The central region begins where Porto ends and its southern border is at Santarem: a stone’s throw from greater Lisbon. Spain is to the east and on the western Atlantic coast you’ll find many of Portugal’s most-popular beach resorts: Figueira da Foz, Nazare, Peniche and Sao Martinho do Porto. Nazare in particular has reinvented itself in recent years – from a sleepy fishing village into one of the world’s premier surf locations, and its record-breaking winter waves attract the great and the good of the surfing world.
Aquatic life is at a decidedly more sedate pace in Aveiro. Often dubbed ’the Venice of Portugal’ thanks to its system of canals, footbridges and colourful boats, Aveiro’s canals were a 19th century addition to allow boats easy access the centre of the town. The ‘moliceiros’ is the locals’ weapon of choice: a flat-bottomed working boat, whose shallow draft was once ideally suited to life on the nearby tidal lagoon. They’re Aveiro’s equivalent of the gondola, and colourfully painted boats offer short cruises around the city’s canal network. On land, there’s an attractive art nouveau-feel to the town’s architecture and its laid-back atmosphere is a nice contrast to the bustle of neighbouring Porto. To the west, candy-stripped huts line the beach at Praia Costa Nova and the protected Ria de Aveiro lagoon is one of western Europe’s most-important coastal wetlands.
The central city of Coimbra is home to Portugal’s oldest academic institution (established in 1290), and its Biblioteca Joanina protects and preserves many of Portugal’s most-important historical documents and first editions. Acorss the Mondego river, the 14th century Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Velha monastery and the grandiose Quinta das Lagrimas both play a part in the famously-grisly tale of Pedro and Ines: Portugal’s most famous love story. An often-overlooked building is Coimbra’s Fado Centre – if you’re unfamiliar with Fado, it’s a form of Portuguese folk music dating from the mid-19th century, popular for its melancholic lyrics. There are two styles: Lisbon-style which is firmly rooted in the daily struggle of the working classes, and Coimbra-style which appealed more to the privileged classes with its focus on the academic history and traditions of the university (with fado performers adopting the famous the dark capes worn by Coimbra’s student population).
A short drive south will bring you to Tomar – the 12th century seat of power for the Portuguese division of the Knights Templar – and the city’s UNESCO-protected Convento de Cristo and the Castelo Tomar were crucial strongholds for the knights in their defence against the Moors. In their later incarnation as the Order of Christ, the Infante Dom Henrique led them across the Mediterranean where they attacked the stronghold of Ceuta in 1415 – one of the triggers for Portugal’s exploratory Age of Discoveries. To the west, the walled town of Obidos is considered one of the country’s prettiest medieval towns, although there’s actually been a settlement here since Romans times. The Castelo de Obidos is at the northern end of town, the decorative Porta da Vila archway is to the south, and in between you’ll find a tangle of narrow streets, historic churches and charming, white-washed buildings.
Away from these man-made landmarks, Central Portugal’s most-impressive natural monument is the Serra da Estrela mountain range. At just over 100km in length and roughly 30km wide, its granite Torre Plateau is the highest point on the mainland – a unique, high-altitude habitat and protected Biogenetic Reserve, geographically isolated at 1993m. Lower down, the serra is home to boars, otters, golden eagles, peregrine falcons and occasionally the Iberian wolf. For keen hikers, there are over 400km of walking trails – the central spa town of Manteigas is at the centre of the trail network, with routes through the Zezere valley and the gorges of the Ribeira de Lenadres.
Professional and personal service.
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A really wonderful holiday
We normally travel independently, but I am go glad that we used Archipelago Choice – their insider knowledge was really helpful in making the most of our time. Valerie – Brighton
Brilliant holiday organised by an excellent company!
Friendly, helpful, professional and completely geared to us as individuals. John and Janice
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You really listened to what type of holiday we wanted and tailored our week accordingly. You understood what we were looking for and were so helpful and knowledgeable. Very personal service and efficient! Linda from Norfolk
Very helpful staff, and the trips they organised for us were excellent with knowledgeable guides
Views to die for!
We had the most fantastic time, the accommodation was fabulous, the walks and views were to die for. Insightful tour guides that kept it fun and interesting at all times.