Beiras” is the traditional name for a strip of land flanked by Portugal’s two main rivers – the Douro and the Tagus – and marked by intense contrasts.
The coastline is a series of long sandy beaches, dunes, lagoons, pine-woods and cities whose everyday life is marked by the sea. Inland are to be found austere mountains whose schist and granite outcrops give the land its very soul.
You cannot fail to appreciate the region’s woods, lakes and deep ravines, and its mountains that seem to vanish into the distance, with the Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain range in mainland Portugal, rising up proudly amidst them all. Under the ground lies an immense reservoir of mineral waters that spring forth at the region’s many spas, where you will want to relax under the shade of cedars and laurel-trees.
You should plan your trip to include a visit to the Beira province’s historical villages, each of them guarded by castles built at the orders of the first kings of Portugal to defend the kingdom, and standing on the remains of even earlier presences – Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Christians. Make sure to visit these villages and discover the longstanding traditions and culture of the local people.
Your trip should also include the noble and austere cities of Viseu, Guarda or Castelo Branco. Look closely at these cities as you enter them and see how, in each of them, imposing granite cathedrals stand proudly above their houses, as a testimony to their long and interesting history.
As you move towards the coast, the mountains gradually give way to long sandy beaches bathed by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, where the climate is much milder. Wending its way down from the Serra da Estrela to Coimbra is the beautiful River Mondego, which encircles this ancient university city, continually enlivened by the songs and traditions of its many students. Stop and listen to the sound of the Coimbra guitar and surrender to its charms.
Aveiro: Famous for its lagoon, this town is crisscrossed by canals where colorfully painted moliceiro boats sail. Deserving a special mention: Cathedral (15th-18th centuries) and Gothic cross; Misericardia Church and Sao Bartolomeu Chapel; 18th century churches of Santo Antonio and Sao Gonalo. Regional Museum, housed in the ancient Convento de Jesus.
Belmonte: Unsurprisingly given its name, the town is situated at the top of a hill over which towers a fine castle. In one of its mighty walls is a particularly fine Manueline window showing the flowery Gothic style characteristic of the period of King Manuel 1st. Beside the castle is the fine Romanesque-Gothic church of Santiago in whose interior is to be found a very fine statue of the Madonna with the body of Christ, whose simplicity and originality are most striking. Belmonte is famous for being the birthplace of Pedro Ãlvares Cabral, the man who in 1500 discovered Brazil. The town is notable, too, for its Jewish community, which has lived here without interruption since the 14th century. Not far from the town is Centum Cellas, a mysterious construction from the Roman era. The purpose of this two-story building remains an enigma.
Busaco: Majestic forest, where stands the royal palace of Busaco, of Neomanueline architecture, built in the 19th century, and currently an ha´tel de charme. Milestones and memorials of the victory won over the Napoleonic army are the obelisk and the Military Museum. Distant 3 km from here lies the thermal spa of Luso.
Castelo Branco: Around the 13th century castle lies a medieval quarter, with its Manueline portals. In the old Episcopal Palace, is the Francisco Tavares Proenea Junior Museum. Other old monuments are the Pasos do Concelho (16th-17th centuries), Graua Convent (16th-18th centuries), Santo Antanio dos Capuchos Convent (16th century), Misericerdia Velha Church (16th-18th centuries).
Coimbra: One of Europe’s oldest university towns, it has kept its secular academic traditions, as seen in the black-caped students, in the soulful tones of the Fado de Coimbra? (traditional song sung to the sound of guitars by the students) and in the Queima das Fitas, a boisterous celebration of the students graduating year (Burning of the Ribbons). Overlooking the city is the university, with its old tower and a sumptuous Baroque library. In the adjacent quarters you will find the Old Cathedral (Romanesque) and the Machado de Castro Museum, built over a Roman cryptoportico. In the ancient streets, with their medieval walls, arches and stairways, are the Santa Cruz Monastery (founded in 1131), the church of Santiago and the monastery of Celas (13th-century). On the left bank of the Mondego stands the Santa Clara-a-Nova Convent (Baroque, 17th-century). 16 km to the south, lies ConÃmbriga, the most important Roman remains in Portugal.
Roman ruins Conumbriga: Conumbriga is situated 16 km south of Coimbra. It was a point on the Roman road that came from Sellium (Tomar) and made its way to Aeminium (Coimbra). It is still surrounded by the original walls, and visitors can see coloured mosaics, as well as figurative and patterned illustrations in an excellent state of conservation. There is an early Christian burial ground and a set of hot springs. A museum is to be found near the archaeological site.
Adventure tourism on the Teixeira river, Serra da Arada.
Figueira da Foz: Summer resort on the mouth of the Mondego river (long, sandy beaches and water sports facilities). Special mention to the mother-church, Casa do Paso (17th century), Municipal Museum, Santa Catarina Fortress (16th century) and pelourinho.
Cathedral, 14th-16th centuries, Guarda: The walls, the towers, the old Jewish quarter and the houses of Dom Joao I and Barbadao call to mind the days of the town?s medieval splendour. The Cathedral, Gothic in its origins, displays a Manueline portal and window as well as a Renaissance retable. Also deserving a visit are the churches of Senhora dos Remadios (16th century), Misericerdia (17th century), and Sao Vicente (18th century), and the Regional Museum. On the outskirts the Romanesque chapel of Nossa Senhora de Mileu (11th-12th-centuries).
Piao, a historical villages: These ancient population centers, dating back before the establishment of the Portuguese nation, are characteristic of Beiras region, in central Portugal. Many are located on higher ground because they were originally built to defend populations in an age that predates the Roman invasion. Here military architecture prevails, the entire settlement being surrounded by strong walls. One exception to this prevailing military spirit is the village of Piao. Examples of typical centres are: Almeida (whose polygon-shaped fortress was in the 18th century considered unassailable); Castelo Mendo, Castelo Novo, Castelo Rodrigo, Idanha-a-Velha (with Roman remains and a cathedral of Visigothic origin); Linhares da Beira, Marialva, Piao and Sortelha. Worthy of mention is Monsanto, which is built on the site of the ancient Lusitanian fortified camp of Serra de Penha Garcia and has a pousada with splendid views.
Monsanto: This historic village encloses the ancient Lusitanian settlement of Serra de Penha Garcia, the 12th-century castle and beautiful manor-houses (18th-century), the mother-church and Misericerdia Church (16th-century). There is a pousada with a nice view over the landscape. Nearby stands the Roman-Visigothic chapel of Vira Corua.
Viseu: With fortifications of the probable campings left by the imperial legions from Rome, the town keeps remains of the Gothic walls and the ancient doors of the 15th-16th centuries. Not to miss: Grao Vasco Museum, with important painting collections; the Cathedral, of Romanesque origin; the church of Terceiros de Sao Francisco, the Naris Convent, and the Sao Teotanio Hospital. Also worthing a visit are the 17th century church of the monastery of Jesus and the town?s Historic Museum.