beiras.jpgPortugal is a mountainous country with an unpolluted environment. Its pure and well preserved landscape boasts dense forests and rocky outcrops.

In the Beiras you will find a huge variety of nature, history and culture. First there are glacial lakes, spring waters and all kinds of outdoor sports: on land, in the sky or on water.

The Serra da Estrela Natural Park is worth a visit because it boasts clear spring waters at the sources of the rivers Zêzere and Mondego.

If you’re feeling energetic, go to Linhares where you can have a go at paragliding. For natural swimming pools try the Serra da Lousã and the Serra do Açor. And for peaceful footpaths visit the Serra do Caramulo. All of this is in the Beiras, where you will also find opportunities for canoeing and rafting, rock-climbing, abseiling and many other adventure sports. And be sure to spend some time on the Atlantic coastline with its white sand and high waves.

Also in the Beiras is Coimbra, where Portugal’s oldest university is to be found, with its fabulous baroque library.

The region is filled with the history of fierce battles and stories of Portugal’s roots before it became a nation. Get to know the historic villages such as Monsanto. Get to know the cities too, such as Guarda or Viseu, dominated by the traditional stone architecture of the Beiras.

The Beiras is a region of warm hospitality, offering visitors genuine village tourism. The charm of the people is to be seen in the authenticity of their rituals, and their popular religious festivities, such as Easter. But it is also found in their cuisine, with its cheeses, sausages and mountain honey. All of this is waiting for you.

Historic villages
Portugal’s historic villages are among the country’s best kept secrets.

Built from granite and schist, and located in the heart of the country, they have witnessed over 900 years of Portuguese history. But while the villages are amazingly peaceful places to visit, they have not always been so tranquil.

In the past these villages, perched high on hilltops, played a crucial role in protecting the surrounding lands. Their vantage point made it almost impossible for would-be invaders to approach undetected. It was a hugely effective form of defence. Over the centuries, Moors and Christians, Spaniards and Portuguese, have all tried to take the villages for themselves. And as a result each village has its own spell-binding tale to tell. One such example is the village of Almeida, whose formidable fortress capitulated to the French in the 19th century after heroically resisting 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.

Border castles
The frontier castles have stood since the birth of the Portuguese nation.

Listen to ancient stories of heroic deeds and glorious battles while discovering the remains of buildings that tell us so much about the country’s origins.

There’s so much to enjoy: from the castles of Alfaiates, Sortelha, Vilar Maior, Sabugal, Castelo Mendo, Castelo Bom, Castelo Rodrigo, Penamacor, Monsanto and Pinhel, to the fortress of Almeida.

Most of them are classified as national monuments, going back to the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries and closely linked to the need to defend Portugal’s territory.

Almost since the beginning of its history, Portugal has had a pressing requirement to defend itself from attack by neighbouring Spain. Almeida is an interesting example not to be missed, with its fortress that was transformed into a mighty bastion of the border area.

And don’t miss the experience of the 20 Castles Route, as you get to know the Portuguese people and their history.

Romance in the Beiras
A region of woods, shadows and whispering waters, the Beiras are rich in the ambience of romance.

Begin in the regional capital, Coimbra, a city of moonlit serenades as students declare their dedication to their beloved. Discover the nooks and crannies where they court and the mythical Hotel Garden of the Quinta das Lágrimas (Estate of Tears). This is where to learn of the forbidden love of Pedro and Inês that entered Portuguese history and folk memory.

Another site of great charm is the Buçaco Hotel with its surrounding countryside offering hand in hand walks along leafy paths. And there is much to be said of a stay at the Curia thermal spa with the soothingly romantic ambience of its Park and Grande Hotel. It was here the movie “Belle Époque” was shot before going onto win an Oscar for Foreign Language Film in 1992.

To the north, catch your reflection in the attractive Art Nouveau facades by the Ria de Aveiro. Or for courting in the surrounding countryside, take the historic railway line up the Vouga Valley, leaving from Aveiro station with its fine tile panels. In Macinhata do Vouga, get all nostalgic in the Railway Museum.

Inland, visit the romantic landscapes home to villages such as Avô and others along the riverside. They are all full of character, like the Castle of Arouce, perfect for conjuring up imaginary battles and jousting knights.

In the deep greens of its countryside, the stone of village and mountain, twisting streams and rivers, the Beiras brings on intense passion.

Beaches on the Aveiro coast
Seven days to discover the longest stretches of beaches in Portugal, along the coast of Aveiro, Figueira da Foz and Leiria – wide beaches bordered by dunes and pine groves providing shelter.

In Aveiro, delight in the colours of the city and the white of the salt production areas in the Ria, with all the colours of its bobbing moliceiros [traditional boats for collecting seaweed], and don’t forget to try the ovos moles (a sweet egg-based dessert), wrapped in wafer and shaped into marine forms. Take a swim in the clear blue water of the beach at São Jacinto, in the middle of the São Jacinto Nature Reserve (protecting the dunes), or visit / spend the day on the beach in Costa Nova, where the traditional seaside wooden houses painted in stripes of bright colours still exist.

