The highest mountain range in continental Portugal, the Serra da Estrela offers all manner of things to see and do for travellers of every stripe.
Portugal might be best known for its sandy beaches and surf, but it’s also home to Serra da Estrela, a protected 888sqkm (343sqmi) park boasting the country’s highest mountain peaks. In this region, you’ll find icy lakes and granite outcrops towering above thickly wooded valleys and rushing rivers. This beautiful natural landscape is dotted with charming villages and is a great spot for hiking, climbing and skiing as well for spotting quirky cultural sights.
This hike is on a 7.5km (5mi) loop inside the Serra da Estrela Park and it’s the perfect day hike for fit intermediate hikers. The village of Manteigas is located at an altitude of 700m (2297ft) at the end of the ancient Zezere valley and the best time to hike from here is spring and summer. The hike will take you across rocky terrain and meadows to the Poço do Inferno waterfall, which descends a steep gorge of Ribeira de Lenadres and offers incredible valley views.
Skiing in Portugal – who would have thought? The Serra da Estrela is one of the only places that gets enough snow for skiing and has the only fully-equipped ski resort in the country. The resort is open from November to April and, with only four ski lifts, it is on the small side. Still, with 130m (427ft) of vertical descents and nine pistes in total, the novelty factor of skiing in sunny Portugal makes it worthwhile and facilities are good. The nearest airport is in Porto.
A rustic family-run mountain restaurant that thrives on the views from its windows and local produce such as Serra da Estrela cheese and sausages from the family’s farm produced using ancient smoking methods. You can also buy dried sausages, cured cheese and rye bread to take home with you after enjoying a delicious tasting menu including liqueurs and coffee.
Inside this gorgeous 18th-century manor house you’ll be able to browse a collection of paintings by one of Portugal’s most distinguished and controversial modernist artists, Abel Manta. Around 23 of his works are on display, along with paintings by other well-known Portuguese artists including his son, João Abel Manta. Look out for fine baroque details on the doors and windows.
One of the most amazing sights in the Serra da Estrela is without a doubt a waterfall-like hole in the middle of a lake. Although it looks like a mysterious natural phenomenon, this hole was created in the 1950s to direct water from the Ribeira das Naves to Lagoa Comprida. While it is possible to visit this spot on foot, the hike isn’t for beginners and becomes more difficult during the winter months, so visitors are cautioned to do their research first and be careful.
Nina Santos has contributed additional reporting to this article.