In recent years, the stock of Portugal's Silver Coast, the stretch north of Lisbon and south of Porto, has been rising steadily, as UK second-homebuyers seek an affordable place in the sun.
Hot on their heels, tourists are now starting to get in on the act, discovering the secrets of this charming, relatively undiscovered section of Atlantic coastline.
Sunvil Discovery product manager Rosanna Melaragni said: "I would recommend the region, especially to couples or families looking to explore by car. The roads are uncongested and the scenery is stunning.
"It's fantastically diverse in terms of landscape, everything from vineyards, wheat fields and market gardens, to pine forests and lagoons."
A northern highlight of the Silver Coast is the 10th century city of Aveiro, known as the Portuguese Venice, on account of its lagoon and canals, where visitors can spot Portugal's answer to the gondola.
Admirers of architecture will enjoy the city's fine buildings, many constructed by merchants, who made their wealth in Brazil. The local Vista Alegre pottery makes a stylish souvenir.
The bustling city is equally famous for its food - enguias (eels), mariscos (shellfish), and egg-based pastries, in particular - while the nearby white-sand beaches are a major draw. The whole central Portuguese coastline is celebrated for its quiet beaches and Atlantic waves, making it a hit with surfers.
Further south and an hour's drive inland, sitting on the Mondego River, Coimbra is one of Portugal's most picturesque cities, and is home to its oldest university (think Oxford or Cambridge) with a superb baroque library. The Baixa, or lower town, is an area of riverside pathways and narrow, cobbled streets winding between tempting shops, churches, cafes and hotels.
The city also makes an ideal base from which to explore the nearby mountain forest of Buçaco, first settled in the 6th century by Benedictine monks. With its cypress groves, statues, fountains and formal gardens, Buçaco is the perfect place to escape from the world. For well-heeled travellers, it's also home to the Palace Hotel of Buçaco, one of Europe's more affordable grand hotels.
Another attraction within a half-hour drive of Coimbra is Conimbriga, the site of Portugal's best-preserved Roman city, complete with original walls, mosaics, foundations and public baths.
Back on the coast, and only 90 minutes' drive north of Lisbon, is the beach resort of Praia D'el Rey. EHS Travel director Mary Anne Popoff said: "This is a lovely resort, with a great golf course as well as a choice between five-star (Marriott) accommodation and self-catering. The latter is a good option as most of the properties are by the stupendous beach.
"Families can enjoy access to five-star facilities as well as the freedom to take off in the car and explore local villages. And Praia D'el Rey isn't all about golf - activities range from bike riding, football and tennis, to diving and kite-surfing."
Equally close to Lisbon, the 13th century walled town of Obidos is home to one of Portugal's most exquisite pousadas, as well as winding, cobbled streets where shops sell handmade lace and other traditional handicrafts. Visitors should also make time to drop into a bar and sample the local jinjinha, a delicious cherry brandy.
Nearby Peniche is one of the highlights of this stretch of sandy coastline. It's a proper Portuguese fishing village, so the seafood served in the local restaurants could hardly be fresher.
Silver Coast v Algarve
Melaragni said: "I'd recommend the Algarve to families or couples looking for a beach holiday, or to golfers. The central region is more of an unknown area to the majority of UK holidaymakers.
"Most of our clients are middle-aged couples looking for high-quality accommodation that's off the beaten track. They're looking for the 'real' Portugal - an authentic experience of the country."
A particular strength of the Silver Coast and the central region as a whole is its abundance of historic accommodation. Most operators take advantage of this with guests staying in atmospheric pousadas, scenic four-star properties or converted historic buildings.
The region can be accessed either through Lisbon or via Porto, and the coast north of Lisbon is fast developing as a golfing alternative to the Algarve.
Sunvil Discovery offers seven nights' bed and breakfast at the Quinta das Lagrimas, Coimbra this month for £1,104 per person based on four people sharing two standard rooms. The price includes car hire and return flights to Lisbon. (020 8568 4499, Sunvil agent website)
EHS Travel offers a week's accommodation in a one-bedroom self-catering apartment at Praia D'el Rey before July 11, from £266 per person twin-share, not including flights. Car hire starts from £132 per week. (0870 744 0007)
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