The Serra da Estrela Natural Park covers an area around 880 square kilometres (88,000 hectares), so is one of the largest natural parks in Portugal. A park of that size requires multiple visits to begin to understand the scope of what it contains.
On my first visit to Serra da Estrela National Park, I visited the beautiful Covão dos Conchos and the nearby Lagoa Comprida. On my second visit, I explored five of the traditional schist villages. For this visit, I wanted to see a bit more of the park. I started out at the northern end, with a visit to the Linhares da Beira Castle and then rode south, through Manteigas and up through the Zêzere Glacier Valley to the Tower, the highest point of mainland Portugal. It was a nine hour trip with about 500km of riding.
Construction of the Linhares da Beira Castle commenced at the end of the 11th century. Its fortifications were enhanced during the 13th century (King Dom Dinis) and 14th century (King Dom Fernando) when it was part of a line of fortifications in the Beira region. The castle is built on a large granite mass at an altitude of 820 metres. The layout of the castle features two long rectangular enclosures. The tall keep is part of the wall that divides the two enclosures. There is also a tall clocktower at one end of the castle. There are four gates built into the walls of the castle. There is no admission fee and visitors are free to wander within the castle.
The adjacent village of Linhares da Beira is worth taking some time to look around. Another main feature of the village is the Misericórdia Church, which dates back to the 16th century. It was closed at the time of my visit, so I only have a photo of the exterior. The houses and narrow roads all appear to have been built using local granite, with some interesting lanes and passageways connecting them.
My next destination was Covão d’Ametade, a serene and scenic area that was once a grassland where deer went to feed. It formed in a glacial depression, overlooked by three rocky Cántaros (mount or ridge of stone). The Zêzere river flows through the covão, where its banks are lined by silver birch trees. From here, the river flows for 200km before it empties into the Tejo River at Constancia.
To get to Covão d’Ametade, I had to ride up the beautiful Zêzere glacial valley – a well-formed U-shaped valley that is over 10km in length. There are several places along the road where vehicles van pull in to admire the view and read the tourist information boards. The entrance to Covão d’Ametade is located at the point of a sharp hairpin bend, on the climb up the valley. There is a parking area at the side of the road that will hold several vehicles.
A short distance further up the mountain from Covão d’Ametade is the highest point of land in mainland Portugal, referred to as Torre (Tower), at an altitude of 1,993 m (6,539 ft). There are two tower buildings with geodesic dome roofs at the top of the mountain. They are former radar towers for the Portuguese Air Force that have fallen into a state of disrepair. The largest of the two towers has been converted into a post for the GNR – the national police force.
This part of the mountain is also home to Portugal’s only ski resort, with a ski-lift running to the top of the peak. However, skiing is usually only possible between December and April. But you can still enjoy a ride on the ski-lift without the snow!
Other buildings at the top are home to multiple vendors of regional produce and products. Serra da Estrela sheeps cheese and chourico are popular items. But the vendors also sell honey, liqueurs, sheep-skin items, wooly clothing and many other items.
Whilst the temperature had been 24.5C at the bottom of the mountain, heavy clouds had moved in and the temperature up at the tower dropped to only 11.5C. On top of that, a thunderstorm was rolling in and distant rain was evident. This signalled an end to my sight-seeing, and I hopped on the bike to head home to Porto. Whilst I was able to elude the thunderstorm, I couldn’t escape the rain. But it was a good day-trip to a beautiful region.