Takes all sports: an activity break in northern Portugal
Takes all sports: an activity break in northern Portugal Portugal holidays Takes all sports: an activity break in northern Portugal
A smart new activity hotel offers everything from sailing and kitesurfing to cycling and yoga â" but itâs the wild coastal landscape beyond thatâs most impressive
The beaches of Viana do Castelo, in the Norte region of Portugal, are some of the most beautiful in the country. These wide swathes of sand backed by dunes and pine trees are so vast they rarely feel crowde d. Known for consistent swells and frequently windy, theyâre a mecca for kite- and windsurfers.
Cabedelo beach, about 25km from the Spanish border, is a suitable setting, then, for FeelViana Hotel, a new sport and wellness resort launched by sports lover JosÃ© Sampaio. His aim is to appeal to fellow surf devotees as well as their less-enthusiastic friends and family.
Watersports addicts will be in their element â" FeelViana was involved in organising the GKA Kitesurf World Tour and Windsurf World Cup, held here in June â" while novices can take lessons at the on-site sch ool before hitting the ocean. Thereâs standup paddleboarding on the sea or nearby Lima River, but landlubbers have plenty to occupy them, too. The list of activities is long: yoga, trail running, trekking, cycling (hundreds of kilometres of marked trails take in beaches, rivers and mountains) â" and, of course, thereâs always the option to just relax by the pool eating Portuguese custard tarts.
The 46 cabin-style rooms and nine bungalows, in woodland five minutes from the beach, look like an upmarket CenterParcs, minus the crazy golf and pancake house. Itâs all very modern and slick, lots of pine and glass, with interiors they claim are designed to âfeel as though you were at a friendâs homeâ â" which makes me think my mates need to up their game. But despite chic appearances, the hotel is child-friendly, with a busy kidsâ club entertaining younger guests.
While cycling enthusiasts can fling themselves around the on-site pump track, a guided bike tour is a great way to explore the wider area: options range from a 22Â½km Just the Sea mountain bike route to a 164km Where the Lima River Enters Portugal road bike tour. Thereâs also the option to explore independently on a rental bike with GPS.
The historic town of Viana do Castelo, 45 miles north of Porto, lies on the opposite bank of the Lima, and one of the most enjoyable ways to get there is on a bike. I join the 43km Santa Luzia tour, which includes a visit to the town.
On an electric bike the countryside whizzes by, with impressive views of the Altantic all the way, and wild h orses grazing near the roadside. We climb Monte de Santa Luzia, the 228-metre wooded hill behind the town (thereâs also a funicular for the less energetic), to see the20th-century, neo-Byzantine basilica, with views of the delta and endless coast below. On our descent we weave through woodlands to Arda Beach and join the picturesque coastal path back to the city â" where picking up a bola de berlim, a custard-filled doughnut, is a must.
Itâs worth a return trip to Viana to wander the old town and riverside at leisure â" a regular ferry service from a spot close to the hotel takes about 10 minutes (running until midnight in August and 10pm the rest of the summer) and taxis are inexpensive (around â¬5 by day, â¬7 at night). A working port, itâs a laid-back place with cafe-lined plazas and some good restaurants serving dishes such as caldeirada, a rich seafood stew.
The hotel itself has just one main restaurant, plus a more relaxed Tavern (and a small beach bar offering drinks and snacks). The food is inventive and well-executed, but not cheap (most mains are about â¬20). A salmon fillet arrives on a bed of bright purple crushed potatoes and bacalhau (cod) is a menu staple â" though this very Portuguese ingredient is rarely eaten fresh; itâs dried, salted and rehydrated â" much tastier than it sounds.
As a respite from all the activity, the hotel has a spa with a full menu of treatments, indoor pool, sauna and Turkish bath. Itâs easy to see how you could spend a week here, switching between exertion and inertia. After just a few days I was feeling the benefits, won over by the combination of wild beauty, outdoor adventure and creature comforts. Beats the âdoze by the pool and overdo it on the ice-creamâ holiday routine any day.
â¢ The trip was provided by Healthy Holiday Company, which has seven nights at FeelViana from Â£695pp, including breakfastand flights from Gatwick to Porto. Activities are extra: eg yoga from Â£15, guided bike tours from â¬30, three-hour kitesurfing lesson â¬150
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