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Canal Boat hire without a licence on Lake Alqueva in Portugal

The Gigantic Alqueva Reservoir at the Portugal-Spain Border is Developing Rapidly. With Nicols, you can rent a license-free canal boat from Amieira to experience the tranquility and freedom of vast natural spaces.


A River Cruise from Amieira Marina

Starting from Amieira Marina, you can navigate a 250 square kilometer lake in a unique location within Portugal: we had to see it! In the spring, we set off with two families to Alqueva, where we hired a license-free canal boat from Nicols. We checked in at Amieira Marina, a well-maintained port 2.5 hours’ drive from Lisbon. Our luggage was taken to the dock via an elevator, where we received explanations about the boat and the region.


Alqueva Itinerary

Since the depths of Lake Alqueva are not yet fully mapped and the buoys are not entirely accurate, Nicols has installed digital trackers in the boats with a digital navigation route. Twenty years ago, this was still a river valley with trees, which can still be seen emerging from the water in places. Knowing where to navigate is therefore not a luxury.


Amieira Nautical Center

After some final safety instructions and a trial run with the base manager, we could set off. It was already late afternoon, so we leisurely navigated to the village of Amieira, 30 minutes away on a branch of the lake. We followed the depth line and quickly arrived near a long jetty by the village. The jetty belongs to a nautical center with a beautiful beach and a restaurant overlooking the lake.

- "The heavily wrinkled bartender places a bottle of wine in front of him"


Amieira Village

The next morning, we took our time. A few groups of people headed to the beach, but on the water, everything remained calm. We strolled through the village of about 200 inhabitants, where a cozy café is the center of village activity. The local cycling club members had already done their tour and were sipping their first beer, while the bartender, one of the village elders, placed a bottle of wine in front of him and joined his friends.


Expert Advice: Read the tips from our Amieira Marina base chief



Heading to Alqueva on Your License-Free Canal Boat

Alqueva Dam

We cast off and headed towards Alqueva, the place that gives the lake its name. The water and shores of the lake were surprisingly calm, and we saw little sign of life. The reason is simple: the water, thanks to the dam, has covered this magnificent natural scenery, and over the past twenty years, few new constructions have been added beyond the new water level.



Alqueva Nautical Center

We had plenty of space on the lake, so we attached our paddle boards behind the boat for the children to ride. With great caution, as the last thing we wanted was a rope in the propeller. Shortly after, we arrived at the village of Alqueva, where there is also a new nautical center with a beach and a restaurant. By early afternoon, the place was already bustling.

- "In Alqueva, bars and food shops are within reach"


Alqueva Village

We walked to the village of Alqueva and settled on the terrace in front of the church, where a funeral was taking place. When the coffin was carried out of the church, people stood up from the terrace, removed their hats, and respectfully formed a line towards the cemetery.

The next morning, we woke up to a sea of tranquility. There are no locks or bridges to consider, so we had all the time we needed to get up. We enjoyed the view, read a book, and then explored the lake with our paddle boards.


The Wildlife of Alqueva

In a narrow arm of the lake, we saw large pikes leaping along the shores as we approached, making Alqueva an ideal fishing spot. A solitary stork hesitated for a moment, spread its wings, and slowly took off. A bit further, we saw a farm fence with barbed wire beneath the water’s surface, a sign that life used to unfold here twenty years ago at a different height. We navigated a bit more and lounged until we could have lunch at the nautical center where we had reserved a table.

Stork on Lake Alqueva


Lake Alqueva

On the crowded terrace, we enjoyed "pulled patridge" with pickled vegetables, mackerel salad, and a pitcher of fresh sangria. After a small nap, we continued navigating on Lake Alqueva.

The further north we went, the wider the lake became. By late afternoon, the sun’s intensity lessened, allowing us to lie on the sunny deck and enjoy the view. That’s when we truly realized how large the reservoir is.

- "Lying on the pier, we contemplate the sky"


Raising Anchor towards Monsaraz


To continue our river cruise, after a few hours of navigation, we arrived in a bay near Campinho, a recognized International Dark Sky area, known for star-gazing. We docked at a jetty with a view of a large part of the lake, which belongs to a natural camping site. There were only a few motorhomes around the bay, and further away, a flock of sheep. After dinner, a spectacular starry sky unfolded, and great serenity settled over the lake. We brought cushions from the boat onto the pier and marveled at the sky.

Sunset on Lake Alqueva


Monsaraz Nautical Center

Reluctantly, we left Campinho to navigate to the small castle town of Monsaraz. The navigation was extremely simple, and the only thing to watch out for were the fishing nets, clearly marked by floating buoys above them. At the Monsaraz Nautical Center, we found just one free spot at the end of a jetty. Today, it was windy, so we could take out the wing foil equipment. After just 20 meters, the board rose out of the water, and we glided from one end of the bumpy lake to the other.

