Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela – Spain & Portgual Tour 2009

We left Fatima after one night and headed up the IP2/A23 motorway towards the Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela – home to Portugal’s highest mountain. As lovers of mountain scenery, we had high hopes for this part of the trip.

Driving into the Serra da Estrela Natural Park
Driving into the Serra da Estrela Natural Park

We weren’t disappointed. These are proper mountains – granted not on the scale of the Alps or Pyrenees, but proper mountains all the same. As we headed into the park, it became instantly apparent we were entering a mountainous area. The roads started to show the wear and tear that can only be caused by regular snowfall and ice and there were several sets of roadworks taking advantage of the late spring weather to work their way upwards. The people started dressing as if the weather might turn bad at any point. The communities became smaller, more insular and less bothered about outward appearances. A new breed of tourist shop also emerged – selling hams, cheeses, fleecy products like slippers and traditionally-made woollen garments.

Heading upwards into the mountains - traffic was minimal
Heading upwards into the mountains - traffic was minimal

Our route took us along the N339 up to the Torre – at 1,993m, the highest point in Portugal. Along the way, the views got steadily better and despite the relatively modest altitudes, there was snow, rocky peaks, alpine meadows and stunning, deep blue lakes and reservoirs. Here are a few pictures:

In winter, this would all be snow - in fact, the Serra da Estrela range does have a ski run
In winter, this would all be snow - in fact, the Serra da Estrela range does have a ski run
Cold, blue and high - true mountain lakes!
Cold, blue and high - true mountain lakes!
Some of the lakes in the Estrelas were man made, like this one
Some of the lakes in the Estrelas were man made, like this one
Some were entirely natural...
Some were entirely natural...
Traditional hams and cheeses for sale
Traditional hams and cheeses for sale
The Torre - the highest point in Portugal - is marked by a shopping complex and this slightly decrepit observatory
The Torre - the highest point in Portugal - is marked by a shopping complex and this slightly decrepit transmitter tower. There's also a ski run in winter.
Still plenty of snow in early May
Still plenty of snow in early May

Overnight stops and camping are often prohibited within Portugal’s natural parks and so it was here – at least above 1,200m. In any event, it looked like it might get quite cold at night so we descended until we had left the park and got closer to sea level before we found a quiet lay-by to park in for the night.

Anyone seeking to do some walking in the park will find a wide range of choice – from short loops to serious hiking. The largest town in the park and the best place to start walking from is Manteigas – the main park office is here and there are several campsites and hotels in the area.

Distance driven: 145 miles

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