In the past they were daily passage of trains heading to Paris. Now, the abandoned tracks in the Douro embody the Route of Tunnels.
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Walk along 17 kilometers through tunnels and bridges over 30 meters high. This is the sweeping proposal of the Tunnel Route, an old train line and an extraordinary example of engineering, which connected Porto to Paris and which has been abandoned since 1985.
The Route of the Tunnels is located in Beira Alta, next to the Spanish border, on a route between the Portuguese station of Barca d’Alva to the Spanish station of Fregeneda. The route can be extended in Portuguese territory, along the Douro River to Pocinho, which is the end point of the Douro railway line.
The line through which the Route of the Tunnels passes was built in 1887 by the disciples of Gustave Eiffel and operated for 98 years. However, despite being banned from abandonment, the site has become an object of interest for being so unique and offering a long and exciting walk, where there is no shortage of dark crossings and bridges whose precarious balance can make even the bravest ones falter.
However, in the summer of 2018 some of the most unsafe parts of bridges were rehabilitated, so the crossing is now much safer.
Discover the Route of the Tunnels
Along the 17 kilometers of trail, always carried out by the abandoned railway line, you will pass by 8 bridges, 4 pontoons and 20 tunnels. Pay attention to the complete route.
As soon as you start your way along the Route of the Tunnels, you encounter the first obstacle, as access is blocked by large iron gates. You will have to appeal to the imagination to get on the way.
The first part of the section is almost always done in the dark, so it is essential to carry flashlights and extra batteries. You may still run into one or two bats, but don’t be alarmed. The evil stories about these animals are clearly exaggerated.
Remember, too, that you will walk across bridges that offer no apparent safety. However, the recent restructuring has made everything safer, so that you can venture out even with some precautions, such as walking along the train tracks. The lateral zones can offer some dangers. It’s best to go with great care.
Walkthrough the Route of the Tunnels
Pay attention to the distances to travel between tunnels and bridges, and the rest of the route beyond this one is done in the open air:
- Tunnel 1: 1,590km in La Fregeneda – Spain;
- Pigallo Bridge, 4 meters;
- Tunnel 2: 32 meters;
- Tunnel 3: 400 meters;
- Bridge 1: Morgados Bridge, 100 meters long and 30 meters high;
- Tunnel 4: 100 meters;
- Bridge 2: Poyo Rubio 130 meters long and 30 meters high;
- Tunnel 5: 20 meters;
- Tunnel 6: 400 meters;
- Bridge 3: Ponte de la Curva, 60 meters long and 20 meters high;
- Tunnel 7: 100 meters;
- Tunnel 8: 30 meters;
- Tunnel 9: 50 meters;
- Tunnel 10: 20 to 30 meters;
- Small bridge: 3 to 4 meters, without handrail;
- Tunnel 11: 50 meters;
- Tunnel 12: 200 meters;
- Bridge 4: Arroyo del Lugar Bridge, 250 meters long and 30 meters high;
- Tunnel 13: 200 meters;
- Tunnel 14: 100 meters;
- Tunnel 15: 50 meters;
- Bridge 5: Ponte de los Poyos 200 meters;
- Tunnel 16: 400 meters;
- Bridge 6: Ponte de los Riscos, 100 meters long and 30 to 40 meters high;
- Tunnel 17: 300 meters;
- Tunnel 18: 40 meters;
- Bridge 7: Ponte de las almas, 220 meters;
- Tunnel 19: 20 meters;
- Tunnel 20: 300 to 400 meters;
- Bridge 8: International bridge over the River Águeda, entering Portugal;
- Arrival at Barca d’Alva: End of the trail.
How to get to the Route of the Tunnels
If you go by car, you can either go to Barca d’Alva, in the municipality of Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, or to La Fregeneda in Spain.
Portuguese access is quite easy. However, the same does not happen with Spanish access. In that case, you should head to the current La Fregeneda station, which is about 4 kilometers from the town and another 3.5 kilometers from the starting point of the Route of the Tunnels. Any location will be able to inform you about access, as there are currently no indications.
At the end of the Route of the Tunnels, when you reach Barca d’Alva, you can take a taxi back to the starting point, on a trip that can cost around €25 to €30.
Useful tips for those visiting the Route of the Tunnels
To make this journey as smooth as possible, pay attention to the tips we have for you:
- Traveling at a time of mild temperature;
- Start the journey very early in the morning;
- Take frozen water, to always have fresh water along the route;
- Take large quantities, as there is no way to refuel in the middle of the journey;
- Take enough food;
- Take flashlights and extra battery;
- Take suitable footwear for trails;
- Put on sunscreen and wear a hat;
- Do not do the trail alone;
- Take a camera to record all the moments and beautiful landscapes;
- Always walk through the middle of the railway lines;
- Take special care when crossing the ends. Some can be bypassed;
- If you suffer from vertigo, do not take this route;
- There will be no mobile network on most of the trail.
It is an unforgettable adventure, which requires some care, but which is well worth it. If you think you might get lost, you should pay attention to the right side of the tunnels, as they are numbered so you can always know which part of the route you are on.