If you are starting to think about holiday destinations for next year, then one to look at is the Centro Region. It offers good food and wine, fascinating culture and an unspoilt beauty. Peter Morrell reports
A little while ago I went to the Centro Region of Portugal and fell in love with it. It is located south of the Douro River and is easily accessible from the UK with regular flights to Porto. Although offering lovely food, the famous Dão wines, two millennia of history and a warm welcome from the people it is relatively unknown to British travellers. So if you wanted to discover a really unique destination here are some of the highlights.
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. On the canals you will see Moliceiro, traditional long cargo boats, they have highly stylised decoration, with calls for God’s protection on the bow and some highly amusing saucy seaside postcard scenes on the stern.
Ilhavo is a stone’s throw from Aveiro and it was from here that intrepid fishermen of the ‘White Fleet’ sailed to the distant waters off the coasts of Canada and Greenland to bring back that most sacred of catches to the Portuguese, salt cod fish or bacalhau. To find out more about the cod fishing industry the Maritime Museum at Ilhavo has a wealth of exhibits which graphically tell the story.
Close to Ilhavo is Gafanha de Nazaré and home to one of the few White Fleet ships to survive, the four-masted Santa Maria Manuela built in 1937. It has been completely restored and is now used for sail training. Cod fishing is woven into the very fabric of this part of Portugal and we felt respect for the men who brought back the fish, which is as popular as ever.
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.
My personal highlights from the trip were going aboard the Santa Maria Manuela, the Grão Vasco Museum in Viseu and the remarkably well preserved Roman remains in Coimbra.
If you are looking for a holiday destination which has lots of interest yet is still undiscovered then I can thoroughly recommend Portugal’s Centro Region
Direct flights, which take two hours, are available from TAP
To read my original trip report click here…