Serra da Estrela Natural Park - Portugal

Often punctuated by snow, the vast rolling landscape of Serra da Estrela Natural Park is an absolute must for hikers, bird-watchers and nature lovers of all types visiting central Portugal.

Travellers touring this special area never regret having done so because many profound traces of Roman domination are to be found throughout the park, including an abundance of fortified works, bridges, remains of roads and entrenchments.

The area was also the path of Castilian invaders in days gone by, which is why the landscape is dotted with a succession of fortified towns and historic villages, each with its own picture-book castle, many still in a fine state of preservation.

Besides being famous for its first-class ski resort located close to Torre (Serra da Estrela’s highest point at 1,993 metres/6,539 feet), this unique part of Portugal basks in its own fully-immersive world of vivid colours, unusual features, big skies and geographical rarities.

With much of the terrain over 1,500 metres (5,000 feet), it is even more impressive in spring/summer when its dense foliage bursts into full bloom to form the most glorious pastoral scene in the whole of the country.

Native to Serra da Estrela, the Mondego River rises at 4,675 feet (1,425 m) on the northern slopes of Estrela mountain, flowing in a south-westerly direction for 234 kilometres (145 miles) before spilling out into the Atlantic Ocean near the resort town of Figueira da Foz.

Founded in 1976, Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela (as it is known locally) is a protected area covering almost 90,000 hectares of prime terrain, incorporating mainland Portugal’s highest peak.

An integral part of the Serra da Estrela Natural Park is Penhas Douradas, which lies close to the top and loosely means Golden Boulders because of the thick yellow moss predominantly growing in the area.

Where to go in central Portugal

Mostly rural, the park also boasts some spectacular urban highlights, chief amongst them Guarda, a former stronghold and magnificent city remarkable for its huge Gothic fortress-style cathedral founded in the 14th century. 

One of the highest cities in Europe, this rugged and very robust place was once encircled by very steep walls, of which some impressive portions and three fortified gates still exist – namely Sun Gate, Blacksmith’s Gate and King’s Gate (so called because King Dinis and his very young bride entered through it after their honeymoon in nearby Trancoso towards the end of the 13th century).

Gouveia, an attractive town with a fine church, serves as an excellent base from which to explore Serra da Estrela Natural Park. Don’t miss the 16th-century Casa da Torre which once belonged to the Marquis of Gouveia, nor the head-spinning vistas to be enjoyed and photographed at the top end of town.

The road south to the charming town of Manteigas is a delight to behold with several stunning panoramic viewpoints to enjoy en route. Squashed into a narrow hollow amongst the Estrela mountains, this small textile centre is an excellent place to stop for a delicious regional-style lunch.

Renowned for its high-quality woollen garments, Covilhã is another beautiful place to visit in the heart of Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela. A thriving commercial centre in Roman times, the town affords winter travellers quick and easy access to the excellent ski resort located near Torre.

Other places of particular note within the boundary of Serra da Estrela Natural Park include 
Celorico da Beira (famed for its locally-produced cheese) and Seia, home to the Serra da Estrela Interpretation Centre (CISE) where visitors can find out all about the best sightseeing routes, special events and local tourist activities.

Need more sightseeing ideas for your next visit? Listen to the Portugal Travel Show, the podcast for people planning a trip to sunny Portugal…