Overview

Introduction

Varied, historic, compact and accessible, The Centro region is a traveller’s delight. From glacial valleys to lush green mountains, painted wooden boats to the baroque extravaganza of Manueline churches, urban canals and never-ending sand-dunes, citadels perched on hills and the black slate of village roofs, Centro manages to gather such contrasts and bind them together.

In the 12th and 13th centuries Coimbra was once the capital of the whole country and still exudes a certain dignified stateliness within the confines of its Old Town. With a royal palace at its summit and home to one of the oldest universities in Europe, the city is dominated by the energy of its 25,000 students. Historically one of Portugal’s main artistic centres, the tradition is continued in the medieval winding alleys, dotted with studios and bars, and in the excellence of the new museum of Machado de Castro. In Coimbra, unusually, the lament of fado is sung by men. The Baroque University library, populated by bats that deal with the insects that might damage the books, is of exceptional interest.

Nearby, at Conimbriga, are some of the best preserved of all Roman ruins. City walls, paved roads, lines of columns and spectacular mosaics can be viewed away from the tourist mass. One of the great delights of Portugal in general is that it contains so many interesting locations and so much history and yet remains somehow “unknown” to the majority of holidaymakers. Unlike other destinations, there is always the chance that you will feel you have discovered somewhere special, all on your own.

To the east of the pilgrimage town of Fatima, for instance, stands the extraordinary Convento de Cristo, at Tomar.  Built in the 12th century as a monastic fortress against the Moors, it is both formidable and theatrical. The base of the Knights Templar in Portugal, its original church copies the Church of the Dome in Jerusalem. Despite the Templars falling out of favour with the Pope on account of their wealth and ambitions, they were protected here by King Dinis and under Henry the Navigator became the engine-room behind the Age of Exploration. Gargoyles, cloisters, Manueline embellishments, intricate stonework, exquisite tiling, and glorious views contribute to a unique building.

50 kms east of the Atlantic coast, surrounded by mountains, is the delightful hill-top town of Viseu, with its narrow streets, many churches, and splendid Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral dating from 830 A.D. The Cathedral square is one of the most impressive in the country. The Grao Vasco Museum houses the colourful works of the 16th century painter Vasco Fernandes.

Known as the “City of the Water”, Aveiro is crisscrossed by canals, which are used by the unique wooden boats called Moliceiro that originally transported “molico” (ria vegetation), goods and cattle.  Small of draught, with tall masts and helm, they are propelled at first by a long wooden pole. Their most distinctive feature is their wonderfully painted helms, shaped like half-moons. These are true folk art, and can be seen en masse during the Regatta that takes place between Torriero and Aveiro. A network of Buga bikes (which are free to use) provides another way to explore the Art Nouveau buildings and tiled houses of this busy port city.

Throughout the region, hidden villages nestle amidst the green hillsides. Each season has its own character, cold and wet in winter, very hot in summer. In spring, magnolias blossom and there are a multitude of majestic linden trees. To the east, the pine forests of Serra da Estrela are part of the highest mountain range in the country, laced with streams, waterfalls and lagoons, and rich in wildflowers and birdlife. Nearby, the medieval fortified towns of Almeida and Belmonte guard against the incursions of old Spain.

Easy to negotiate by car or train, Centro has a wealth of subtle attractions.

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Highlights

Fortifications
Fortified towns and castles line the Spanish border. Some of the most impressive can be found at Belmonte, Castelo Mendo, Castelo Rodrigo, Guarda and Almeida.

Geopark Naturtejo
This designated UNESCO Geopark, incorporating Proenca-A-Nova and Castelo Branco, is popular with walkers and cyclists. The Geopark is famous for its fossils and the extraordinary village of Monsanto, built amongst giant granite boulders.

Prehistoric Rock-Art
The Prehistoric Rock-Art sites in the Coa Valley date from the Upper Paleolithic (22,000–10,000 BC) and are considered a masterpiece of prehistoric art. They were discovered in the late 1980s and inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1998.

Festivals

Obidos Chocolate Festival (10 Mar - 02 Apr)
Sample a variety of sweets and cakes; admire chocolate sculptures and watch competitions involving culinary professionals.

Burning of the Ribbons (8th - 13th May)
Dating back through the centuries, this academic tradition takes place in Coimbra, Portugal’s oldest university town.

Obidos Medieval Market (July)
Jousting tournaments, medieval dinners, jugglers and dancers.

Festa da Ria (August)
The estuary of Aveiro comes alive with exhibits, handicrafts, gastronomy and a regatta.

Feira de São Mateus (11 Aug-17 Sept)
Dating back to medieval times, the fair, held in Viseu, includes music, handicrafts, entertainment and gastronomy.

Note: Dates subject to change.

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Cristiana da Silva
Cristiana da Silva
Note: Map is for guidance purposes only.

Talk to our Portugal expert

Rosanna Melaragni
Rosanna Melaragni

Rosanna is the head of our Discovery Department which covers tailor made holidays to Portugal and the Azores, Italy and Sicily, Scandinavia and the new programme to Spain. She is our longest serving member of staff having joined in 1994 after completing an honours degree in French and Italian and subsequently working for a tour operator in Yorkshire. She is responsible for brochure writing, contracting accommodation, programme costing, computer inputting and generally troubleshoots where necessary. She has global knowledge of our tailor made programme.

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Fortified town of Sortelha, Central Portugal

Central Portugal

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We promise that a member of our specialist reservation teams will reply personally to your holiday enquiry before 5.30pm if received before 12.00pm (Monday to Friday). Enquiries received after 12.00pm will be replied to within 24-hours (excluding Sundays).

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

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