Portugal’s golden central region is situated between the green North and the Lisbon area. Center of Portugal lures with one of the most diverse landscapes in the country. To the west you will find on the Atlantic long, white sandy beaches and to the East the region that extends to the border with Spain.
There are three sub-regions: Beira Litoral, the coastal area; Beira Alta, the wooded, mountainous interior and south of it Beira Baixa, the land between Estrela mountains and the Spanish border. The Centro de Portugal was and still is in many ways the spiritual and cultural centre of the country.
This is due primarily to Coimbra, one of the largest cities in Portugal and former residence of the first Portuguese Kings. The city of Mondego River has experienced dramatic changes throughout the centuries. As Lisbon and Porto, Coimbra is a city of belvederes. But the highest point is not a castle as in Lisbon, but the University, which is one of the oldest in the world and continues to be one of the most important universities in Portugal.
UNESCO has included the University quarter of Coimbra in the World Heritage list. But Coimbra is not alone representing Centro de Portugal. The imposing monasteries of Alcobaça, Batalha and Tomar are also a part of this list. Do not forget that the cave engravings, discovered in Côa Valley are also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Roman Conímbriga, to which Coimbra owes its name, is located 15 km south of the Rio Mondego and with 130,000 square meters it is Portugal’s largest field of ruins from Roman times. Because of its many outdoor mosaics and the remains of Roman baths, it is often compared with the Italian Pompeii. Those who are looking for diversity, pleasure and leisure just need to visit the nearby seaside resorts and to get to the sandy beaches of the coast. Figueira da Foz, whose name derives from a sacred fig tree at the mouth of the Rio Mondego, offers a great fishing tradition, as well as the entertainment of a large seaside resort.
Aveiro provides very different impressions: canals like in Venice or Amsterdam, shimmering salt lakes on the edge of the lagoon and the 45-km long “ria” (drowned river valley) and near the colourful striped fisherman’s cottages of iconic Costa Nova beach.
In the centre of the region, you will find the city of Viseu that became a must-see spot for tourism, mainly because of Grão Vasco Museum, housed in the former Bishop’s Palace. Grão Vasco, one of the greatest Portuguese painters of all times, was born in 1501 in Viseu.
The forest of Buçaco is a fascinating landscape, ideal for nature lovers. This magnificent forest has a breathtaking palace hotel in the middle and about 400 native and 300 exotic trees and plant species. Among these you will find African, Indian and Mexican cedar, imposing cypress trees, sycamores and mimosas.
Open-air lovers can also find other magnificent parks and gardens, which are truly appealing. In the Gardens of Quinta das Lágrimas you will come across palm trees, Judas trees, cedar trees, cypresses, as well as a beautiful yet tragical love story, involving the throne heir Dom Pedro, who could not spouse his Spanish court lady Inês de Castro. Legend has it that her tears continue to pour out of the spring, watering all the exotic plants of the garden. The Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra is also worth-visiting.
The garden of the Bishop’s Palace in Castelo Branco is a beautiful example of a Baroque garden with artistic hedges and bushes, ornamented fountains, water springs and a lake.
In Buddha Eden Garden of the estate Quinta dos Loridos, we have a feeling of being in Asia. This is Europe’s largest Asian garden, where we can contemplate Buddhas and Pagodes, terracota warriors and rock dragons. A garden tour leads the visitor to the most beautiful gardens of the region.
Centro de Portugal is the ideal place for individual travellers who are fond of nature. For instance, the landscape of Lousã Mountain and its walking trails. If you are lucky enough you will see rare plants and animals, already extinct elsewhere. Also worth highlighting are the traditional Schist Villages, which have been carefully renovated with the help of EU funds. The Schist Villages represent sustainable tourism awareness.
There are also 12 Historical Villages located in the mountainous areas of Centro de Portugal. These almost deserted settlements have been renewed and were brought back to life for cultural and tour- ism purposes. Anyone who has spent a night in one of these magnificent Historical Villages will never forget the unrivalled peace and quiet they provide.
Romantic travellers cannot possibly miss the Castle of Almourol, placed right in the middle of Tejo River on a very small island. The castle was probably built by the Romans and in the Reconquest wars of the 12th century it was part of the defensive line over the Zêzere River from Tomar to Cardiga.
Nature enthusiasts are drawn to the Tejo Internacional Natural Park. This is one of the least populated regions of Portugal near the border with Spain. It is quite remarkable the great variety of rare bird species that you can see throughout the year in this region. Tejo Internacional is especially beautiful in spring time when the storks nest and the landscape is covered by a veil of white flowers.
Serra da Estrela, the Mountain area, is literally the highest attraction. In Summer time, Portugal’s highest peak offers peaceful mountain lakes, rushing waterfalls and enchanted villages, inhabited by people who largely live of the sheep flocks. In winter time tourists pour in to the only skiing area in the country.