For myself and millions of others, the Algarve is Portugal. Summer sun, packed beaches, busy restaurants and groomed golf courses.
It's fun. It's easy. The weather's guaranteed. But it can also be expensive. It's often crowded. And it seldom feels authentic.
In search of authenticity I went to Centro Portugal.
Centro combines rugged beauty with rich history. The local cuisine is traditional, yet inventive. The region's mountains invite exploration. And you can hike, bike, water walk, canoe or just relax. The region has 24 river beaches.
Central Portugal is untouched. But it's still very accessible. Viseu and Coimbra make great bases for countryside exploring. And historic hotels like Palace Hotel do Bussaco dot forests, mountains and valleys.
Only 30 minutes from Coimbra we canoed down River Mondego. It twisted between steep mountain slopes. Flat stretches mixed with gentle rapids. Eagles and hawks flew overhead. And the silence was astonishing.
Coimbra is also the setting for the tale of Pedro and Inês. It's Portugal's greatest love story.
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The Baroque library is the university's most famous building. Completed in 1717, it's unimaginably grand. Carved bookshelves are embellished with gold leaf. There are ornate balconies. And trompe l'oeil paintings grace the ceiling. Beautifully bound books pile from floor to roof. And the effect is more elaborate cathedral, than library. How anyone studies here is beyond me.
Immerse in vintage Coimbra. Stay at Hotel Residencial Alentejana in the old town.
Keen to hear authentic fado? Book an evening of music and port tasting in Coimbra.
Coimbra University Library in Central Portugal Image by Olivia Rawes
Colourful moliceiro boats ferry tourists on Aveiro's canals. Faded Art Nouveau buildings line the waterfront. And every cobbled street is a charming ocean-themed mosaic. With anchors, fish, sea horses and eels reflecting Aveiro's heritage.
Head to the old fishing quarter. Here the simple houses are covered in tiles. Beautiful, and also a guard against the sea air.
Make some seaside tradition of your own. Stay at Typical House Aveiro close to São Gonçalinho Chapel.
A strong sense of place is also found in Aveiro restaurants.
Salpoente restaurant is set in old salt house. We ate traditional codfish served as a salty ceviche. Paired with pepper sauce it came in a tin. A nod to Aveiro's canning industry. Our dessert incorporated ovos moles. A sweet made at local convents from communion wafers, egg yolk and sugar. But ovos moles Salpoente style arrived in Kilner jars with raspberry sorbet.
Quinta das Lagrimas in Coimbra also twists tradition. Here, everyday corn bread is dyed with squid ink and sprinkled over curried fish.
Paço dos Cunhas de Santar is set in the heart of the Dao. We enjoyed several local wines here. Each perfectly paired with a course of our meal. The menu was fantastic. And the wine even better, But what struck me most was the people. Everyone working here loved their job. And I'd noticed that time and again during this trip.
Central Portugal has so much to offer. Beautiful countryside, grand architecture and peace. Yet what stands out is the warmth of locals. Untouched by mass tourism they're genuinely passionate. You should come for the tranquillity. The untamed nature and rich culture are irresistible. But it's the genuine welcome at the heart of Portugal that will stay with you longest.
Ready for a trip to Portugal? Read more about the best time to go to Portugal, the best places to visit and best things to do in Portugal. For inspiration use the Portugal Itineraries from The Rough Guide to Portugal and created by our local travel agents in Portugal. A bit more hands on, check out the map of Portugal and learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay in Portugal once you are there. And don't forget to buy travel insurance before you go.
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