Overview: The Ecopista do Dao is a 52km section of old railway that runs between Viseu and Santa Comba Dao. It’s all sealed and the gradients are gentle. It’s a lovely, traffic-free way to see some of the countryside and villages in one of the most attractive areas of rural Portugal.
The short YouTube video below will give you a taste of the route and some of the scenery along the way:
There are plenty of places to access the northern half of the route between Viseu and Tondela – and it would be easy to incorporate part of the Ecopista into a ride through some of the local villages. I’ve used it as an optional short cut for the end of my Viseu Villages ride.
South of Tondela, the route only crosses a couple of roads. It’s also very awkward to get from the southern end of the Ecopista into Santa Comba itself – see notes below.
Maps: The map below shows the complete route of the Ecopista. However, online maps covering Portugal (Google and OpenStreetMap) are unfortunately quite a few years out of date and don’t recognise the Ecopista as a route.
I’ve had to use a ‘walking’ setting to draw these maps and there are a few sections that can’t be mapped accurately. One is just south of Farminhão, where the path goes through a long tunnel (just about okay without lights!) that doesn’t show up on online maps.
Google etc also don’t show a bridge in the village of Mosteirinho (only rebuilt in about 2009!), where the original viaduct has been reinstated for cyclists and walkers, literally taking you over the roofs of the village below. At Figueiro (west of Viseu) there is also a long cutting and short tunnel (under the N337-1) that also doesn’t show up online.
Both the viaduct at Mosteirinho and Figueiro can be clearly seen if you look at the map with the satellite view.
Distance & Difficulty: The total distance is about 48km (30 miles) and the cycling is easy going from Viseu to Santa Comba. Coming the other way there’s a fairly long climb from Dao valley to Tondela but – being an old railway – the gradient is fairly steady and gentle.
Access: Getting onto the Ecopista anywhere between Viseu or Tondela is easy. The big problem is at the Santa Comba Dao end where the Ecopista joins the existing railway line. There’s a rough path to the railway station but there’s no way of cycling into Santa Comba Dao, which is on the other side of the river.
The only crossing here is on the IP3 – which is a busy dual carriageway and closed to cyclists.
The best option is to start/come off the cycle route at the old Trexeido station – just upstream from where the Ecopista crosses the Dao.
Details: The original section between Viseu and the station at Figueiro is quite pretty. However, the large number of chicanes installed to prevent cars driving along the trail can make it a bit frustrating.
Some of these are tricky to negotiate without dismounting and in some place – particularly just outside Viseu – there seems to be a chicane every few hundred metres!
Fortunately, there are none on the rest of the ecopista – although there are some very rough ‘rumble strips’ made out of granite cobbles. Their placement is fairly random – they’re at some places where minor roads cross the cycle route but not at other, more major crossings.
The section from Figuiero to Farminhao is probably the prettiest part of the ride with views over fields, woods, small villages and towards the Serra do Caramulo. There’s a long tunnel just south of Farminhao – just keep cycling towards the light and you’ll be fine!
The Ecopista winds around through more woods and countryside to the old Tondela station (which is nowhere near the town centre). There’s then a long and very beautiful drop to the Dao valley. There are a couple of old stations along the way but nothing else.
After crossing the Dao, the final section follows the river for about five km. Unfortunately, the sealed surface then just ends where the old railway line meets the modern one.
There’s a rough track that takes you to the Santa Comba Dao Railway Station but this is on the opposite side of the river from the town and the only way of getting there is via the IP3 motorway – which isn’t open to bicycles! (See note above on access).
Huw & Carolyn Thomas, February 2012.
Facilities: One thing to be aware of is that (as of 2012) although the northern half passes through various villages there are NO cafes actually on the Ecopista so you’ll probably need to detour off if you need a refreshments.
Viseu is the main town of the region and offers plenty of shops, supermarkets, cafes, restaurants and accommodation. We can recommend the Rossio Parque (doubles €30-35) or the Hotel Avenida (doubles €45) in the centre of town. Tondela and Santa Comba Dao are also both reasonable sized towns with various shops, cafes etc.
Just outside Santa Comba and only a couple of kilometres from the start of the ride, Quinta da Abelenda offers B&B accommodation – as well as bike rental and a website about the Ecopista.
If you want to go to find a cafe close to the Ecopista, villages to try include Tondelinha, Figuiero, Mosteirhino, Torredeita, Farminhao and Sabugosa.
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