/ central portugal
Stuck between the southern heat and the northern cold, central Portugal is considered by many a country within a country. From the biggest waves in the world, to the highest point in mainland Portugal, the center has it all. The region encompasses 3 of the 7 Portuguese wonders, showing its strong cultural value, has the most important religious city of the country, Fátima, as well as the “aldeia mais portuguesa de Portugal”, meaning the most Portuguese village of Portugal.
You want snow? You got it! You want heavenly beaches? You got it! Good food? Got it! Beautiful castles? Feel like you are in the 17th century? Well, 100% got it! There´s nothing you can´t do around here – there´s even a Portuguese Venice (that doesn´t charge an entrance fee)! So, care to join us?
Depending on what you like, the center may be visited in different times of the year. If you are looking for some snow activities in Serra da Estrela, then the best time to visit should be around March, when it's not too cold, but there is still plenty of snow. If you would like to fully enjoy the coast, the summer seems to be a good option (even though May or September would also be a nice choice, to avoid the crowds while still enjoying the good weather). All that involves nature or sightseeing is better at spring, when it´s not hot nor cold - although you should keep in mind that it usually rains a lot around April and, as so, it may influence your plans.
Generally, the month of May is advisable for anyone looking to explore the center of Portugal, and the reason is very simple: after the raining season of April you will find green everywhere, the flowers will be blooming, the sun will be shining (but not so much that it will burn you) and the best part is… you will have all the places almost to yourself! Avoiding the high season may be a good choice for you, since you will be able to experience the region on a more personal level. (Plus, monasteries and churches are so cold… you do want that sun shining!)
By now you probably have already understood that it is virtually impossible for you to be bored in this region. There is A LOT to do and see. However, with limited time, that may pose as a problem. As so, and keeping your best interest in mind, here is a list of five places you should NOT miss.
1 – Óbidos
Óbidos is a small medieval town surrounded by the walls of its castle. It feels like time stopped around there, and that princesses and kings still roam around the town. If you want to feel it in full intensity, you should visit the village around July, when it holds its medieval festival. Make sure you do not miss Óbido´s Ginja, it is sold all around the village in little chocolate cups.
2 – Schist villages in Castelo Branco
In a region of nature and calmness, where time is nothing but an abstract concept, you will be able to find 27 little schist villages. The surrounding mountains are full of schist and, as so, this used to be the most used material in the region to build houses. You can still find them there, and even sleep in one!
3 – Estrela Mountain
Serra da Estrela Natural Park is the country's biggest protected area, which contains mainland Portugal's highest point – the Tower. Here you can Ski and engage in other fun activities related to snow. With stunning landscapes and innumerous trails, it is the perfect place for any explorer. And, of course, let's not forget about the cheese “Queijo da Serra”, typical of the region and an absolute must-try.
4 – Batalha Monastery
One of the Portuguese Seven Wonders, this gothic style monastery is famous for its unfinished chapels, known as capelas imperfeita (imperfect chapels), 7 little chapels on a circle that were actually never finished.
5 – Portuguese Venice – Aveiro
Aveiro is a city known as the Portuguese Venice. Why? Because of the canals that cut through the city, full of “Moliceiros” – little boats that may remind you of Venice's Gondolas. Just pop into one of those and discover the city. Then go to the historic center and try some “Ovos Moles”, which mean soft eggs (super sugary, super tasty). Finish with a sunset at Costa Nova, where the beaches are at, and contemplate the colourful stripped fishermen houses. There you go, you have your perfect day planned!
All parts of Portugal are beautiful, but there are certain particularities to the center that make it the perfect region to explore. There are a million reasons why, but here are the top 5 particularities that only the center can offer you:
1 - Portugal´s most Portuguese Village, Monsanto
Part of the region's 12 historical villages, Monsanto is considered to be Portugal's most Portuguese village since 1938 – you will understand why when you see it. Rich in history and with stunning beauty, this is a place not to miss.
2 –Get to sleep in a convent
No, you don't have to be a nun to do it! Remember, the center has it all. And in Sertã you can sleep in a convent, surrounded by quietude and enjoying a tranquility that only a place like this can give you.
3 - Pastel de Molho in Covilhã
In the district of Castelo Branco, in a town called Covilhã, you will find a pastry filled with meat, onions and bay leaves. Its name? Pastel de Molho. It was invented in the 20s by factory workers who didn't have much time, and so came up with a delicious dish that doesn't spoil for days. Genius, right?
