There is a stunning region in the interior of Portugal 3 hours away by car from Lisbon that can offer you a wide range of activities in any time of the year: the Estrela Mountain Natural Park!
This beautiful region with granite outcrops, hidden lakes and streams has the total extension of approximately 900 km² and is located in the region of Beira Interior, which is famous in Portugal for its delicious mountain cheese! Besides that it is here that you can find the highest peak of continental Portugal: at Torre, 1993 meters above sea level!
If you go in wintertime and if you are a snow sports fan you can go skiing, sledging or snowboarding in the ski slopes located at Torre and Sabugueiro. The view of the mountain all covered up with snow on a sunny day is striking! And, for me, the sensation of being above the clouds and the possibility of inhaling the fresh air of the mountains is also quite unique.
I recommend that you stay at the Luna Hotel Serra of Estrela, a nice 4-star Hotel located at 1600 meters. The staff is super friendly, welcoming and polite, the breakfast is very good and, if you have kids, there are several activities for children.
On the other hand, in front of the Hotel there are some wooden houses for rent and that are perfect for a couple with one or two children. I have already stayed there and each house has central heating, a kitchen, one or two bedrooms and a living room with TV.
On your way up to the Torre, the highest point in mainland Portugal, you will pass by the Covão do Boi, a site located at 1840 meters high where you will see sculpted directly into the granite rocks the figures of Our Lady of Boa Estrela and two shepherds. It is quite impressive how they sculpted these images in 1940. The objective was to protect the shepherds who guard the flocks of sheep and goats, helped by the Serra da Estrela dog (a very ancient breed of Portuguese dogs) and that depend on the mountain’s natural resources.
If you go in spring or summertime enjoy the pleasures of Nature while walking or biking through the mountains: currently there are about 375 km of marked pedestrian trails! Some local tour companies organize hiking tours and many tours start in Manteigas, a very small village located 20 minutes away by car from Torre. On your hiking tours you will probably get in touch with the local wildlife: the Iberian Rock Lizard, the Black Satyr butterfly, the Midwife frog or the Peregrine Falcon. You will also pass by some oak trees, ash trees, junipers, daffodils or sundews.
Another nice way of enjoying the splendor of this gorgeous region is to do a picnic at the Covão da Ametade. It is here that one of the most famous Portuguese rivers has its source: the Zêzere river.
You cannot leave this region without tasting the local specialties. I strongly recommend the restaurant Varanda da Estrela, www.varandadaestrela.pt, located at Penhas da Saúde, close to the Hotel Luna. It is very good! As a starter try the most famous regional product: the Serra da Estrela cheese, a yellow buttery cheese produced from sheep’s milk. You can have it with cured ham and regional bread. Delicious!
The main course can be roasted wild boar served with chestnuts and mushrooms or the Zimbro rice (stewed veal meat with mushrooms and rice seasoned with juniper berries)! By the way: if you do not like meat they also have vegetarian or codfish dishes. Finally, the most famous regional deserts are: Tigelada Beirã (a Portuguese sweet made with milk, flour, cinnamon, sugar and eggs) and Papas de Carolo (made from corncob, sugar, cinnamon, milk and lemon zest). If you like wines then you are in the right place: in Portugal, the wines from this region are not that famous but they are very good. Ask for a bottle (or two!) of red wine, Quinta dos Termos or Beyra. It goes really well with a meat dish or some mountain cheese! Do not forget to book in advance: the restaurant is normally always full!
Finally, the Estrela Mountain also offers some exciting cultural activities. One hour away by car from Penhas da Saúde, on the western side of the mountain, you will find the Bread Museum in a small town called Seia. It is very interesting and interactive and, if you have children, they have a workshop where they teach them how to make bread using the traditional procedures.
You will know more about the importance of bread in the everyday life of the population of Beira throughout the centuries namely during the Portuguese 20th century dictatorship. The Museum also explains clearly the art of traditional bread making with the re-creation of an historic watermill and a granary to store the cereals.
Close to the re-created bakery you will see a baking scale and the baker’s professional identifying cards.
In one of the rooms there is an exhibition of the different types of bread from the various Portuguese regions. And you will even see the bicycle that was used by the bread seller to go from village to village to sell the bread! Really nice!
At the end of the visit there is a nice bar where you can have a nice cup of coffee while you are reading a book or the newspaper. Or if you want you can also have lunch at the Museum’s restaurant. It has great online reviews. www.museudopao.pt
And do not forget to pass by the Museum’s gift shop on the way out where you can of course buy some local cheese or some regional corn, wheat or rye bread! Delicious!
Tour Guide in Portugal