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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Portugal’s “Niagara Falls” Now Gives Access to Hundreds

Updated: Jan 10

"An instagrammable space" (Photo by Paulo Figueiredo Fotografia)


A towering waterfall in the heart of Portugal elicits cries of awe. It beckoned one recent visitor to swim in its crystalline waters only hours after the frost had melted on the grassy hills around it.


Once a hidden treasure, the Açude (Dam) da Ribeira and the surrounding area has been rendered more accessible with a pedestrian bridge, walking trails and a parking area. The May 2023 opening of this developed tourist attraction in Oliveira do Hospital Municipality, Coimbra District, has attracted hundreds of visitors and tourists from various countries, according to Oliveira do Hospital Informação Municipal (December 2023).


“The development of the Açude da Ribeira into a leisure area, an investment of about 450,000 euros, made it possible to transform a space that was abandoned into an "instagrammable space,” President José Francisco Rolo, of Oliveira do Hospital Municipality, told Campeão das Províncias: Coimbra (May 21, 2023).


“This was an area that needed to be valued and cared for after the fires of 2017.”


A serpentine 300-meter-long iron and concrete elevated walkway connects the banks of the Seia River as well as the villages of Ervedal da Beira and Lagares da Beira, reported Notícias da Coimbra (May 22, 2023). It overlooks the waterfall, highlighting its beauty, which during periods of heavy rain “has the effect, exaggeration aside, of Niagara Falls”, said President José Francisco Rolo, reported Campeão das Províncias.


A serpentine 300-meter-long iron and concrete elevated walkway (Oliveira do Hospital Municipality, December 12, 2022)


In addition, there is a parking area with access from the N-230 road, marked with a billboard. It also has 15.2 kilometers of circular walking trails: Talegre (8.95 kilometers), Espadanal (3.42 kilometers) and Açude (2.83 kilometers), according to Notícias da Coimbra.


The Açude da Ribeira always has been known by those who live and farm around it.


“This was a space where people went, over the years, to bathe and learn to swim,” President José Francisco Rolo told Campeão das Províncias.


However, construction of the elevated walkway was not consensual in the region and led to strong criticism on social media, the president told Notícias da Coimbra.


Once a hidden treasure, the Açude (Dam) da Ribeira and the surrounding area has been rendered more accessible with a pedestrian bridge, walking trails and a parking area.


The Environment in Uraniferous Zones Association (AZU) told Lusa news agency that the “Monster Walkway ” is an attack on the natural beauty of this stretch of the Seia River and should be removed,” and that “cleaning and depolluting the Seia River and its tributary streams must be a priority,” reported beira. (December 22, 2022).


The group accused the Municipality of Oliveira do Hospital of not consulting “other entities in the area and the population” about the project.

José Francisco Rolo told beira. that the project was treated with “seriousness, objectivity, rigor and transparency”, receiving unanimous approval in the City Council and praise from the Municipal Assembly. He said that it garnered favorable opinions from the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF), the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) and the National Agricultural Reserve Commission. 

“The project was successively scrutinized and evaluated by several entities before application to the CCDRC (Comissão de Coordenação e Desenvolvimento Regional do Centro, Commission of the Coordination and Regional Development of Central Portugal), which approved it with 85 percent community co-financing.”

According to the president, the total investment of 450,000 euros included about 375,000 euros within the scope of the commission’s 2020 Operational Program, reported Campeão das Províncias.

The infrastructure was designed during the municipality presidential term of José Carlos Alexandrino, a native son of Ervedal da Beira. José Francisco Rolo, a native son of Lagares da Beira, is his successor.

José Carlos Alexandrino was president of Oliveira do Hospital during the Great Fire of October 2017, which hit the municipality hard. The fire devastated 97 percent of the forest, destroyed homes and businesses, killed animals and took the lives of 13 people, according to Radio Boa Nova, in Oliveira do Hospital (October 15, 2021).


The surrounding areas were not immune to the firestorm.

In total, in a single day, the flames multiplied into 914 ignitions, burned 241,000 hectares (78 percent forest) and, along the way, resulted in 50 deaths in 40 locations in 15 municipalities in the districts of Castelo Branco, Coimbra, Guarda and Viseu, reported Expresso (October 14, 2022).

Now president of the Municipal Assembly, José Carlos Alexandrino said that the Açude da Beira’s development “work is incomplete”, reported Correio da Beira Serra (June 24, 2023).


“I really believe that it won’t just be this investment. There will be an investment of one million euros. We have a Roman bridge 400 meters away that we have to publicize.


“We are going to sell the Oliveira do Hospital brand.”

José Francisco Rolo explained later that there are some ideas, but there has been no project application to finance new elevated walkways.

At the walkway’s inauguration in May 2023, José Carlos Alexandrino thanked architect Marta Falçao for her design, reported Noticias da Coimbra. Born in Lisbon, she has participated in several public spaces in connection with the environment and landscaping, according to agora: futuro.

Viscount of Ervedal da Beira

Previously, José Francisco Rolo had thanked the Viscount of Ervedal da Beira, Sebastião Dargent de Albuquerque, for providing “surrounding land for collective usufruto (legal right to use property belonging to another)” in an area classified by the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) as Rede Natura (Nature Network), reported Noticias da Coimbra (November 10, 2021).

Sebastião Dargent de Albuquerque, 90, is the son of Sebastião Carlos de Albuquerque, according to Geni, a genealogy website.

“In 1944, during the Second World War, Sebastião Carlos de Albuquerque, 3rd Viscount of Ervedal da Beira, was president of the Chamber. He  . . . had the merit of building the hospital in Oliveira do Hospital, which today operates under the auspices of the Aurélio Amaro Diniz Foundation, and guaranteeing the funds and means necessary for it to operate under conditions, at least, equal to those of the best national hospitals.

“During his time in office, . . . there was construction of the road from Ervedal da Beira to Seixo da Beira in 1942, which was probably, at the time, the longest macadamized straight road in the country in the region that he called Cordinha (string), covering the villages of Ervedal da Beira, Vila Franca da Beira, Aldeia Formosa and Seixo da Beira.”

Cordinha is the popular name for the primary school in Ervedal da Beira, formally known as Escola Básica Integrada da Cordinha.


Viscount of Ervedal da Beira was a noble title created by King Carlos I in 1893 in favor of Sebastião Carlos da Costa Brandão e Albuquerque (1833-1927), who was born in Oliveirinha, now Vila Nova de Oliveirinha, Tabua Municipality.

He studied law at the University of Coimbra and served as judge throughout the country, reported Nobility of Portugal and Brazil (1989), according to Wikipedia. In 1908, he was appointed Juiz Conselheiro do Supremo Tribunal da Justiça (Counselor to the Supreme Court of Justice).

In 1910, the birth of the Portuguese republic ended the monarchy and the creation of titles of nobility.

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