A focus on Central & Northern Portugal
It’s always a pleasure to travel around Portugal researching new destinations and revisiting my favourite places. Today I am focused to Central & Northern Portugal, one of the most rugged areas of Portugal. It is full of ancient paths between dense forests and its beautiful rivers and waterfalls, a magical area of Portugal rich of local historical villages, all built on the beautiful and rustic shale stone. But this part of Portugal is more than this and taken off our hiking boots, here are 10 real gems from a recent trip to Central & Northern Portugal to discover in stress-free-mode.
Where to Stay
Quinta da Palmeira is located between Lisbon and Porto, this typical Portuguese country house, date of 1890, in the Central Portugal, is surrounded by orange trees and olive groves and offers scenic views of the surrounding Serra do Açor and Serra da Estrela mountains. For many travelers it´s the perfect stopover between Portugal’s main coastal cities, which is an great opportunity to settle your holiday into the laid-back countryside lifestyle. No two rooms at Quinta da Palmeira are the same, with each room having its own personality and character but all with elegant and stylish furniture. Take in the room views of the mountains, sprawl out in your private 2-persons bath and refresh yourself with organic homemade bath products. From romantic lighting to your bed with orthopaedic mattresses. Every detail has been taken care of. Quinta da Palmeira’s gourmet restaurant serves international and traditional Portuguese dishes in an intimate setting. Their menu, needless to say, are a big part of the experience, with surprisingly refined dishes for a region that tends toward the rustic.
The charming artisan village of Cerdeira is one of the 27 villages belonging to Schist Villages. The schist is a coarse-grained metamorphic rock made up of layers of different minerals and can be subdivided into thin irregular slabs. In the Central Portugal, you can visit many of these villages with houses built with this stone. Cerdeira is just one of these and its creative atmosphere is incredible. Here you will find many craft workshops, from painting and creative writing courses to nature trails and wood carving classes.
The ancient city of Conimbriga was the largest Roman settlement in Portugal and worth visiting on any tour of Central & Northern Portugal. I am absolutely a big fan of archeology and the Roman ruins of Conimbriga have always been at the top of my list of things to see in Portugal. Roman houses, mosaic floors, an amphitheater, baths, benches, tunnels, everything is truly amazing, as much as the skill of its conservation. You will find a visitor center and a museum next to the ruins where you can get some information of the site that once was one of the main cities of Lusitania.
Every time I visit Aveiro on the Costa de la Plata or Silver Coast it seems to somehow more beautiful than ever before. The perfect time to visit Aveiro and take a boat ride in one of their gondola-like boat known as moliceiros is definitely spring! If you love ceramic tiles, the tiled houses of the old town will fascinate you and make you fall in love quickly. And the nearby beaches of the Costa de la Plata are among the best in central and northern Portugal.
Coimbra also dazzles when the sun is shining. This city, once the capital of Portugal, boasts the oldest university in Portugal and some of the country’s most beautiful squares and cafes! It’s a steep city to walk around so I suggest wearing comfortable shoes if the intention is to discover it during long walks. Do not miss the charming atmosphere of Rua Quebra Costas, although there are many other beautiful places to enjoy the beauty of the city. It is worth visiting the Fado Center or the Fado ao Centro, always located on Rua Quebra Costas, where you can attend an exhibition of a unique type of fado found in Coimbra.
Leiria is one of the smallest cities in this area and is often visited after a trip to nearby Fatima. You could not find two more different cities if you try. I really enjoyed Leiria with its impressive castle which dates back to 1135 and which dominates the city.
Beaches & More
It is difficult to say the main reason why this coast is so beautiful, but its 2.5 km of Praia da Claridade beach, along with its walkways, its promenade and its beach bars in Figueira da Foz, are really special.
Forests and Gardens
A true gem in Central Portugal, the 75-minute circular walk around the wonderful forests and gardens of Buçaco Palace, it is spectacular! See the more than 400 native species present and have lunch inside this neo-Manueline-style palace which is now a 5-star hotel, if your boots are clean, yet.
At The Hotel Specialist we love wine tourism and it is always interesting to take a scenic route through the vines. I had a great time driving through the extraordinary Bairrada wine region, famous for its “baga” grape, but which actually produces another 8 varieties of red wine, all worth tasting.
Every time I visit a city, I also look for its local markets. In Porto, the atmosphere of a true old market can best be experienced at the Bolhao Market. In direct contrast to Bolhao, aesthetically speaking, I really enjoyed the Saturday market at the Mercado Porto Belo, slightly off-center, on the Praça de Carlos Alberto. In addition to many seats, you will find stalls selling music, art and crafts. I also like the curious stores of new and second-hand goods that surround the area and along the Rua de Cedofeita.
Last but not least
As last but not least tip, if I had to choose only one meal, it would be an extraordinary dinner at the small Taberna Dos Mercadores, with only 16 seats on Rua Dos Mercadores in the Ribeira district of Porto. A flaming experience to make your mouth water. Book and let me know your thoughts!