The province of Beira Litoral is dominated by the city of Coimbra, which, with Guimarães, Lisbon and Porto, forms the quartet of Portugal’s historic capitals. Situated on a steep hill above the Rio Mondego, it’s a wonderfully moody place of ancient alleys and lanes, twisting and climbing around the country’s oldest university. As a base for exploring the region, the city can’t be beaten, with Portugal’s most extensive Roman site, Conímbriga, 16km to the southwest, the castle at Montemor-o-Velho, 32km west, and the delightful spa town of Luso and ancient forest of Buçaco under an hour’s journey to the north.
Beira’s coastline, from Figueira da Foz north as far as Porto, remains one of the least spoiled in Portugal, backed by rolling dunes and pine forests. There’s some development around the pretty lagoon town of Praia de Mira, but the only major resort is Figueira da Foz and even this remains mostly local in character. To the north of the region, Aveiro is one of Portugal’s most attractive provincial towns and sits on an elaborate network of canals.
Following the delightful Rio Mondego upstream from Coimbra, you’ll come to see why it has been celebrated so often in Portuguese poetry as the “Rio das Musas” – River of the Muses. A tributary of the Mondego, the Dão, is the source of some of the country’s finest wines, while there’s an equally beautiful route along the Rio Vouga up to the pretty little town of Vouzela. To the north is the impressive convent at Arouca, and the serras of Freita and Arada, both peppered with remote hamlets and offering more scenic routes for drivers. To the south lies the Serra do Caramulo, where the village of Caramulo makes a good base for mountain pursuits. East of Coimbra, as the land slowly rises towards the mountainous Beiras region and the Serra da Estrela, the first foothills are encountered in the Serra da Lousã and the Serra do Açor, rustic regions containing a range of pretty settlements such as riverside Góis and the incredibly sited, schist village of Píodão.