Portugal // Beira Alta and Beira Baixa //

Beira Baixa

The area east of Covilhã and the A23 motorway forms the upper boundary of the Beira Baixa, a landscape of undulating, heather-clad hills that extends to the Spanish border. The sun-bleached fields, grazing livestock and extensive olive groves provide a distinct contrast to the serra scenery, with visits concentrating on a series of fortified towns and fascinating villages. With a car you can see the whole region in a couple of days, and the best overnight stops are either at the underrated town of Belmonte or in one of the atmospheric houses of medieval Sortelha. On the other hand, travel by public transport is particularly difficult and slow. Only Belmonte and Sabugal can be reached easily by bus, though if you’re determined you’ll also get to Sortelha, while the provincial capital of Castelo Branco (on the Lisbon–Covilhã train route) has services to Monsanto and Idanha-a-Nova. But isolated destinations, such as Idanha-a-Velha and the Serra da Malcata nature reserve, are impossible to see by public transport.