Nature Park of Serra da Estrela in Portugal
Leaving Aveiro with its stripe houses of Costa Nova by train at 13h30 (the ticket costs 8 euros each), we arrived to the coimbra-b station in 30 minutes. Here, we had to take another train for the coimbra station which took only 5 minutes. One thing, we didn't have to wait for the time showing in our ticket, the ticket controller told us that it doesn't matter so we took the first one on the dock.
One thing we did after watching in the news that there were many fires in Portugal, we checked the fire Portugal map site to know where exactly because if the park was on fire, we would have to change our plan, hopefully, it was not the case.
So once at Coimbra, we went to Hertz (an international renting car company) where a car was waiting us. The office is located between both stations so if you are in hurry, you can walk from the coimbra-b station (no need to go to the coimbra station). Anyway, if you are doing like us, before to pick up the car, we found a cheap place to eat, just at about 5 minutes from the station called Batikano's (avenida central 12, once out of the station, go to the main street then go left, spot the shops Clarel/Prabitar, the place is next to them).
After driving about 3h30 by avoiding tolls (normally it should be less, we didn't have luck because one of the free highways was closed so we had to go by an alternative road), we reached our rural hotel Casa Lagar da Alagoa (estrada nacional N232 Vale de Amoreira, 50 euros per night with breakfast) located into the Natural Park of Serra da Estrela. The place is very nice owned by a very nice couple owner (taking care of us and willing to share a liquor glass with us), not far away from the village Manteigas, and in spite that it is just off the road, it is quite surprising very quiet and there is a river just at few steps where we could swim. The only bad point is the wifi, not working very well in our room.
The next day, we went to hike doing the glacier route in the morning. Instead to start at the beginning:
- From the Manteigas village, up to the tower at the top of the Star mountain (Serra da Estrela)
- Or from Serra da Estrela, down to the village
We drove from Manteigas until the parking of the Saint Anthony nave (it is next to the nave de santo antonio street, there is also a green map that can be spotted easily) toward the Star mountain so it is nearer to the tower. After parking the car, we walked on the road a little toward the tower until we found the hiking sign showing us the way up out of the road (just after the landmark number 3).
After that, there are no more signs so we just kept going up following the only track leading back to the road and after 2h15 with 2 breaks, we reached the Good Star Lady, a sculpture carved directly on the stone dedicated to her (it was already hot at 11h). Again, we had to walk a little on the road until we spotted the sign saying 1km more to reach the tower. From this section, each time we spotted a little stone column made by people, we just followed them. If you can't see them, you should see easily an abandoned building, you have to go there; once there, you should see a round structure (it is the roof top of an observatory), again, just go there (it is your destination). In total, it took us about 3h to walk up to the tower.
Due to many fires, we didn't have a great view, the horizon was covered with a dark cloud preventing us to see the beautiful green mountains. There is a mall and a restaurant, in spite that it was an European bank holiday August 15th, both are opened. The commercial center is small, with different shops offering local foods and some other stuffs. The restaurant proposes an all you can eat buffet for 15 euros, I have to say that the food is quite good. After filling our stomach and to rest a little more, it was time to walk down to the car.
We were so tired that we decided to go back to our hotel, to take a good shower then to go to the Manteigas village to take a drink and to eat something for the evening. The glacier hiking route offers a landscape quite dry in August, the best will be to do it during the spring, just after that the snow of the winter will melt and make everything greener with ponds, rivers and lakes. If you plan to do it during the summer the same section like us, do it by car, it is not worth doing it by walking; start first by the area of the Comprida lake (including Covão Dos Conchos) then the tower, to avoid the heat, do it early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
The next day, we planned to do the inferno well route (a short circular hiking track of 1h30) but the owner of the hotel told us that the best of this itinerary is the waterfall and since there was no water, no waterfall. In fact, everything was dry, we went to the Covão d'Ametade park to lunch, an area where people like to do a picnic and barbecue, the river, that should run all along, was totally dry.
So we changed our plan and we went to the Comprida lake (the parking is just after the wall), the time we arrived, it was already hot and it was only 10h30. It is from here that Covão Dos Conchos (a small lake with a hole) can only be reached by feet so due to the heat, we decided not to go. Others more courageous started their walk, others like us, just stay near to the lake and some went to swim (although it is forbidden).
To end the day, we visited 2 villages, first Belmonte, also known as Belmonte Jews, it is just about 30 minutes from our hotel and it is located up to a hill. We walked only in the medieval area discovering where Marranos were living. They were Jews converted or were forced to convert to Christianity but practicing Judaism in secret. The old district is small and for 2 euros, people can visit the castle. Then we went to the Belmonte convent to take a drink in its nice terrace to enjoy a beautiful panorama view with the sun going down into the Nature Park of Serra da Estrela, this caprice cost us about 6 euros ordering only 1 beer and 1 coca-cola.
There is a kind of public place/square where people can enjoy the same view, meanwhile driving to go to the convent, we passed next to it. If you want to go, just keep driving the main street (the one that leads you to the old district because you have to go to the other side) then you will see the panel "pousada", just follow it; it will bring you first to this public place then to the convent.
We didn't watch the sunset here, we did it to another village called Sortelha (30 minutes from Belmonte). It is also located on the top of a hill, the medieval city is much more charming and better preserved. When we arrived in the city, we saw the sign "castelo" stuck on a wall of a building on the right side saying to go this way; at the beginning, it confused us because the way is not a car street but a walking street so we just parked nearby. Hopefully, a car just arrived and drove into it so we did the same thing. There is a small parking just in front of the main entrance. Surrounded by its original wall (some sections are destroyed), the visit is quick because it is small. Its original tower is opened 24h since there is no door, we went up for a 360 degrees panoramic view. We found the best sunset view behind the wall, to go there, just near to the main entrance of the medieval city, there is a stair carved into the stone going up, take it and it will lead you to the place to see the sun going down into the Nature Park of Serra da Estrela. After that, we chose to dinner at the one with a terrace (only sandwiches), there is another one cooking dishes into the old city.
The next day, we left the Natural Park of Serra da Estrela to go back to Coimbra with its Joanina library.