CENTRO (COIMBRA, FIGUEIRA)
The song of the Mondego River
Mondego River brings the Beira region closer, flowing through the high Estrela Mountain, dunes and coastline pine tree plantations. The main centre of the region is Coimbra. In the inland, there is the mountainous barrier of Sicó, Lousã and Buçaco Mountains, a kingdom of schist and traditional stone villages. The coast presents vast pine tree plantations, which were planted in the Middle Ages to protect agricultural fields from the sands, interrupted once in a while by seaside cities such as Figueira da Foz.
Coimbra, once the capital of the country in the early years of the Portuguese kingdom, has preserved in every corner the memories of cultural meetings, students' protests and nights under the moonlight. The historical centre (Santa Cruz Church and Old Cathedral), century-old university (Sala dos Actos and the imposing Joanine Library), Monumental Stairs, Penedo da Saudade and Botanical Garden will catch your attention before you reach the riverbank. Here you will find Mondego River Park, an 8 ha area where you can walk until the sun goes down. This zone is already called "Coimbra's Docks" (like the Docks in Lisbon).
Recently built Pedro e Inês pedestrian Bridge will easily lead you to the other riverbank. Mondego Green Park also covers this margin. The walk will continue to Santa Clara-a-Velha Monastery (which was rescued from the century-old mud of the Mondego) and the gardens of Quinta das Lágrimas, evoking the romance between D. Pedro and D. Inês de Castro.
Covered by green, Coimbra region offers some idyllic natural spots, like the romantic Fraga da Pena (one of the many cornerstones of the Biogenetic Reserve of Margaraça Woods in Açor Mountain) or the innermost river beaches of Ceira River in Lousã Mountain. The slopes of Açor Mountain unveil another secret, which is Piódão, one of the most picturesque well-preserved villages of the country. Lousã Mountains shows a great deal of the Schist Villages, recently renewed and bursting with life.
Also worth visiting are the Conímbriga Roman ruins, the castles of Montemor-o-Velho and Penela and the historical centre of Ançã town with its crystal-clear water spring. Locals usually soak whipe lupins, considered "the best in the world", in these waters.
Mondego will show you the way to the "queen" Figueira da Foz, from sunny endless sand areas to good fresh fish and seafood restaurants. Less cosmopolitan but also noteworthy are also the beaches of Tocha (where you will find the "palheiros", traditional wooden houses) and Mira (surrounded by pine trees and touched by the south extreme of the "ria").
In the tables of the inland, the main dishes are: roasted kid with "migas" (breadcrumbs and vegetables), goat meat, Bairrada suckling pig, lamprey and eels. By the sea there are other specialities: plaice, pout, school shark, ink fish, squid, ray and mussel, served with "migas" or traditional Mondego valley rice. Last but not the least, Tentúgal pastries, "arrufadas" (sweet bread), queijadas de Pereira (small cakes made of cheese), corncobs, golden soup of Santa Clara nuns, Rabaçal Cheese and Lousã honey - Protected Designation of Origin.