Discovering Centro in Portugal
My loyalties on holiday are divided ones. I'm far too twitchy '“ and easily sunburnt - to lie on a beach for more than a couple of days.
The seaside has huge appeal, but I’d rather go somewhere with plenty of sights to see, too.
Which makes me a demanding traveller who wants the best of both worlds.
Step up, Portugal. This beautiful country offers both postcard-perfect shores and centuries-worth of history and heritage to please every kind of visitor – and if you go to the Centro region, you can combine both in one trip.
Monarch’s new route to Lisbon offers easy access to Centro, and with three flights a week, it’s perfect for either a long weekend or extended stay.
Just an hour’s drive north of the Portuguese capital was my first stop, the wonderfully quirky town of Obidos.
Once upon a time, the town’s mayor and a local bookstore decided this pretty, cobbled spot needed a unique selling point, and so Obidos’ story as a literary town began. Anyone predicting the death of books by Kindle will be put firmly in their place here.
Many stores sell books of some kind, and so you can buy a bestseller or a rare second-hand treasure along with your vegetables in the greengrocer’s shop. It’s easy to while away time browsing the bookshelves while milling along the quaint, character-filled shopping street and enjoying a shot of local liqueur, ginga, served in edible, mini chocolate cups.
The theme extends into one of the town’s stand-out hotels, The Literary Man – one of the more memorable places I’ve stayed in. Books in a host of languages line every inch of the walls – with 35,000 in total dotted throughout the boutique hotel.
Visitors are free to pick out a volume to browse during their stay, and they are available to buy should you find a page-turner you can’t part with. It’s an excellent location for solo travellers, who won’t feel out of place reading a novel over dinner in the hotel’s excellent restaurant.
An afternoon trip to the awe-inspiring Batalha Monastery is another must to appreciate the rich history of Centro.
This striking, 14th century building is an architectural gem, with its Gothic spires and rainbow of stained glass windows, and UNESCO agrees, having named it a World Heritage site. It’s worth getting a guided tour to learn about this beautiful building’s history – and there is even a Lancashire link with Phillippa of Lancaster, a Queen of Portugal, buried in a vast crypt there.
After a day of culture, I was finally ready to hit the beach and unwind.
It’s not just about lazing in the sun, however, in Centro. There are plenty of activities on offer for sporty travellers.
I enjoyed a bracing, guided cycle ride with A2Z Adventures in the sea breeze, from the pleasant fishing village of Nazare along a coastal path.
Centro’s beaches are also among the best in Europe for surfing. The stunning Praia Ribeira d’Ilhas is a prime example, having hosted the junior world surfing championships. It welcomes beginners too, and you can sign up to a surf school. But, with a beach this perfect, you’ll be forgiven for kicking back on the soft, sun-soaked sands and simply relaxing.
If you want coastline like the Algarve combined with the culture of Lisbon, then Centro is the perfect place in Portugal.
• Jenny flew from Manchester to Lisbon with Monarch. Prices start at £39 one way at monarch.co.uk
She stayed at the Literary Man (literaryman.pt) and Palace Hotel Monte Real (http://www.termasdemontereal.pt/palace-hotel-monte-real.html)
For more information on the region, see www.centerofportugal.com and – www.visitportugal.com