For the best part of a decade our family has been visiting Central Portugal. For two years we even chose to call it home. In my opinion it is one of the most idyllic locations for a family getaway.
As a holiday destination it has something for everyone- culture, history, natural beauty, sunshine (plenty of it!) and the locals are some of the kindest, most generous people I have ever had the pleasure to encounter.
Where to go and what to do
This city, set on the banks of the Mondego River, is overlooked by the grandiose University of Coimbra with it’s world famous library, the biblioteca da Joanina, housing perfectly preserved books dating back to the 15th century. Famed for it’s cobbled streets, medieval churches and Fado music it’s easy to see why this enchanting area was once considered the capital of Portugal.
Where to eat- there are plenty of little restaurants and cafes serving traditional Portuguese cuisine but we recommend you pop by ‘Passeite’ a cosy spot whose aim it is to promote the use of local, organic produce. Their menu is delicious and reasonably priced and they are happy to rustle up something special for young diners.
Kayak down the Mondego River
One of the most memorable experiences of the last year was a 4hr kayak trip down the Mondego River. Matt, our instructor, guide and owner of Rock and River collected us from the Lidl car park in Tábua. He dropped us at the starting point, gave us a map, brief instructions, all the necessary safety gear and equipment and sent us on our merry way with the promise to collect us later that afternoon. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking and although 4 hours sounds like a long time, our 3 kids (15, 14 and 12 at the time) loved every second and found it perfectly manageable. There were a number of spots along the way where we could stop and have a rest and we chose to pack a picnic lunch of roast chicken, fresh tomato and lettuce which we popped onto fresh Portuguese papa seco rolls (highly recommended).
Serra da Estrela- Mountain of the stars
Another must see whilst visiting Central Portugal is the Serra da Estrela mountain range. Mainland Portugal’s highest mountain at 2000m above sea level. We have visited during the summer as well as at the height of winter and would highly recommend it at any time of the year. The views from the highest point (torre) are astounding and, on a clear day, you can see for miles in all directions. There are many curio shops dotted along the route selling traditional meats, cheeses and crafts from the region and during the winter months you can buy sleds (5€) which provide hours of fun for adults and kids alike.
• Always take a jumper along! Even if it is 32 degrees at the bottom of the mountain if there is even a little bit of cloud cover temperatures can vary dramatically at the top.
• If you pass through the village of Seia en route to the Serra da Estrela pop by the Toy Museum where they have a huge selection of toys through the ages from both Portugal and the rest of the world.
Piódão- The Slate Village
This quaint little village perched on the slopes of the Serra da Estrela is something worth seeing if you are visiting Central Portugal. The village is made almost entirely out of slate (streets, walls, roofs- everything!) with the blue window frames and doors providing a vibrant splash of colour. Not always a highlight if you’re travelling with kids but we promised ours a trip to the river beach and an ice-cream afterwards and that seemed to do the trick.
Praia Fluvial- River Beach
Whilst travelling through Central Portugal you are likely to see a number of brown road signs directing you to a Praia Fluvial. If you have the time, go and and check them out. There are so many hidden gems in Portugal and we never miss the opportunity to go on the hunt for a new one.
Clean, clear mountain water, usually with a sandy man-made ‘beach’ area it’s the perfect place to just lay back and relax. Travelling with kids- despite language barriers, I guarantee you they will make friends within minutes.
Most river beaches will have a café or small restaurant operating during the summer months. The menu usually consists of simple hamburgers or toasted sandwiches with fries but should you wish to try something a little more Portuguese ask for tremoços (lupini beans), moelas (chicken gizzards) or caracois (snails).
We recommend visiting the river beaches at Arganil, Coja and Avô.
• Always have swimming gear and towels in the car. You never know when you may happen upon the perfect Praia Fluvial.
Other places of interest
Fraga da Pena– a 20m waterfall near the village of Pardeiros, Arganil. If you’re feeling brave have a dip in the the crystal clear (but rather icy) water.
Bar 21– This truck stop along the side of the motorway in Penacova might not look like much from the outside but if you dare to pop in, I promise, you won’t be disappointed as they sell the most delicious leitão (pork) rolls.
Buçaco Palace and gardens
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Having visited and lived in Central Portugal since 2008 I can only reiterate and highly recommend all the places mentioned on this blog! In addition I’d say most of these places are free and that the cost of eating out is minimal…
Well written and very informative!
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