Serra da Estrela
A visit to the Serra da Estrela is essentially a call to Nature. Offering a multitude of activities, visits to historical villages, gastronomic treats and the scenic diversity that is so intrinsic to Portugal, Nature always takes pride of place. Everything from glacier valleys, rivers, forests, historical villages, natural springs, wildlife, skiing and cheese can be found in this Serra; it’s just a question of how high up, or far, one is willing to go.
The Serra da Estrela, otherwise known as “the roof of Portugal”, is the highest mountain range in mainland Portugal, its Torre summit reaching 1993m. The beauty of the landscape, the abundance of water resources and the rarity of the flora and fauna earned an area of 100,000 hectares classification as a Natural Park, making it the largest protected area in Portugal. The Council of Europe has also classified the central plateau as a Biogenetic Reserve. In the Serra, the scenery varies according to altitude: the lower slopes are covered with green pastures that are mostly dedicated to sheep-farming and agriculture, while the rugged, upper slopes are more sparsely vegetated and offer spectacular views of glacier valleys, lagoons and impressive examples of granite rock formation.
There is plenty to see and do in the Serra and the many activities available contemplate it all, whether it be hiking, trekking, mountain-biking, paragliding or winter skiing in Torre. It is a wonderful place to explore and has a network of marked routes that cover the entire Park and provide different trails to follow. These will take you past natural wonders such as the largest glacier valley in Europe, the 13 km long Zêzere glacier valley; rivers, waterfalls and streams; natural hot springs and the Comprida and Escura glacier lagoons. On the way, you are sure to catch a glimpse of the local wildlife, namely foxes, hares, otters, moles and the occasional wild boar. Although there are fewer sightings of the wolves that used to inhabit these mountains, most sheep and goat herds continue to be fiercely guarded by the Serra da Estrela dogs that became famous for this very reason.
The trails pass many of the isolated, historical villages that are situated in the Serra and that provide a wonderful opportunity to discover the region’s heritage and to taste its gastronomic treats. As the livelihood in these villages is sheep-farming, foremost amongst these is the famous “queijo da serra” ewe’s milk cheese, closely followed by the smoked meats and sausages, trout and kid dishes. Wool from the sheep is also used for making handmade woollen garments.
Incomparable landscapes, medieval castles perched on the top of mountains, winding streets occupied by flocks of sheep, bubbling, hot spring water and man in perfect harmony with Nature... this is the Serra da Estrela.
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