One of the finest stretches of coastline in the country flanks the Pinhal de Leiria, a vast seven-hundred-year-old pine forest west of Leiria stretching from São Pedro de Moel to Pedrógão.The pines were first planted in the fourteenth century by Dom Dinis, a king renowned for his agrarian reforms, to protect fertile arable land from the menacing inward march of sand dunes. Later, the trees were an essential resource when it came to fitting out ships during the Portuguese “discoveries”.The pinhal is an area of great natural beauty, with sunlight filtering through endless kilometres of trees and the air perfumed with the scent of resin. There are bike lanes and tracks throughout the forest, while beyond the dunes lie vast white-sand beaches soaking up the thundering breakers from the Atlantic. By public transport, the only realistic target is the small resort of São Pedro de Moel, though bikers and drivers will be able to find better, more isolated spots. Expect any of the beaches near São Pedro to be packed in July and August – the straight, fast coastal road north and south has been upgraded to cope with heavy summer traffic. Come any other time and you’ll have the sands to yourself.