Centro – into the unknown

Jacquie Cole Blog

I had no idea what to expect of the CENTRO,region of Portugal, I certainly didn’t expect to come away feeling as though I’d just been taken to a completely new destination, almost a new country.

Uncommercial, unpopulated, unspoilt, from beautifully scenic mountain villages to vast empty beaches,  CENTRO  was full of surprises.

It started with a flight to Porto followed by a 3 hour train local journey much of which runs alongside the river Douro, then after a short drive we found ourselves in Marialva.
A historic village comprising nothing more than an ancient ruined castle, a tiny church and stunning views I had limited expectations of our accommodation.
I certainly didn’t expect Cases do Coro to be the luxurious boutique property it was, serving a dinner that wouldn’t have been out of place in a top City restaurant. www.Casasdocoro.com.pt

This was the start of a tour of the region where every day we traveled for miles on excellent almost empty roads, stopped at tiny villages or a university town, stayed in old palaces, quirky small conversions or larger luxurious hotels, such as www.casadainsua.pt/
and ate in lovely local restaurants like www.mariaxica.pt

It’s hard to choose a favourite place but mine was Aveiro, a friendly town with a canal buzzing with  colourful painted boats, cobbled streets and, it seemed, outdoor cafes in every numerous little square. Just a few kilometres drive away on the coast sit rows of colourful painted houses that wouldn’t be out of place in a child’s fairytale,and one of the largest quietest beaches I’ve ever seen, Costa Nova. Here we had a delicious fish lunch, no menu, no choice, just the catch of the day accompanied by light fresh local wine, all at unbelievably reasonable prices.

In the evening our traditional Moliceiro boat dropped us off at restaurant www.Salpoente.pt where we had a truly exceptional dinner.

Another highlight had to be the library at Coimbra university, www.uc.pt apparently one of the most famous in the world, being permitted in via its vast wooden doors was like stepping into a Dickens novel, rows and rows of a ancient books, hidden doors and passages with a resident colony of bats who’s nightly feasts keep the books from damage.

Our trip ended back in Porto where we enjoyed port tasting at Churchill’s and a quick tour of the city before our flight home.

CENTRO Portugal wouldn’t suit everyone, there are no iconic must see sights, car hire is essential to get the best out of the area, and the flights are not the most convenient. But if you are not looking for a big adventure or guide book culture, enjoy walks,  long lunches where the pace is slow and relaxed and like exploring new areas, CENTRO is worth discovering before too many people find it.