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Encompassing the university city of Coimbra, the three provinces of the Beiras are the quintessence of Portugal. Beira is Portuguese for "edge" or "border"; the provinces are Beira Litoral (coastal), Beira Baixa (low), and Beira Alta (high). The region embraces the Serra de Estrela, Portugal's highest mountains -- a haven for skiers in winter and a cool retreat in summer. The granite soil produced by the great mountain ranges blankets the rocky slopes of the Dão and Mondego river valleys and is responsible for producing the region's wine, ruby-red or lemon-yellow Dão.

The famed resort of Figueira da Foz draws the most beach devotees and is overcrowded in summer. However, you can take your pick of other beaches, from Praia de Leirosa in the south all the way to the northern tip at Praia de Espinho. Unlike those in the Algarve, the beaches along the Atlantic coast have powerful surf and potentially dangerous undertows, plus much cooler water. Check local conditions before going into the water. A yellow or red flag indicates that the water isn't safe for swimming (sometimes because of pollution).

Anglers from all over the world fly in to fish the waters in the Serra de Estrela National Park and the Vouga River. Less competitive fishing is done along the Beira Litoral beach strip, with its many rocky outcroppings. Bream, sole, and sea bass are the major catches. Ocean fishing doesn't require a permit, but fishing in freshwater streams and rivers does. Regional tourist offices will give you information about permits.