4 – Fado of Coimbra
Coimbra is an academic city and this kind of Fado is all about its students. Fado of Coimbra appeared naturally among groups of students who took their Portuguese guitars when moving to the city to attend university. Today it is still a strong tradition; the Fado is only sang by men, all in their academic costumes.
5 – Nazaré's seven skirts
“Seven skirts? What?”. It's true, they are seven! And maybe you are confused right now, so let me explain. This is a traditional female costume of the village of Nazaré, that the women still wear, and is known for its seven skirts and bright colours. But why seven? Because those seven skirts represent, according to the people, the seven virtues, or the seven days of the week… well, maybe seven waves. Or is it the seven rainbow colours? Ok, there is not a fixed version of this. Still, it is worth seeing and maybe you can choose the reason you like the most.
Combining both the places of interest and the very particularities of the region, this one-week itinerary sums well the central Portugal, especially for those of you who want to see more than the usual and get a real feel of the country. Best way to explore it? With a road trip of course! You can take this itinerary as your basic guide.
Start your first day in Peniche. Ride through the coast and head up to Baleal, a little peninsula that you can access by driving in a road that cuts through a beach (amazing, right??). Then head up to Óbidos. Get lost in the streets of the village, climb the walls of the castle, enter in one of its bookshops and try some ginja de Óbidos.
Next day ride to Nazaré. Don´t miss Sítio, for the best views, and Praia do Norte, for the iconic big waves. Finish the day in Batalha to visit its beautiful monastery. In the third day, go to Castelo Branco region and explore its schist villages. To make it perfect, stop in Sertã and stay there for the night (preferably in a convent).
In the next day, wake up early and head up to Monsanto. Take your time admiring the typical houses and climbing to the castle. Finish the day in Serra da Estrela! Rest in the mountain and when you wake up next day enjoy the views of the Tower.
Tired of calmness? Well, then go to Coimbra! Finish your 5th day in the city. If you have the energy, go grab a beer and enjoy the academic life at its best. In the 6th day, make sure you go to the Botanic Garden, take a walk around the university, enter the Joanina Library and visit the Old Cathedral.
If possible, finish your day in Aveiro. On your last day, take a boat tour in the city, visit the historical center, and eat some Ovos Moles. And what's the perfect way to finish a road trip? Of course, with a sunset! Head to Costa Nova and take in the sun as your amazing trip comes to an end.
> Portugal crowded a dead queen, who is buried in Alcobaça
The Pedro and Inês love story is the most famous history in Portugal. It was a tragic love that ended with the King ordering the murder of Inês, for her forbidden love affair with the heir to the throne, Pedro. After being coronated, Pedro demanded for Inês's body to be exhumed, and crowded her the queen, even though she was already dead. If that isn't true love, I don't know what is.
> The Baker Warrior
An old Portuguese legend says that a baker named Brites de Almeida, in a battle between Portugal and Spain that took place in Aljubarrota, killed 7 Spanish soldiers that took refuge in her bakery. After that, together with other women on the village, she went after more soldiers, armed with her baker's spade. She is considered a hero all around Portugal (even though people are not sure if she existed or not)!
> Bats are guardians in the Joanina Library
It’s true, the Joanina Library, full of literary treasures, is infested with bats! But don't worry, they have a job. They are bug-eaters who keep the manuscripts preserved and safe from insects. Guess we can call them guardians, right?
> The biggest wave in the world was surfed in Praia do Norte (Nazaré)
In November of 2011, Garret Macnamara surfed a 78-foot (23,8-meter) wave – the biggest wave ever surfed. This accomplishment has put Nazaré on the map and attracted hundreds of brave surfers.
> A pope was almost killed in Fátima
In 1982 there was an attack on the Pope John Paul II in Fátima: a priest tried to stab the Pope but was stopped by security. Later, John Paul II placed a bullet of other attack on his life in the crown of the sculpture of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fátima, as a thank you for protecting his life. It remains there to this day.
/ travel guides
Travel Guides with nice tips on how to spend a short break or a week or more in Central Portugal.
/ road trips
Detailed and very informative road Trips with everything that you need to know to get you ready for your adventure on the road.
/ where to eat & where to stay
The best way to know a place is to taste the local food. So, in here we let you know the best and most authentic places to grab a bite. And also, the most beautiful places to stay when you are visiting.
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