If you can tear yourself away from the sun lounger you could enjoy plenty of walks starting straight from the door.
You will find yourself in one of Western Europe's last best-kept secrets (some call it Portugal's Tuscany): amazingly lush and diverse countryside, unspoiled by mass tourism (yet English and French are widely spoken), with empty roads, ridiculously cheap restaurants (and wine!), friendly locals who are not forever trying to rip you off. A four-minute drive takes you to town, which has good supermarkets, restaurants etc, and one of Portugal's most enchanting beauty spots.
25 minutes down a beautiful gorge brings you to the university city of Coimbra, regional capital and Portugal's third city. Its winding medieval streets and little squares are redolent of Italy, but it also has modern shopping malls and excellent train service to Lisbon and Porto. We like to take an exotic ice cream in the riverside gardens. Children love the 'Pequinitos' park opposite, where they (and only they) can wander around exquisite miniatures of Portugal's great buildings and typical humbler houses.Children of all ages will love the new Sky Gardens, situated in he University Botanical Garden. Here you can walk through the treetops on rope bridges.
Also within an easy drive are riding stables, a zoo, lidos, the Roman ruins of Conimbriga, and warm lakes for swimming. Some have beaches with café/restaurant, others you might have all to yourself, even in summer.
The vast golden beaches of the Silver Coast (Costa de Prata) are about one hour by car. If you are prepared to drive a bit further, there is so much to do and see, but our guess is that you won't be in any hurry to leave our little Shangri-La.
Come and share in our love for Central Portugal. The world will seem a magical place again.
Sightseeing (approx. journey times by car)
Arouce Castle, Lousã (10 mins). One of the most magical places in Portugal. Deep gorge, ruined castle (not open to public), lovely walks. A giant bowl of yellow when mimosa in bloom (Feb/March). Sluice gates are closed in summer to make swimming pool (very popular after school hours). Good restaurant ('Burgo').
The Serra da Lousã You are already in it, but the most spectacular, unforgettable ride is to follow the same road out of Lousã town which leads to the castle (see above), but instead of turning right to the castle, keep heading up. Breathtaking, especially in spring. You'll be wondering why you are virtually the only car on the road. Short diversion takes you to Trevim, at 1,200 mtrs, the highest point on the Serra. Then drop down the other side to Castanheira de Pêra or Pedrógão Grande (see above). DON'T GO HOME WITHOUT SEEING THIS AND THE CASTLE!
Aldeias Serranas (mountain villages) The road leads up from the outskirts of Lousã to a series of 'lost' mountain villages. You can observe German hippies in their natural habitat in Caterredor, see the psychedelic VW Caravanette, and there's even a Bierkellar (open when one of them is not completely smashed). Talasnal has two restaurants. Breathtaking views. Enchanting day out.
The Gorge (c. 15 mins) at Ribeirinha de Cima The very best wild swimming around. Deep water between two cliffs. You might think you're in Bali! But BEWARE: approach road is very bumpy and I would not recommend it for small or delicate cars.
Góis/Arganil (c. 25/40 mins) Góis is one of the pettiest villages in the area. In summer it has two river beaches, one of them on a small island in the middle of the river. Café on stilts over the river is a lovely place to sip ale. Open only June-Sept. Beaches busy out of school hours. On to and around Arganil for dramatic scenery. The drive from Góis to the village of Fajão is recommended. It's a little Shangri-La, lost in the rugged Serra do Açor, with a surprisingly good restaurant, O Juiz. From there it's not far to the famous touristy mountain village of Piódão.
Pena (c. 30 mins) Extraordinary village in dramatic, craggy gorge in the Serra da Lousã. Will remind you of the foothills of the Himalayas. Not far from Góis.
Pedra Ferida at Espinhal (c. 30 mins by car, then 20-min walk). At 32mtrs, this is one of Portugal's highest vertical waterfalls. It tumbles into a large pool, where the brave like to swim. The path is not suitable for young children or the infirm. Wear sensible shoes.
São João do Deserto (40 mins). Craggy - you half expect a T-Rex to leap from behind the rocks. Views go on for ever. Wonderful alpine flowers.
Penela (30 mins) Small picturesque village with quite well preserved castle (free entry to public) - lovely views. Indoor public swimming pool ('Piscina').
Conimbriga (30 mins) Ruins of Roman city, a little north of Penela. Worth seeing even if you are not a history buff. Well preserved mosaics. Very exposed, so not recommended for a hot afternoon. Museum closed Mondays.
Rabaçal and the 'Mini-Med' (30 mins) You could be in a different country. Very Mediterranean: dry, rocky, olive groves, authentic swarthy peasants herding goats, etc. Roman Villa at Rabaçal -check in at museum in village.
Gondramaz (25 mins) Near Miranda do Corvo. One of the best preserved mountain villages for which this region is celebrated. Local tourist office trumpets it as a centre for craftsmen, but unfortunately he died. Wow views. Turning back from Gondramaz, follow a little track up to your left, and you will find yourself in an eerie abandoned village, completely lost and forgotten in a large hollow in the mountains. Old schoolhouse and church still quite well preserved. Do the last stretch on foot.
