While frequently sidestepped by tourists, this region is arguably the most unspoiled and quintessentially Portuguese part of the country. Even the coastal resorts have, as a whole, retained their intrinsic local character and charm. The Beiras is a diverse area with an abundance of beaches, lagoons, and mountains. The natural beauty of the scenery also serves as a fitting gateway to the drama of the Douro and the Minho farther north.
To the east, Portugal's highest mountains—the Serra da Estrela—rise to nearly 6,600 feet, creating a colorful patchwork of alpine meadows, haunting forests, and wooded hills. High in this range's granite reaches, a clear icy stream begins its tortuous journey to the sea: this is the Rio Mondego, the lifeblood of the Beiras. Praised in song and poetry, it is the longest river within the country and provides vital irrigation to fruit orchards and farms as it flows through the region's heart.
Coimbra—the country's first capital and home to one of Europe's earliest universities—offers an urban counterpoint. A large student population ensures that the city stays lively; however, the past lingers on in the evocative old quarter, its medieval backstreets unchanged for centuries. The university rises magnificently above the river which continues, closer to the sea, under the imposing walls of Montemor Castle. The rio (river) then widens to nurture rice fields before merging with the Atlantic at the popular beach resort of Figueira da Foz. Archaeology buffs will also appreciate the region’s extraordinary Roman ruins—particularly at Conímbriga, Portugal’s largest excavated site.