Our original plan had been to set a day aside to visit the Douro valley but as organised trips were not operating, this proved problematic. It’s possible to take a train from Porto to Pinhāo from where one can connect to boat trips up the Douro valley. However, with a journey of more than two hours in each direction and erratic departure times, there would have been very little time there.
Deciding to postpone our visit to the Douro valley until a future time we opted for a day at the seaside in nearby Espinho. Trains depart from the beautiful Saö Bento station taking only 25 minutes (€1.80 return). Espinho is on the same line as Aveiro so we had actually passed through the station earlier in the holiday.
Unlike many places we’d visited, Espinho has a modern station located in the town centre and is just a short walk from the beach. The town has an unusual claim to fame as it is one of the very few places in Europe to have its streets numbered instead of named. Espinho was built in the late 19th century to a grid pattern with streets running north to south having even numbers and those running east to west with odd ones.
It was just a short walk from the station to the seafront from where we started the day with a bracing walk along the promenade. As it was a Saturday morning there seemed to be quite a number of local people about enjoying the sunshine.
There was quite a breeze and we watched the pounding Atlantic Ocean waves and frothy surf breaking against the shore. The town is a popular surfing centre with several surf schools and shops dotted along the seafront. There was little evidence of surfing during our visit as we only spotted one person braving the autumn chill heading out to sea armed with his surf board.
Espinho started life as a small fishing village before becoming a holiday resort and a small fleet of fishing boats still operate from the shore. Early each morning a popular open-air fish market takes place just across the road, selling the catch of the day.
Several fishing boats were hauled up onto the beach and I liked their brightly painted appearance. Two fishermen were painstakingly repairing their nets as we passed by making them ready to be used again.
A large chimney took our attention so we crossed the road to investigate and discovered that it’s now the Municipal Museum. Formerly a canning factory, it has been converted into the town’s art and cultural centre. The museum presents the story of the old cannery and gives visitors a flavour of how Espinho used to be before tourism.
There didn’t seem to be much happening ahead so we did an about turn and retraced our steps back along the seafront continuing further in that direction. The sun had deserted us and the strength of the wind increased with rain clouds threatening.
The largest building along the seafront is without doubt the Espinho Casino. The town is a legalised gaming zone and home to a huge casino. As casino’s aren’t our thing we didn’t venture inside but it is said to contain numerous bars and restaurants alongside the gaming tables and slot machines.
The town is also noted for its art-deco open-air swimming pool which lies just beyond the casino. The Piscina Solário Atlântico was built in 1942 and has two pools fed with sea water and a diving platform, offering a warmer alternative to bathers than the chilly Atlantic Ocean.
It was actually closed, not because of the virus but for major renovation works. We did manage to peer through its glass panelled walls but it didn’t quite look the same without any water.
Rain was starting to fall and although we had taken umbrellas it was too windy to use them so it was a good excuse to pop into one of the beach bars for a welcome drink. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea as there were few vacant tables when we arrived. However, we must have stayed quite awhile as when I took the photo on leaving, everyone else had vanished.
It had then been our plan to take a walk along part of the Espinho boardwalk which stretches for 14 miles (23 km) all the way to Vila de Gaia along the coast. There was no way we were going to attempt even a short section of this without coats in the driving rain but we did venture onto the start of it to view the sand dunes.
Our planned walk would have taken us three miles along to Granja from where we could have easily taken the train back to Porto. The boardwalk ‘Passadico’ was constructed to prevent walkers eroding the sand dunes and damaging the vegetation and as it hugs the coast would be a lovely easy stroll on a fine day.
By the time we had returned to the station we were in a bedraggled state but soon dried out on once we boarded the train. After cutting our stay short in Espinho we spent some time back in the aparthotel and later had an evening stroll through the centre of Porto enjoying exploring this beautiful city for one last time.
The centre looked just as beautiful as during the day, illuminated with its twinkling lights. We took one last stroll past the Sāo Bento station and then continued down the steep cobbled street to the riverside which was equally lovely with its illuminated bridge.
The sounds of Fado music gently filled the air as we passed the many restaurants and bars that line the waterfront. Sadly for a Saturday evening they were very quiet but let’s hope this won’t be for much longer and that tourists start returning to Porto in the coming months.
Back at the aparthotel we gathered our belongings together and after enjoying a lovely breakfast in the hotel’s cafe the next morning we returned to the airport for our return flight to Manchester.
The airport was eerily quiet with few flights due to depart. Our Ryanair flight departed on time and I would estimate that 80% of the seats were occupied. Our nine night stay in Porto had been a delight and we had enjoyed every minute of our visit to northern Portugal. With safety measures in place everywhere, it felt just as safe as staying at home and I’m so pleased we decided to travel there.
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