A little further south fill your lungs on a beach surrounded by pine trees – Palheirão Beach. Right beside it is Quiaios, a town where you can try paragliding and where, close by, Figueira da Foz is waiting for you with its dynamic nightlife.

Beiras History
The Beiras is home to some of the oldest examples of Portuguese history.

Inland, along the border, are the fortresses and castles that define Europe’s longest standing border. To begin with, visit Almeida, Castelo Rodrigo and Castelo Mendo. These are just three of twelve historical villages, classified on the merit of their rich heritage and surviving traditional cultural capital.

And the great cities have seen great stone monuments to national historic eras. Visit the historic centres and admire the se cathedrals of Aveiro, Coimbra, Viseu and Guarda. Then, move onto the art collections and museums, including Aveiro with its exhibition housed in the fine Convent of Jesus, the Grão Vasco Museum in Viseu and the Museum of Guarda. In Castelo Branco, the Museum comes along with adjoining attractive gardens dotted with statues of the kings of Portugal. In Coimbra, the Machado de Castro Museum, with a Roman crypt-portico and an elegant Renaissance veranda, displays valuable collections, and there is the sumptuous Baroque University Library along with an interesting Museum of Physics. And in close proximity, drop in on 2,000 years of history at Conímbriga and the extensive remains of a Roman villa.

For these and so many other reasons, if historic itineraries are for you then the Beiras are waiting.

Cities of the Beiras
A region of high hills and great greenery, of stone outcrops, of a nature intact beyond the protected reserves, the Beiras deserve exploration.

The cities may have their own modern accesses but the rivers are the great thoroughfares down through these stony massifs.

In Coimbra, where the historic centre immediately grabs the attention, save time for over on the left bank of the river Mondego. Visit the Portugal dos Pequenitos (Portugal of the Little Ones), great for young and old alike, and the Churches of Santa-Clara-a-Velha and Santa-Clara-a-Nova, the latter a significant pilgrimage destination.

Aveiro, on the mouth of the Vouga, charms with the colours of its estuary and seaweed gathering boats successfully contrasting with its university complex, a fine example of contemporary Portuguese architecture.

In Viseu, the austerity of the stone impresses as it does in Guarda with its Se fortress church standing on the site of a former Jewish neighbourhood.

Castelo Branco is to be found heading south. With a flatter and richer landscape, the Tagus lies just beyond.

One of the best resorts in the country, Figueira da Foz provides a fine finale to the Beiras complementing its historic villages and the twenty border castles route, taking in the defensive strongholds essential to Portugal holding onto its independence.

The great diversity with cities of a very human dimension and glorious nature are only the beginning of your invitation to the Beiras.

Paragliding in Linhares
Looking out over boundless fields and valleys of green, Linhares is ideal for the sport of hang-gliding. Take off and let your imagination soar as high as you fly.

For that weightless feeling, stripped of the daily pressures, try Linhares. Known in Portugal as the “cathedral” of hang-gliding, the village provides unique conditions for hang-gliders, including a school and all the necessary facilities.

In the north-west of Serra da Estrela, the historic village of Linhares stands at 820m, perched over the beautiful river Mondego valley, whose source lies nearby.

Up in the chilly and dry airs of these hills, these strangely coloured, triangular modernist “birds” contrast sharply with the respective historic remains of the peoples who have settled here, be they Visigoths, Romans or Moors.

Take deep breaths of these pure airs and stroll the Serra da Estrela Natural Park. Roam the glacial valleys and lakes and visit the picturesque source of the Mondego river.

And there is also Guarda, the highest city in Portugal at 1,056 metres as well as one of its oldest. In amongst its historic richness, the Se deserves a particular mention and not only as a vantage point for a sweeping panorama.

And ensure you try something of the special Beirã cuisine with all its wonderful smoked meats and traditional cheeses, including the renowned Serra da Estrela soft cheese.

Treat yourself well in the Beiras
In the Beiras, take a comfortable hotel, any one of its seven pousada country hotels, or fine quality rural tourism accommodation.

Then, set out to discover the excellence of the regional gastronomy and locally produced wines.

Over on the coast, fish and shellfish are compulsory and never better with all their freshness and flavour. Inland, menus are taken over by goat, both young and old, including the renowned ‘Chanfana’, veal and a confirmed national favourite Bairrada suckling pig. These inland regions also include freshwater fish and strong traditions in smoked meats.

And there are certainly the wines to accompany. Within the Beiras there are three great wine routes: the Dão, with some of the best reds of Portugal, the Beira Interior and the Bairrada, with the latter featuring some of the biggest and best in national wine producers.

However, we have more. To round off your meal, the Beiras reserves a treat. Choose from the rich egg ‘ovos moles of Aveiro’, sweetbread in Ovar or the Easter speciality of ‘folares’. And for the less sweet toothed, there are the cheeses, including the famous Serra soft cheese. And that means bread: visit the Museum of Bread in Seia, with its restaurant featuring the best in local cuisine.

And if you are looking for a concert, a bar, a disco or casino, head over to Figueira da Foz. The nights are warm and the café terraces busy!

Informations provided by ITP – Instituto de Turismo de Portugal – www.visitportugal.com