From Cova da Beira to the International Tagus
An ancient Portuguese province, Beira Baixa corresponds roughly to the district of Castelo Branco, forming, with the Beira Alta, the Beira Interior. Because other municipalities in the district are integrated in bordering tourist areas (Serra da Estrela, Centro, Templários), the Beira Baixa here considered includes the municipalities of Castelo Branco, Fundão, Idanha-a-Nova and Vila Velha de Ródão.
The landscape diversity of this portion of land is remarkable - more and more so as it is concentrated in a relatively small area. It is worth to note, first, the green hills of Gardunha (well known for its cherry production), the extensive plains of Idanha and the Natural Park of the International Tagus. Spanning over 26 hectares (in the municipalities of Castelo Branco and Idanha-a-Nova), it is an important protected area, rich in botanical terms and endemic species. This territory integrates the Meseta Meridional Geopark Naturtejo (which includes the districts of Castelo Branco, Vila Velha de Ródão, Idanha-a-Nova Proença-a-Nova, Oleiros and Nisa). This is a geopark recognized by UNESCO with a vast geomorphological, geological, palaeontological and geomining heritage, which values and attractions can be enjoyed through a wide network of walking trails.
Here, the rugged landscape of the Tagus offer scenarios of great beauty and magnificent quietness. The Beira Baixa railway line, which follows part of the river course, is a privileged way to enjoy this panorama, which ex-libris are the Portas de Ródão (in the area of Vila Velha de Ródão), an impressive geological formation consisting of two rocky bodies separated by the waters of the Tagus.
In terms of historical heritage, (apart from the Bishop’s Palace of Castelo Branco and its beautiful baroque gardens) it should be mentioned the set of well-preserved villages, valued by two heritage and tradition rehabilitation networks. One is the Historic Villages Network, to which belong the villages of Castelo Novo (in Fundão), and Idanha-a-Velha and Monsanto (Idanha-a-Nova).
More recently, the network of Schist Villages covers several counties in the interior center of the country and has been recovering for tourism and leisure purposes some villages which had remained on the edge of oblivion and desertification. Martim Branco and Sarzedas (Castelo Branco), Baroque and Janeiro de Cima (Fundão) and Foz do Cobrão (Vila Velha de Ródão) are the villages included in this network.
Colored by the cherry, Beira Baixa has, in the county of Fundão, located in the foothills of the Gardunha mountain and belonging to the so-called Cova da Beira, its great agricultural center and the largest producer of that popular fruit. But other products with protected designation of origin (such as cheese and olive), enrich the range of flavors of the Beira typical cuisine, with its strong and diverse recipes, with plenty of soups, meats and sausages, and also dishes with fish from the river.
Handicrafts excel in the delicate craft of Castelo Branco wedding quilts, embroidered in silk thread on linen cloth, with motifs related to home and marriage. The Francisco Tavares Proença Júnior Museum, installed in the Bishop's Palace of Castelo Branco, exhibits a valuable collection of old quilts and runs a workshop-school devoted to the teaching of local embroideries.
The pleasure and quietness of the spa complements the diverse offering of this region, where the classic Monfortinho thermal resort is one of the best examples of harmony between landscape and architecture resulting in quality thermal tourism.