To many people, the Beiras region of central Portugal is the most quintessential part of the country, a land of vineyards and fortress towns characterising the area with long sandy beaches embroidering its extensive Atlantic coastline.
Portugal’s heartlands provide a natural link between the cool, green meadows of the north and the hot, dry pastures of the south.
Often traversed but rarely explored, Beiras is a land of sleepy villages with imposing hill-topped castles fought over for centuries but largely unchanged in appearance since the Middle Ages.
Stretching from the Atlantic right across the country to neighbouring Spain, it’s a large region with much to see, including mainland Portugal’s biggest mountain – Serra da Estrela – (indicated on the map below) – and one of the world’s oldest universities in the provincial capital, Coimbra.
The Romans were impressed enough to build a place of very large proportions (Conímbriga) on a prehistoric site south of Coimbra, with much of the excavation work yet to be carried out.
Beira is a Portuguese word that literally means ‘edge’ or ‘side’ and the thee of them that form the mountainous backbone of Portugal are Beira Litoral (coastal), Beira Baixa (lower) and Beira Alta (upper).
Topographically, it’s home to the second-highest peak in Portugal, the Serra da Estrela (indicated on the map below), the imposing centrepiece of a wild, remote area strewn with massive boulders and surpassed only by Pico in the Azores.
Here some of the loveliest landscapes in the Iberian Peninsula can be found, coated white in winter and transformed into a canvass of purple during the springtime heather blossom.
The Mondego, the country’s longest home-grown river, lives here too. Rising in the Serra da Estrela mountain region, it carves a careful passage across the country, flowing majestically through Coimbra before gushing out into the sea at Figueira da Foz through a wide open estuary.