Exploring the best of Centro de Portugal

Church on Monsanto, Portugal (Photo by 'Portuguese_eyes' on your personality, there is something for everyone in the Centro de Portugal region. Whether it’s walking along the ocean, dining at a city cafe or touring one of many nature preserves, the region has a variety of cultural and outdoor activities.

Known as the heart of Portugal, The Centro is known for its beaches, Roman ruins, walled towns, castles and fortresses, and scenic mountains.  The mountains, the highest point on the mainland make Beiras-Centro a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts, while the Serra da Estrela Natural Park, Portugal’s largest protected area, is a haven for hikers and birdwatchers.

The city of Coimbra is home to Portugal’s oldest university and Aveiro is famous for an immense lagoon and canals that serve as streets. The inland cities of Guarda and Viseu are dominated by traditional stone architecture and the plains of the Beiras region form a kind of transitional zone between north and south of Portugal. Here lies the village of Monsanto, whose high perch enabled it to stand against a Roman invasion in the second century.

Historic villages of Centro de Portugal

Built from granite and schist and located in the heart of the country, Portugal’s stone villages have witnessed more than 900 years of history. Although the villages are peaceful today, they have not always been so tranquil.

Perched high on the region’s rolling hilltops, the villages played a crucial role in protecting the surrounding lands. Their vantage point made it nearly impossible for would-be invaders to approach undetected. Over the centuries, Moors and Christians, Spaniards and Portuguese, have all tried to take the villages for themselves and each village has its own thrilling tale to tell. One well known story is in the village of Almeida where in the 19th century, the people held off the French in their formidable fortress for 17 days.

Whether you want to experience Portugal’s breath-taking landscapes, its historic fortresses, or the warmth of its people, the villages offer it all.

Almeida, Portugal (Photo by 'LostInBrittany' on frontier castles from the 11-13th centuries

Discover the ancient stories of heroic deeds and glorious battles in the remains of the frontier castles.

From the castles of Alfaiates, Sortelha and Sabugal to the fortress of Almeida, most of these 11th, 12th and 13th century bastions are today classified as national monuments. The collection of about 20 castles in the Centro reminds visitors that Portugal was once constantly working to protect itself from invaders.

Wine country: Portugal’s Douro Wine Route

A wine region with a long tradition, the Douro Wine Route will surprise you with its aromas, beautiful views and the excellent wines produced there.

The Douro wine region is protected by the mountains of the Estrela and Caramulo, which provide stunning views at every turn. Traditional estates such as the Casa de Santar in Nelas, the Casa da Ínsua in Penalva do Castelo and the Quinta da Pelada in Seia welcome visitors. Relax at a manor house at estates such as the Casa Abreu Madeira in Canas de Senhorim, or the Solar de Torrozelo in Seia. In these welcoming houses, the tradition of hospitality reigns supreme.

 As in most of Portugal, food is a major sense of pride and plays a large role in local life. The Centro de Portugal cuisine includes various dishes based on goat, hare and wild boar. Be sure to try the regional sausages and the famous mountain cheese, always accompanied by a glass of wine.

The mountains offer year-round activities

Whether summer or winter, the Serra da Estrela offers fun activities for all tastes.

The highest point in mainland Portugal and among its most beautiful regions, the Serra da Estrela makes it easy to get your family out and about. Try skiing or snowmobiling in the winter months. Go hang-gliding or for a ride in an ultra-light plane in the summer.

Take a walk or spend the day bird-watching at the Nature Park if you are feeling more leisurely. A Serra da Estrela Nature Park Tourist Map will show you the circular route around the mountain starting in Lagoa da Torre. For a quick snack along the way, stop by a local shop and try some Serra soft cheese, considered to be one of the very best in Portugal.

Relaxing getaways in Centro de Portugal

When you finish your day of hiking, swimming or hang-gliding, there’s no better way to unwind that at one of the region’s beautiful country spas. The Romans recognized the region for its pure waters and built special retreats here for the treatment of bodily and spiritual ailments. The spas of Sao Pedro do Sul, Curia, Luso and Monfortinho are the most well known and are located in areas that offer plenty of entertainment and activities.

If you are looking to soothe both body and mind, the peace and quiet of the green countryside and mountains is a wonderful place to take in some fresh air between spa treatments. There are many natural lakes and pools for a quick dip and rivers for an exhilarating canoe or rafting trip. The hills of Viseu, Coimbra and the Serra do Bussaco are also ideal for excursions by car if you have a free afternoon.

People have long recognized the healing power of the sea and Centro de Portugal is home to the longest stretches of beaches in the country. Take a swim in the clear blue water of the beach at Sao Jacinto in the middle of the Sao Jacinto Nature Reserve, or spend the day on the beach in Costa Nova where traditional seaside wooden houses painted in bright, colorful stripes line the shores. Further south, relax on a beach surrounded by pine trees in Palheiro Beach or try paragliding in Quiaios. If you are looking to enjoy a night out, close by is Figueira da Foz, known for its dynamic nightlife.

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