In the Centro de Portugal, Coimbra is to be found contemplating itself, a vain city looking at its own reflection in the water of the River Mondego. A city of courtyards, steps and medieval arches, the bohemian Coimbra, inhabited by students, is sung about and feted by many poets. Step forth boldly onto the stone steps, shaped by centuries of use, and plunge deep into the history of the city, where the old cathedral (Sé Velha) stands impressively before all those making their way up to the centuries-old University on the top of the hill. Its most iconic feature, the Library, with its baroque architecture dating from the reign of Dom João V, reminds us of a chapel with its frescoes and carved and gilded woodwork.
To the south of the city, travel back to Roman times at the site of the well-preserved ruins of Conímbriga. The Centro de Portugal is also the region where you will find some of the country’s most important spas, such as Curia and Luso which, with their relaxing landscapes and health-giving waters, are genuinely natural paradises where you can stimulate your senses.
Aveiro, a coastal city, dominates the lagoon and the labyrinth of canals that run across the countryside, unable to decide whether they belong to the sea or the land. The heart of the city is divided between the picturesque houses of the fishermen and the busy avenues, but all visitors to Aveiro also surrender immediately to the beauty of the slender “barcos moliceiros”, the brightly-coloured boats that are used to collect seaweed and have many a legendary story to tell.
The lagoon and maritime motifs again serve as the inspiration for the famous “Ovos Moles”, a typical regional sweet mixture made from the yolks of eggs and used to fill wafers moulded into the shape of fish and seashells – a tasty delight that you cannot afford to miss.
As you head deeper inland, the Serra da Estrela is an excellent tourist destination, particularly for nature lovers. Step forth boldly along the paths made by shepherds and their flocks and let yourself be surprised by the many hidden places of peerless beauty. In the hottest months, the region’s green landscapes provide some most stimulating scenery, but the mountains are just as beautiful and captivating when the cold weather arrives and the predominant colour is the white of the snow.
This region is full of many delights that will stimulate your taste buds, including the famous “queijo da Serra”, the traditional handmade cheese produced from ewe’s milk. With its unmistakable aroma and flavour, creamy and deep yellow in colour, it is best enjoyed between two slices of the tasty regional bread. Standing on one of the slopes of the Serra, Guarda is the highest city in Portugal, its traditional stone architecture being the most prominent feature.
Old manor houses, doorways with coats of arms carved above them in granite, and a busy and lively atmosphere are to be found hidden in the narrow streets shaded by the cathedral of Viseu, a city with an unmistakable character and an impressive array of monuments. Built entirely of granite and schist are the historic villages of Piódão, Belmonte and Almeida, still displaying their medieval layout and blending harmoniously into a well-preserved landscape.
The cobbled streets and stone-built houses still retain many of the genuine characteristics of the Portugal of the olden days, displaying the authenticity of its people and their pride in the country’s many centuries of fascinating history.
Close to Castelo Branco, we recommend a visit to the Naturtejo Geopark, recognised by UNESCO for its important natural heritage, where you can admire rocks covered with fossils and a mountainous landscape inhabited by griffon vultures and black storks. Scattered throughout the Centre of Portugal, the Schist Villages are warm and hospitable places, where visitors are always tempted to linger a little longer in order to discover more about the local customs, legends and knowledge.