for Letra beer and a flaming sausage✨.
We tried to get out of our Airbnb as much as possible. The view✨ was lovely. But the rooms were a little run down and there was far more noise from the neighbors than we signed up for. At least the location made grocery shopping convenient – equidistant from Lidl, Pingo Doce, and Continente Modelo.
One getaway was just thirty minutes south on the train. Aveiro, a city of canals and fancifully painted boats, very much seemed the kind of place that would bill itself as the “Venice of the *insert local qualifier*.”
The marshy land is ideal for cordoning off into salt flats. When they’re being rotated out and the mucky bottom is exposed they double as wildlife sanctuaries for local birdlife.
We also wanted to take the famous rail line up the Douro Valley, but didn’t want to trade any of our precious time in Porto. Instead we made it a day trip from Espinho. The scenic route begins in the picturesque Porto São Bento station downtown. But our regional train would have to double back for that. It was easier to join it in progress at the busier Campanha station further east.
The valley is of course famous for its vineyards. Meticulously cultivated terraces often featured billboards for the major port brands that would lay claim to their output.
Soon the river grew steeper and wilder, with steep rock faces and scrub trees.
A tight route along the winding river banks let us catch glimpses our train sauntering into the hills, and myriad bridges that smoothed our ride across the wildly pitched landscape.
The trip is a popular one, but was far from overcrowded on our visit. At the start we shared our car with just a handful of other people.
Most only went as far as Pinhão. By the time we reached the end of the line at Pocinho we had the entire car to ourselves.
Cool, crisp, and calm, Espinho was exactly what we needed. We loved the beaches, the boardwalks, the ease of transit to favorite spots along the coast, the seafood, the wine. Someday we’ll return with a nicer roof over our heads and walk these halls again.