Exploring Portugals star mountain

Despite its incredible natural features – thick forests, hidden lakes and a lofty peak – Portugal’s Serra da Estrela mountain range is often overlooked. It is beautiful, for sure, and offers great opportunities for exploring nature. But look closely and you’ll discover quirkier jackpots, including the region’s own cheese, dog species and design hotspot.

Located in the middle of Portugal, the Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela is easy to access. You can reach one of the region’s main villages, Manteigas, via several routes; the most scenic way is from Covilhã, where the road rises steeply through pine forests before reaching a boulder-topped plateau.


Take a selfie at Torre, Portugal’s highest peak

Visiting Torre, mainland Portugal’s highest peak (1993m), is a rite of passage for many Portuguese travellers. Ski crowds flock here in winter, while at other times of year visitors come for a selfie by one of the radar stations: giant ‘golf balls’ that are so retro they could beam you back to the 1950s.


Meander along the Zêzere Valley

The real beauty lies a couple of kilometres from here, with views of – and a journey along – the Zêzere Valley. It’s one of Portugal’s greatest road trips, best done in spring and summer when the roads are free of ice. East of Torre, the road corkscrews for several kilometres, before straightening out to head north along the valley towards pretty little Manteigas.

The remarkable U-shaped, glacial valley was formed more than 20,000 years ago. Its landscape is strewn with granite outcrops, and here and there, the wiggly lines of man-made terraces traverse the hill. Below is the Zêzere River (the Serra da Estrela is the source of two other rivers, Mondego and Alva), where small shepherd huts dot the shore.

The area is rich in flora and fauna, with over 150 bird species, plus the likes of stags and mountain lizards, otters and wolves.


Hit the Trilhos Verdes trail network

There’s no better way to experience the region’s lakes, peaks and gullies than on this superb 200km network of green trails. The walks, with such evocative names as ‘Poço do Inferno’ (Hell’s Well, a lovely waterfall), take between one and eight hours. While many head through cork forests or granite-strewn plateaus, others incorporate cultural landmarks such as churches and historic wells. En route, you can plunge into the various natural lagoons and waterfalls.