All the local beaches are great for surfing, kite flying and fishing amongst other pursuits like swimming and sunbathing. The nearest beaches to Casa das Flores are some 8 – 9 kms at Praia do Pedrogão, where there are life guards patrolling on the main stretches of beach in high summer; it is advisable to adhere to the rules, especially when the red flag is flying. This small town has shops, a good covered market and a summertime Tourist Office (Turismo) where you can also find an ATM (cash machine).
For refreshment you will find bars, cafés and restaurants; while away some time walking along the esplanade, watching the summertime beach sports of volleyball and football. Tucked away in the side streets you may see the signs for “Churrasqueria” where you can buy various cuts of meat and fish cooked over charcoal to make a simple picnic – delicious!
Some days you will be lucky enough to see the boats bringing in the day’s catch, both in Pedrogão and at Praia da Vieira which may be bought and is really fresh to bring home and cook on the barbecue here in the garden. If you don’t like eating fish, well you can just watch the action and see the local ladies preparing some of the fish for drying in the sun.
To the north and south of Pedrogão’s main promenade there are quiet, unspoilt stretches of beach, accessible from the free car parks; alternatively – go a little further and choose a side road with the word “Praia” signposted or try a track through the dunes to other more relaxed beaches. Find a new one to choose each day, or simply return to your favourite.
The seaside resort of Praia da Vieira is around 20-25 minutes by car from here with great beaches, cafes, bars and restaurants to suit every taste – no need to take a picnic, the shops can supply all you need for the beach and meals. Again, there are life guards patrolling on the main stretches of beach in summer; should you want a little bit of aquatic fun then visit the aqua park which is located just off the main esplanade.
This small town has a Summertime Tourist Office (and ATM) quite a few shops selling beach clothes, shoes, the usual groceries plus take-away chicken, pork and fish with the traditional (and optional) Portuguese twist of hot “Piri Piri” sauce. Buy some at the end of the day, hot and fresh, to bring back to the apartment to eat with fresh salads and local freshly baked bread if you can’t be bothered to cook – after all you’re on holiday!
The northern end of the beach is very popular with local line fishermen, this is where the Rio Lis flows into the Atlantic or the tide rushes into the river. There is plenty of parking and a good beach bar on the south side of the river with a quieter beach and riverside picnic tables on the north side.
There are un-metalled roads and paths along both banks of the river leading inland alongside the river, when the metalled road is reached you will find “Casa Anita” – a small restaurant with good local food at reasonable prices – try the ‘cabrito’, if it’s available, roast kid which tastes just like ‘spring lamb’..
Driving south along the Atlantic Road from Praia da Vieira you can find tracks leading to the sea and sign-posted side roads to beaches with beach bars/restaurants) – Paredes de Vitoria, Pinhal Contorta (twisted pines),and Praia Velha – this beach had a small riverside area too which leads to a lagoon before it reaches the sea. A little further along the Atlantic Road you come to the resort of San Pedro do Moel with the lighthouse, steep cliffs and sandy beaches – again it’s very popular with anglers. There are many bars and restaurants including an excellent fish restaurant built into the cliff over the beach which also serves many meat dishes. There’s also a good open-air swimming pool for those who don’t like swimming in the sea.
Inland from San Pedro is the large town of Marinha Grande with its glass museum situated in the centre (near the tourist office); once the home of the Scotsman who started a factory here in the 19th century. There are many art glass and lead crystal workshops and factories with showrooms and discount outlets for somewhat different “souvenirs”; it is also possible to watch the artisans “blowing” glass at some locations.
North of our Leiria region is the Central or Beiras region for you to explore, make a day trip of it – 20-25 minutes driving along the EN 109 brings you to Figueira da Foz where the Rio Mondego meets the Atlantic Ocean. On the south side of the river you can find traditional fishing boats moored beside the road, turn off at the nearby roundabout to the fishing port and find long stretches of beach much favoured by surfers. Continue on the main road, crossing over the salt pans, river Mondego and commercial shipping port via the new bridge to the town itself – this is cosmopolitan beach society, complete with Casino. Investigate the covered market, many bars, cafes and restaurants; the beach of golden sand goes on and on, every August there is a sand castle competition – not for amateurs unless you are intensely competitive!
There’s plenty of retail therapy in the individual shops in the old town where you can find handmade table linen or the latest in surf wear. Should you have more practical needs, there are 2 hypermarkets (Jumbo, Le Clerc) with small shopping malls and another 2 large supermarkets around the edge of this university town. The working port and Yacht Marina are always busy, so find a bar or café for some refreshment and watch the world go by whilst you relax and soak up the sun, shaded tables are always available too.
From this coastal town, drive inland along the EN111 towards Coimbra (in effect along the Mondego river) where you can find the castle at Montemor o Velho. The castle is a peaceful place to wander around with paved and grassed areas and even a small ‘tearoom’ for refreshments; there are fine panoramic views across the rice fields and the Mondego valley. Montemor o Velho also has a boating centre on the river and a nearby zoological garden plus the usual run of shops, restaurants and cafés.
Drive on inland to the ancient city of Coimbra which was the Roman capital of Iberia; mosaics and other evidence of that period can be found at the neighbouring archaeological site of Conimbriga and also in the surrounding countryside. Drive a little further south and discover the castle town of Penela with fantastic views across the town and countryside.
Coimbra was also Portugal’s capital city until the political centre of the country moved south to Lisbon; the city’s university is one of the longest established in Europe and the magnificent buildings are open to the public even during term-time – the views are sensational and a true sense of history surrounds you. You may need your comfy shoes to explore this fine city on the banks of the Mondego River – it’s not all history, there are boutiques, bars, cafés and restaurants to suit all tastes. Modern shopping centres (malls) and hypermarkets are to be found on the northern side of the river. During the summer months there are open air concerts with international artistes performing; theatres and cinemas are, of course, open all year round.