Guest Post: Julie Dawn Fox Gives us 10 Things to See and do in Esposende Apart From Lying on the Beach
As you might expect from a low-key coastal resort town at the mouth of a river, many of Esposende’s attractions and its culture revolve around the water. Judging by the number of beachfront restaurants and cafés, one of the most popular things to do here is gaze at the coastline while eating or drinking. Don’t worry - there are plenty of ways of burning off these calories during your holiday.
1. Tuck into local fish and seafood
Let’s focus on the food first since it would be a shame to miss out on such a great opportunity to sample the catch of the day. Look out for daily specials on restaurant notice boards – these will be dictated by whatever the local fishermen have brought back.
Sea bass (robalo) is deservedly popular and the local speciality is worth venturing outside your comfort zone for. Polvo da Pedra, Esposende’s signature dish, is made with octopus that feeds on the mussels, barnacles, limpets and other rock-loving shellfish found along this stretch of coast. Cooked in a tomato-based stock with potatoes, vegetables and turnip leaves (grelos), it’s a dish to remember.
2. Walk, jog or cycle along the waterfront
Esposende is long and flat, which makes it perfect for cycling or a leisurely stroll after a meal. The addition of a dedicated cycle path and boardwalks mean you can stretch your legs and admire the views without worrying about dodging traffic. Bikes are available to rent from next to the tourist information office.
3. Explore the natural park
Use the PR2 EPS Nature Trail to discover the north coast natural park. Follow the wooden boardwalk through marshlands and along the estuary towards the end of the sand spit that separates the River Cávado from the ocean. You’ll come across a birdwatching shelter with observation slits at different levels and a faded information panel to help you identify the different species.
Further along, there’s a miradouro (viewing platform) from where you can admire the scenery. After doing so, cross the dunes along any of the wooden boardwalks and stay on the sandy beach until you reach the rather ugly high-rise complex at Ofir Beach. You’ll have earned some refreshment by this point so take a seat in the outdoor café and watch the surfers in action before completing this circular walk.
4. Surf’s up!
If you or the kids want to learn how to ride the waves, there is a surf school in Ofir, with different packages depending on whether or not you’ve got your own board with you. If you already know what you’re doing, join the experienced surfers further up the coast on Suave Mar beach.
Esposende has designated kitesurfing areas and a sheltered channel that’s great for jet skiing. Kayak trips set off from the calm waters of Fão and you can also have a go at stand up paddle, windsurfing and diving.
Horse-lovers of all abilities can choose to explore the area on horseback. Depending on the weather, you can choose between rides in the shade of the forest or on the beach.
7. Be adventurous!
If you’d rather spend more time in the trees without the horses, take the treetop adventure challenge. Unstoppable adrenaline seekers might also want to try their hand at abseiling or canyoning or make your own raft from tyres and planks before setting off downstream.
8. Discover Esposende’s maritime culture
As with most coastal towns, the local economy is inextricably linked to the sea and you’ll see reminders of this throughout Esposende. Look out for the bright red lighthouse in front of the 16th century Fort of St. John the Baptist where the Cávado River meets the Atlantic ocean.
Another landmark is the renovated lifeboat station next to the small marina. It’s now a Maritime Museum although your little ones will probably be more enthralled by the yellow ship-shaped play area next to it.
Pop into the Igreja da Misericória (Mercy Church) and you’ll see a remarkable 19th century side chapel devoted to Our Lord of the Mariners, its arched ceiling decorated with apostles. The richness of the decoration gives you a clear indication of how important the seafaring industry was at that time (1893).
More modern tributes include the ‘Man of the Sea’ sculpture in Largo Rodrigo Sampaio and a boat-shaped fountain in Largo Dr Fonseca Lima.
9. Museum in a theatre
In the same attractive square as the boat fountain, you’ll find one of Esposende’s most iconic buildings. As the Art Nouveau tiles decorating its facade suggest, it was originally constructed as the town’s theatre in 1911.
It was chosen as the site for the Municipal Museum in the 1990s but thankfully, the original tiles that decorate the main room on the ground floor were left intact. This space, known as the Tiles Room, hosts temporary exhibitions. The more modern upper floors are dedicated to longer-term exhibitions about Esposende’s culture, history and relationship with the sea. Ask at the reception desk for a leaflet in English to help you understand the texts.
10. Shop for local crafts and antiques
Each month, Esposende hosts two outdoor markets in Largo Rodrigo Sampaio. On the first Sunday of the month, the theme is antiques, which can mean anything from rusty saws to marble-topped dressing tables. Whether you buy anything or not – and you should haggle if you do find something you like – the market gives you a fascinating insight into local history and lifestyles.
The third Sunday of the month brings the craft fair to town. If it coincides with your holiday, this is an ideal opportunity to do some souvenir shopping while supporting local artisans and the community.
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This article was written for us by writer and photographer Julie Dawn Fox. To read more of her wonderful experiences living in Portugal, visit her website at JulieDawnFox.com.