PENACOVA, 22km northeast of Coimbra, is a small town of some antiquity set high above the Rio Mondego. There is little to the place itself – a pint-sized square with a town hall, and a modest cobbled historic quarter along the ridge – but for stunning views of river and valley make a beeline for the terrace of the Café Turismo, by the side of the town hall. With a car you can then follow the signs the few kilometres up into the wooded hills above Penacova to the Mosteiro de Lorvão, an ancient monastic foundation that traces its history back to the sixth century AD, though what you see today dates from sweeping alterations made in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. If you’re here on the last Sunday of the month, you’ll coincide with the huge open-air market, and can eat barbecued chicken straight from the grill – or duck into one of the cafés for a traditional pastel de Lorvão. Penacova’s equivalent market is on the second Thursday of the month – at either, look out for the highly elaborate toothpicks that are a local speciality, hand-carved from willow.
Local operators offer kayak trips down the Mondego river, a 25-kilometre float and paddle from Penacova to Coimbra.Read More