Central Portugal is fast becoming a popular
destination for tourists looking to see more of 'real'
The green heart of
is as it's name suggests green most of the year round with
thousands of hectares of pine and eucalyptus forests covering huge
swathes of it's gentle hills and mountains, fed by numerous rivers and
streams which run through it's borders.
Steeped in history,
has a plethora of historic towns, cities and monuments, some of which
are UNESCO listed.
In addition to the natural beauty of the
region there are a number of man-made attractions which are worthy of a
visit. But what will truly stand out in central Portugal
is the warmth of welcome you will receive whether you are visiting for
the first or 101st time.
1. Take up
the Templar Trail at Tomar and see the Convento de Cristo
Heralded as the last edifice constructed by
the mysterious monastic order, the Knights Templar, the
Convento de Cristo and
Castelo TemplŠrio (Templar Castle) in
Tomar, makes for an interesting
and educational day out.
The Convento, extended and enhanced over the centuries,
dominates the Tomar skyline and is a must for lovers of all things
Templar. Open daily the
Convento and Castelo, which began construction in
1160 under the orders of
Gualdim de Pais, are on a large
It can take some time to navigate your way
through it's many halls, cloisters and chapels and it is worth setting
aside a full day to visit, perhaps packing a picnic which you can enjoy
in the grounds.
2. Learn to surf on
some of Portugal's best beaches
Portugal has some of
the best and consistent swells in Europe making it a
paradise for surfers and if you fancy learning how to
wax your board and take the plunge, why not head to the
Silver Coast (Costa
da Prata) to learn to surf.
has plenty of surfing beaches, some ideal for beginners
and there are plenty of
surf schools to
help teach you the dos and don'ts when it comes to
chose to either book a block of lessons or take
individual schooling. Some surf schools offer
accommodation and equipment hire, but if you do decide
learn to surf in Portugal
be prepared for some early mornings.
Due to the tidal
system swells are generally better early in the morning
and late at night.
Portugal's Largest Cave Network at Mire de Aire
cave system in Portugal, the
Grutas de Mira de Aire,
were discovered in the 1940s but were only
opened to the public nearly three decades later.
The cave network is illuminated by over 3,000
lights and the specially created walkways ensure
you can see a good proportion of the stalactites
and stalagmites as well as the underground
river, Rio Negro before resurfacing thanks to
two large elevators.
The caves are open daily
and guides provide tours on an hourly basis.
Parking is plentiful adjacent to the cave
entrance and there is a handy cafe and petting
zoo where you can keep the kids happy until it's
time to delve into the underground. The
Grutas de Mira de Aire
also have a water park at the exit.
4. Pan for Salt
instead of Gold at Rio Maior
look at the salt flats of Rio Maior (Salinas de Rio
Maior), where you can get a guided tour of the
salt pans, but also watch workers as
prepare salt crystals for sale.
At Rio Maior most salt pans are privately owned and
tended to with workers scrapping off the crystals during
the summers months, then laid out to dry further.
5. Canoe down
the Rio Mondego or Rio ZÍzere
If you enjoy
splashing about in the water then why not sign
up for a river safari on either the
ZÍzere? Canoe safari's are a great way to see
a different view of
central Portugal and can
also keep you fit.
from 15Ä per person and can sometimes include
lunch, though remember to pack your sun tan
lotion as you are more prone to burning due to
the reflection of the water.
6. Candy Striped
Houses at Costa Nova
The seaside town of
is a great place to visit with or without children.
The town, famous for
it's colourful stripped wooden houses, has plenty of
wide sandy beaches, children's play parks, large
promenades and a plethora of restaurants providing
tasty, freshly caught sea food.
7. Sun and
Ski at Serra de Estrela
season is relatively short at Portugal's only
at Torre on the Serra de Estrela mountain in
central Portugal, there are runs for all
abilities. And if you don't fancy testing your
skiing ability you can always opt to try out the
sledging run, situated adjacent to the cafe and
restaurant complex. Outside of the ski season
the Serra de Estrela mountain is a stunning
place to visit with lots of interesting towns,
villages and scenic walks to explore.
8. Enter into the
Festive Spirit and visit one of the region's many Festas
The Portuguese like to
party and will find just about any excuse to hang out
the bunting, get the barbecues burning and enjoy
themselves. And in
central Portugal you will find a vast
array of festivals celebrating anything from Saint's
Days to the harvest of crops.
Probably the largest festival in
central Portugal though is the
Festa dos Tabuleiros,
held once every four years in
The festival can last up to two weeks and is a lively
affair culminating in a four hour long procession with
over 600 girls carrying 'trays' atop their heads, quite
a feat in the July heat.
The festival season
usually runs throughout spring, summer and into the
autumn and there is even a festival devoted to Chocolate
held at the medieval town of
9. Take a
Tour of the Oceanarium at Lisbon, Portugal
If you want to
get closer to the underwater world, but don't
have the nerve or time to take your SCUBA diving
license then why don't you take the family to
the Parque da NaÁűes and adjacent to the Rio
Oceanarium has a fascinating range of
aquatic life on show providing an insight into
all things underwater. Open daily and with
regular, feature exhibits, the
ideal to visit as a couple or with family
especially if it's raining outside.
10. Listen to Fado
in Lisbon or Coimbra
The melancholy music
Fado is renowned in
Portugal and the classical style
sung in the city of
the more mainstream version is sung in
you don't just have to visit either of these cities to
enjoy Fado as there are hundreds of venues up and down
the country which host regular
nights and sometimes daytime events. Watch out for
posters in cafes or pick up an agenda of events from the
local tourist office to find out more details.