Fragas de São Simão (35 mins). Mini Grand Canyon, waterfalls, swimming, great views from up top. Anywhere else it would be a tourist trap, but the Portuguese don't even bother to signpost it properly (Fato exit on IC8)
'Inland Sea' at Castanheira de Pêra (45 mins). Man-made lake with wave machine. Café/restaurant. Entry fee. Gets packed in high summer. Closed Mondays.
Pedrógão Grande (50 mins). Pleasant little town with a large lake formed by a dam ('Barragem de Cabril'). On the near side is a good restaurant (Lago Verde) on a promontory overlooking the lake. There is also a tennis court there. The other side of the lake is probably best for swimming. At weekends there is always one idiot on a jet ski.
Tomar (60 mins). An easy drive south from Penela, the modern part of Tomar is hideous, but cross the bridge and you will find the old quarter, alongside the river, is one of Portugal's most beautiful and historic towns. Above the town is an old convent and Castle of the Knights of Christ - worth a visit. Very busy in summer - large car park to right, just before bridge.
Fátima(75 mins). Portugal's answer to Lourdes has a grandly impressive shrine with a great open space in front for the faithful, but the town itself is nothing special and is rather spoiled by tacky gift shops. Busy 13th of each month; impossible on May 13th or at Easter (or if the Pope visits).
Batalha Abbey (90 mins). A very imposing Gothic edifice, well worth a visit. Unforgettable when lit up at night. Precinct with shops, cafés, restaurants.
Figueira da Foz (60 mins). Largest resort on this stretch of coast. Enormous beach of golden sand. Unfortunately seafront is a little spoiled by 'Lego'-style developments, but the main town, by the harbour, is more agreeable, with a casino and Indian restaurant nearby (never tried it, but it has been recommended). If you continue northward along the seafront, past the old fishing village and a Lidl supermarket, you will see a café/restaurant perched on the beach, waves lapping almost at the window (or, when there's a storm, over it). The food's quite good, too. Figueira is not recommended at weekends, any time of the year. It's where everybody from Coimbra heads for, and traffic can be a headache when they all start back.
Montemor-o-Velho (45 mins) You pass this on the way to Figueira (see above), but it's worth a visit in its own right. Well preserved fortress town. Impressive castle open to visitors. Good restaurant (A Grelha) at foot of village, facing flatlands. Combined with Figueira, a great day out.
Coimbra (30 mins). Regional capital and Portugal's third city, the ancient capital. The original university (said to be Europe's third oldest) is lovely, quite distinct from the vile Stalinist architecture of the modern colleges around it, has an amazing library and great views upriver. The outskirts are drab, but the historic riverside city centre is lovely to stroll about. Two cathedrals. Just before crossing the bridge on the N17 into Coimbra is a turn to the right, signed Praia Fluvial. This means river beach, and it's a lovely spot, about 10 mins from the N17 and down a steep slope. There's a café/restaurant, sanded beach, and swimming in the river. The current means you have to work hard to stay still, but motivation is furnished by the ten-foot weir at your back. Portugal dos Pequenitos, just across the old bridge from the city centre, is a kind of model village with replicas of Portugal's more distinguished buildings, not big enough for adults to walk through, but just big enough for children, which is probably why they seem to love it so much! A new attraction is the Sky Garden (open May - Sept) in the Botanical Gardens. There you can walk through the tree tops on rope bridges.
Buçaco Imperial Palace (60 mins) A fantasy building, with obvious Moorish influence, part of which is now an hotel with restaurant. The Palace is surrounded by an 'enchanted forest', with hundreds of species of flora. On the road up to the palace are two ponds, worth seeing in spring for the camellias and arum lilies. There are also exotic tree ferns. Just a kilometre or two from the Palace is the small spa town of Luso, where there are thermal baths and a casino. The central square has a natural font covered by glass, so you can watch as the water bubbles up through the stones. This is a favourite spot for people to collect water.
Aveiro (70 mins). Take the A1 motorway north, and although not far from Coimbra, this area is totally different. The town is bordered by wetlands on one side, the sea on the other. It's also a good shopping centre. Just south of the town you will find huge golden beaches, and the little resort of Costa Nova, celebrated for its candy-stripe houses.
Serra da Estrela (100 mins). Take the road from Seia up to 'Torre'; at around 2,000 mtrs it's the highest point in mainland Portugal. There are lakes near the summit, and a ski slope with chair lift, plus café and shop. When there is snow (periodic), it's very, very busy at weekends. You will also pass shops selling leather jackets - this area is noted for them, and prices are normally very reasonable. Sculptured rocks might remind you of The Flintstones.
Penacova (25 mins) Perched high on a crag and commands spectacular views in both directions, as does the restaurant, which is rather pricey. Take the steps down the side of the kiosk to the old quarter, which is quite charming. There's a river beach on the opposite side, but another 15 mins from Pencaova on the IC3 brings you to the LAKE, which has much better and warmer swimming. There is canoeing from the river bank opposite and near Penacova during the summer. They start out early morning, drift down slowly with the current to Coimbra, and get taken back by car.