Three worlds rolled into one, the Beiras offer as much diversity as any region in Portugal. Along the Atlantic, the Beira Litoral lures surfers and sun-seekers with scores of sandy beaches. Here, the sophisticated university city of Coimbra and the brash casino-party town of Figueira da Foz arm-wrestle for visitors’ attention.
Opening up like a pop-up book from the Rio Douro at sunset, humble-yet-opulent Porto entices with its higgledy-piggledy medieval centre, divine food and wine, and charismatic locals. Why I love Porto Porto was love at first sight for me. Even during my first wet autumn encounter, the city shone and locals showed me around with inimitable tripeiro pride. I was hooked.
Go to be bewitched. Portugal’s largest region, covering a third of the country, truly captivates. Think dry, golden plains, rolling hillsides and lime-green vines. A rugged coastline, traditional whitewashed villages, marble towns and majestic medieval cities. Plus a proud if melancholic people, who valiantly cling to their local crafts.
The Minho delivers world-class natural beauty with a knowing smile. Here are lush river valleys, sparkling beaches and granite peaks patrolled by locals – who, whether they are charging 2m waves along the Costa Verde or shepherding their flock into high mountain meadows, seem particularly in tune with their homeland.
The northern half of the Alentejo is a medieval gem, with a scattering of walled fortress towns (such as Elvas and Estremoz) and remote cliff-top castles (such as Marvão and Castelo de Vide). Only a handful of visitors to Alto Alentejo travel beyond Évora, so once outside the city you’ll see traditional life at its most authentic.
Estremadura & Ribatejo
Stretching from the Rio Tejo to the Atlantic Ocean, Estremadura and Ribatejo constitute Portugal’s heartland, but their central importance goes beyond geography. These fertile lands have formed the backdrop for every major chapter in Portuguese history, from the building of key fortified settlements in the 12th century to the release of Salazar’s political prisoners in 1974.
This small subregion has the lot, providing huge draws for travellers. Vineyards soon give way to the coast and salt pans, the country's historic university town of Coimbra, lush forests and one of the Iberian Peninsula's most important Roman ruins. Head further west and you'll hit some wonderful beaches and historic fishing towns.
Running up the Atlantic coast from the mouth of the Rio Tejo almost to the Rio Mondego, Estremadura has long been a land of plenty, its rolling hills and valleys offering up some of Portugal’s richest farmland. For proof, visit the elaborate kitchens that fattened up the monks at Alcobaça’s extraordinary monastery.