Monsaraz, on the border with Spain, is a medieval town with charming shops and terraces offering a clear view of the region.


Castle Village of Monsaraz

By taxi, we reached the ramparts of the tourist site of Monsaraz, where only 40 people still live. We visited a shop with beautiful rugs and handmade pottery from nearby villages. The tradition of dyeing wool and painting pottery are legacies of the Moors who ruled here until 1167. In the late afternoon, we enjoyed local wine on the terrace of a wine bar. A bit later, we dined on a terrace 200 meters high and were enchanted by the blue-violet evening sky.

- "A 72-year-old man had to leave his house and orchard"



To the End of the Lake in a License-Free Canal Boat

Kayaking on Lake Alqueva

As we were about to continue, a Dutch tjalk came alongside to moor. The old boat was brought here by a Dutch entrepreneur who can navigate it in the shallowest parts of the lake. In 1.5 hours, we navigated to the Azenhas El Rei Nautical Center, located in the north, where the reservoir becomes narrower and more irregular. Here, we took a kayak tour with a guide, enjoyed the tranquility on the water, and learned all about the reservoir’s flora and fauna.

Azenhas d'El Rei, in the north of the lake, offers the opportunity to kayak in the most remote corners of the reservoir.


Azenhas d'El Rei Nautical Center

According to the guide, this region has become increasingly warm in recent years, and the locals are very concerned about climate change. Not only is agriculture here organic, but so is the menu at the nautical center, where we returned for lunch after kayaking. We enjoyed a beet carpaccio with olive oil, organic white wine, and tasted an invasive fish species that is so common here that it can be fished all year round.

- "We only hear the clatter of a stork on a bell tower"


Discovering the Village of Luz

Luz, the Disappeared Village

We navigated further to Luz, which was the newest village in Portugal 20 years ago. From the bay, we walked along a long wooden walkway to the Luz Museum, dedicated to the village that had to make way for the reservoir. A documentary showed how the 300 inhabitants said their painful and difficult goodbyes, including the poignant story of a 72-year-old man who had to leave his house and orchard, which was supposed to be his retirement provision for him and his family.


New Village of Luz

We then visited the reconstructed village of Luz, located 3 kilometers from the old Luz. It was eerily quiet in the village. Shutters and doors were closed, and the only thing we heard was again the clatter of a stork’s nest on a bell tower.

Village of Luz on Lake Alqueva


Artificial Lake

The next morning, we woke up in the delightfully calm bay of Luz. With the somber knowledge that we were passing close to an old submerged village, we continued. The last hours towards Amieira Marina, we enjoyed the tranquility of this artificially created and sometimes almost surreal navigation area one last time. We bet that in about five years, it will be much busier here, so the best time to visit Lake Alqueva is now.

Remember, from the Azenhas d'El Rei Nautical Center, you can also kayak in the reservoir's most remote corners.


Renting a Boat in Portugal: Practical Information

Navigating on the Nicols 1170

We made the trip on a Nicols 1170, which has 4 cabins, measures 11.50 meters long and 3.70 meters wide. The boat was perfectly suited for a group of 4 adults and 3 children, but next time, for even more comfort, we would choose a slightly larger boat.


Lake Alqueva

The Alqueva Dam was commissioned in 2002, but it took another 10 years for the river valley to be completely filled with water. With 4,150 million cubic meters of water, it is the largest water reservoir in Europe. The lake is used for electricity production and cooling water, as well as for irrigating surrounding agricultural areas.


Facilities on Lake Alqueva

There are no ports with electricity and water on the jetty, let alone showers. So you are quite self-sufficient. On our rental boat, we could take showers with filtered lake water, and we had a solar panel on the boat. A large supermarket (Intermarché) is 20 km from Amieira Marina, and supermarkets are hard to reach during your cruise. If you come by rental car to the reservoir, it is highly recommended to do a complete shopping in advance.

The nautical centers around Alqueva offer beautiful beaches, charming restaurants, and good mooring spots.


Travel Information

Grande Lago is 2.5 hours’ drive from Lisbon airport. It is recommended not to check in at the port immediately on the day of your trip, as this would make your day very long. A pleasant place to spend the night is the Alandroal Guest House, a mansion whose owner has set up a museum with everything he has collected on his travels around the world. Alandroal is a pleasant village in the region, with good restaurants.


Best Time to Travel

The Alqueva reservoir is located in the Alentejo region, which, surrounded by mountains (up to 800 meters), has its own microclimate. The region around the reservoir is one of the hottest places in Europe, where the temperature can exceed 40 degrees. Spring and autumn are therefore the best times to visit Alentejo. We were there in late April, with a very pleasant temperature of 30 degrees. So don’t wait any longer and discover the river cruise routes in Portugal now:

Discover the Alqueva Lake Routes

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