Even though it is small in size and often overlooked in a rush to get to Porto, the area between Lisbon and Porto is full of history and hidden gems: stunning medieval architecture, virgin forests, wild coastline, and enormous monasteries.
Wedged between the Atlantic to the west and the mountains of Serra da Estrela to the east, this is the area of Portugal where you can feel the call of its past; a time when it ruled the oceans and many lands.
Perhaps you’ll bring your family to the tiny, picture-perfect 13th century town of Obidos, especially magical in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The town is so magical that it was the official wedding present of Portuguese kings to their new brides.
Coimbra is Portugal’s oldest and most important college town. Its university has been drawing students inside its medieval city walls for eight centuries and erupts in celebration at graduation time. Here you will find a type of fado not found in the rest of Portugal.
The small town of Tomar is famous for both its supremely magnificent (and somewhat mysterious) Convent of Christ, built by the Knights Templar (UNESCO World Heritage Site), as well as, surprisingly one of the oldest standing synagogues in Europe.
Nearby is the holy Catholic pilgrimage site of Fatima, where pilgrims traditionally walk across the square in front of the sanctuary on their knees.
The marble palace and convent at Mafra was financed by gold from Brazil and is one of Europe’s most enormous structures. It has one of the largest collections of bells in the world as well as one of the largest domes in the world. Mafra employed 45,000 builders over 200 years, has over 1,000 rooms and cells, 5,200 doorways, 2,500 windows, and a library with 40,000 rare books and manuscripts.
Contrast this to the austerely beautiful 12th century Cistercian Monastery of Alcobaca. As you walk through the maze of hedges in its vast courtyard, imagine the 999 monks who once lived simply in its dormitories.
The Roman ruins at Conimbriga were inhabited for nearly 1,700 years. Here you will see the remains of the baths, the amphitheater, and gorgeous, intact mosaics.
The list goes on and on: with your expert guide, explore the towering, late-Gothic monastery at Batalha or hike among the centuries-old giant trees in the forest of Serra do Bucaco.
You can also spend time with the owner of one of Portugal’s finest horse-breeding estates. The estate has been in her family (connected to Portuguese and French royal houses) for centuries.