Portugal is a fascinating country that you will never get bored of. In recent decades it has grown into an attractive holiday destination with much to enjoy. To enjoy cities, towns and sights, the beautiful weather and the surprising culture. For those interested in the Green Heart of Portugal, below are a handful of facts to get to know this area better.
Monastery of Alcobaça
In the town of Alcobaça, between Nazaré and Fátima, is the once most powerful monastery in Portugal. Its sheer size makes it impossible to miss. Construction started in 1178; the monastery would not be completed until seven centuries later. The church in the complex is impressive because of its simplicity. Here in the transepts are the monumental tombs of the loving couple Dom Pedro I and Ines de Castro. Placed opposite each other, so that upon their resurrection on the Day of Judgment they can immediately look each other in the eye.
Aveiro is a picturesque town that is very attractive to tourists due to its location on a lagoon and the narrow seas that flow into it. It is also an important industrial city and dynamic because of the university and the American-style shopping center. A number of canals run straight through it, giving it the name ‘the Venice of Portugal’, even if that is a bit of an exaggeration. After a walk through the town, you can enjoy delicious fish in one of the restaurants.
Three hundred exotic and four hundred native plant species grow in the Parque Natural do Buçaco, which is located northeast of Coimbra, near the town of Luso. In addition to the many birds, enthusiasts can also discover about seventy species of butterflies and butterflies. There is a wall of five kilometers around the large forest with eleven entrance gates. Although the walking routes through the forest are clearly marked, a map showing cultural and natural attractions is also available free of charge at the hotel.
Castelo Branco is located twenty kilometers from the Spanish border. If you want to drive through a rough landscape full of bends and precipices to this former capital of Beira Baixa, you should take the road from Pampilhosa da Serra. It is assumed that Castelo Branco was inhabited before and by the Romans. The Arabs also left their mark on it for centuries, until King Afonso Henriques reconquered it and gave it to the Templars. When you enter the city, you immediately come face to face with the main attraction: the garden of the former bishop’s palace. Attractions include: the statues of the kings of Portugal, the busts of the twelve apostles and the twelve signs of the zodiac.
Coimbra, with its 80,000 inhabitants and 13,000 students, is the fourth largest city in Portugal and is located between Lisbon and Porto. Coimbra’s highlights include: the Sé Velha, the Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro, the Casa da Livraria, also called Biblioteca Joanina and the Mosteiro de Santa Cruz. Part of this monastery houses the busiest café in the city, where you can see the whole of Coimbra strolling by.
Fifteen kilometers southwest of Coimbra, just outside Condeixa, is the largest Roman settlement in Portugal: Conímbriga. In the first century AD, the Romans founded this settlement on the spot where a Lusitanian residential community had previously been located. In 468 this place came to an abrupt end due to the plundering of the Suevi. The population moved en masse to Aeminium, today’s Coimbra.
Fátima is located between Tomar and Leria and is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites, together with Lourdes and Santiago de Compostela. The name Fátima comes from Arabic; that was the name of the favorite daughter of the Moorish prince Mohammed. If you want to visit the shrine by public transport, it is best to take the bus from Leria.
Halfway along the road from Figueira da Foz to Coimbra lies Montemor-o-Velho, dominated by the ruins of a medieval castle. Only the walls and the church of the imposing castle are still standing. Montemor-o-velho is thousands of years old and was once of great military importance as a defensive post for Coimbra against attacks from the sea. The town reached its peak in the fifteenth century when it had four monasteries and as many hospitals. Those who like a wide view can enjoy the rice fields and mountains of the Serra de Lousa from the fortress.
Picturesque Nazaré is located about a hundred kilometers above Lisbon on the Costa da Prata. The interplay of sun, sea and the atmosphere of the former fishing life make this place a tourist attraction. The Volendam of Portugal, as it is sometimes jokingly called, has a two kilometer long and fifty meter wide beach, where the fishing boats have largely made way for tarpaulin shelters where dried fish are displayed.
Serra da Estrela
In the center of Portugal lies one of the most interesting areas: the Serra da Estrela. This mountain range is an extensive granite massif that covers an area of approximately 18,000 km2. The Milhau da Estrela, also called the Torre, is the highest point in Portugal at 1992 meters. Several rivers originate in the Serra da Estrela, such as the Mondego, the Zezere and the Alva. The Serra do Açor, located at 1349 meters, is the biggest attraction of this mountain range.
Serra da Lousa
Southeast of Coimbra, the chalky hills of the Serra da Lousa rise from a fairly flat area without foothills. This low mountain range reaches its highest point on the Alto do Trevim, which is at twelve hundred meters. From here you can see almost all of central Portugal. Due to emigration, some mountain villages have been completely or partially abandoned. But you see more and more villages where houses are being restored by Portuguese and foreigners, such as in picturesque Candal.
The city of Tomar, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, is one of the most charming in Portugal. It is located in the fertile area of Ribatejo, which literally means ‘near the Tagus’. Tomar, with a population of twenty thousand, is best known for its huge castle and monastery, the Convento de Cristo, which was built in 1160 by order of the Grand Master of the Templar Order, Gualdim Pais. The imposing complex still attracts many tourists, as do the synagogue and the Museu dos Fósforos in the Igreja de Sao Francisco.