SERRA DA ESTRELA
The magical Mountain
1993 m high Estrela Mountain (Serra da Estrela) is the highest peak of the Portuguese mainland. Due to the extraordinary landscapes of this mountain range, a good deal of the mountain and surroundings was classified Natural Park. Covering an area if 101 thousand ha, this is the greatest Portuguese protected area. It is therefore an important tourism attraction, because it is covered by snow in the cold months, presenting imposing landscapes dressed in green full of water and life during the rest of the year.
The park is highly located, varying from 300m to 1993m (in the Torre), and its heart lies at the central massif of the mountain. There you will find the Torre, Cântaros (huge rocks situated immediately north) and Penhas da Saúde.
Typically U-shaped Zêzere glacial valley connects Penhas da Saúde with Manteigas. The plain of Videmonte stretches in the north top of the mountain, crossed by the waterbed of High Mondego River. The mountain villages Loriga and Alvoco da Serra are located in the southwest valleys. The northeast slope stretches from Seia to the Historical Village Linhares with its medieval castle. Sabugueiro, the highest inhabited village in Portugal, can be found halfway between Seia and Torre.
In terms of flora, broom, briar, black oak and juniper are worth highlighting. The mountain is the shelter for the most diversified species: common buzzard, fox, common quail, hare, rabbit, Pyrenean desman and otter. Wolves seem to have disappeared, but not the famous Serra da Estrela dogs that used to protect sheep and goat flocks.
The castles' route
While visiting Estrela Mountain and the surrounding region, you will get in touch with history and nature, since this is a cosy rich territory that respects traditions and heritage. This region is covered by medieval castles that protected the long borderline and the possible invasion routes. Historically speaking, the relations to the Kingdoms of Castile and León or the Moorish Kingdoms were rather turbulent. Here you will find many castles: Castelo Rodrigo, Castelo Mendo, Sabugal, Sortelha, Trancoso, Linhares or Celorico are some examples. Later on, during Restoration Wars, there was the need to face the siege artillery threat and so the bastion-like fort-squares appeared, the greatest example being Almeida.
This region has a rich handicraft, and wool plays a crucial role. Mountain gastronomy is also appealing: meats; sausages; soups; fruits and top sweet specialities, such as "tigelada" (a baked dessert made of eggs, milk and cinnamon); "papas de carolo" (corn-based creamy sweet); curd cheese with pumpkin marmalade; olive oil cake; "forgotten" biscuits...Some products became distinctive labels and naturally must-taste specialities: Queijo da Serra (Protected Designation of Origin), Sabugal trouts, the bread of Seia Museum (a must-visit museum) and the cherries of Fundão, whose trees announce Spring arrival with their white delicate blossoming flowers.