The North Coast Natural Park covers the coastline between the mouth of the River Neiva and the town of Apúlia, in the council of Esposende. The 18 kilometre coastline has semi-deserted, frail and beautiful white dune beaches, sea, rivers and their estuaries, pine forests, mountains and villages. These 476 hectares are one of the most pure and breath-taking places along the Portuguese coastline.
The land facing the ocean is worth exploring. The more adventurous will be pleased to know that this is one of the popular places for windsurfing and kitesurfing (board plus a sort of a parachute, the kite, to surf with the force of the wind), as the wind is stronger here than anywhere else in the country. There are plenty of schools where you can try these extreme sports safely.
If you’d rather take a bracing dip in the sea, this is one of the most important beach resorts in the north of the country. The beaches at Ofir, Esposende and Apúlia are quite popular, but you can also find calmer beaches with transparent water, where you can go for a calm walk, such as Belinho or Rio de Moinhos.
The main rivers and streams in the park are the rivers Neiva and Cávado, where you can also swim or practice water sports. The large River Cávado estuary is used a lot for canoeing, so you won’t have trouble finding schools where you can learn the sports.
Apúlia – beach and mills
This is a long stretch of sand and dunes with a series of windmills that are no longer used to grind cereals, they are beach houses. Apúlia beach is set in an idyllic scenery and is one of the most beautiful in the North Coast Natural Park.
The waters at Apúlia beach are rich in iodine, so there are many seaweeds. This was for many years a traditional activity – the gathering of seaweed, called sargaço – for the locals, especially between July and September.
This was how the traditional figure of the Sargaceiro da Apúlia appeared, wearing special clothes and using special tools to challenge the waves and gather the seaweed. The women were in charge of carrying the seaweed from the beach to a place where it would dry, and then the seaweed was used to fertilise the nearby farming fields.
Take a last look at the mills along the beach and head south to the “Percurso das Masseiras” (6.9 kilometres of low difficulty). On this trail, you can see the masseiras, a unique form of farming invented in the 18th century, which consisted of digging the soil by the dunes down to the water table. As the soil had plenty of water, the vegetables wouldn’t need a lot of water or fertilisers such as seaweed.
Head to the Apúlia lagoon, used by several species of birds for nesting or as resting ground during migrations. The vegetation by the lagoon consists mostly of reeds. From here you can go to the centre of Apúlia, across small woods and see the willows, oaks, alders, and the farming fields.
Refresh yourself from the walk at one of the restaurants in town. Since this is a seaside village, grilled fish is always a good option, with a side plate of local vegetables and a glass of refreshing white wine from the Vinho Verde region.
Between the river and the sky
The areas with the greatest biodiversity in the North Coast Natural Park run from the Cávado and Neiva river estuaries. Here you can find lamprey, Allis shad, and eel, and observe mallards, grey herons and cormorants.
There are many stone pine and maritime pine woods, and the Ofir forest is the perfect place for enjoying the local flora, sitting under the shade and unwinding on hot summer days. Once you have rested, cross the metal bridge in Fão and head to Esposende, more precisely the village of Vila Chã, to visit the São Lourenço fortress.
The fortress was built in the Late Bronze Age, and was occupied in the Iron Age, in Roman times, and in the Medieval period. It has been restored to show the remains of the houses built on the various ledges of São Lourenço Mountain.
Before you climb down, enjoy the scenery of green fields and the blue river and sea. Leave the fortress and go to the centre of Esposende to rest at one of the esplanades, and indulge in the most famous local mouth-watering dessert: the clarinhas (pastries filled with pumpkin squash and beaten egg yolks).
The festivities and popular processions are an important legacy of the region, the best known is the São Bartolomeu do Mar feast. Every year on 24 August thousands of people visit the place and take a “holy bath”, a ritual that includes children being submerged in the sea to get rid of all their fears.
How to get there
There are several direct connections to Porto. If you choose to fly low cost, you can fly from London (Stansted and Gatwick), Birmingham, Paris (Beauvais, Orly, Vatry and Charles de Gaulle), Marseille, Dole, Lille, Strasbourg, Tours, St. Etienne, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes, Madrid, Barcelona El Prat, Valencia, Milan Bergamo, Roma Ciampino, Brussels (Charleroi and Zaventem), Eindhoven, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Geneva, Basel/Mulhouse, Dortmund, Frankfurt Hahn, Karlsruhe Baden, Nuremberg, Hamburg Lübeck , Munich Memmingen and Dusseldorf Weeze.
In the summer, low cost companies fly from Liverpool, Dublin, Bologna, Toulouse, Clermont Ferrand, Carcassonne, La Rochelle, Limoges, Rennes, Las Palmas, Palma de Majorca, Tenerife and Bremen.
Traditional airlines fly to Porto from London (Gatwick and Heathrow), Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, Frankfurt, and Paris Orly, Caracas, Geneva, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Milan Malpensa, Zurich, New York, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brussels Zaventem, Rome Fiumicino, Toronto, and Luanda. In the summer, you can also fly from Montreal, Brest and Brive.
It is a little over 40 kilometres from Porto to Apúlia, where you set off to explore the North Coast Natural Park, so you can go by car on the A28. Alternatively, you can take national road 13 that runs through several coastal towns and villages, until you reach the centre of the park.