Sledding, dining with magnificent views and a small walk
The Serra da Estrela – the Star Mountains – is located about 3 hours by car northeast of Lisbon and is the highest mountain range in Portugal, except for the Azores volcano Pico. It stands out from the hilly surroundings and essentially consists of two high plateaus. While these are almost uninhabited, there are many pretty towns and villages around the mountains, including most of the twelve Aldeias Históricas. For example, the ancient Linhares da Beira in the northwest of the Serra da Estrela is well worth seeing.
A strong push,
then the sled picks up speed,
it’s getting faster,
looking for wrong ways,
it’s laboriously forced back into the trail,
jumps over small bumps in the ground
and finally throws its rejoicing riders next to it
in the snow.
But if you want to ski or go sledding in Portugal, you usually have to climb very high up to the highest peak of the mountains, the Torre. Here, there can be snow until the spring, but in January we only found a small slope with snow, where it was at least possible to go on some good sled rides. Thus, you should first have a look at the snow report, or have a look at the Torre’s webcam.
Directly at the small run, you can rent a sled, which is quite expensive here. We had brought our own sled with us and then rode down the run many times with our enthusiastic daughters.
The restaurant in the former military buildings has a magnificent terrace with an excellent view over other mountain ranges in the area, but service and prices are so far so far apart that it is one of the worst rated restaurants in the country. If you’re well organised, someone may send you a little earlier to buy drinks and food, and while you shouldn’t expect any culinary delights, you may still enjoy lunch at two thousand metres above sea level.
From the restaurant terrace, you can see a meadow with many small stone towers and heaps, to which your children may be able to add their own towers after the meal.
If you return before dusk and descend in the direction of Covilhã, you will reach a small car park after about 5 minutes, from where you can already see the Senhora da Boa Estrela carved into the rock. This figure was inaugurated in 1946 and is considered the patron saint of the local shepherds. Take a little walk across to the statue, crossing a small stream that your children will love.
The legend of the shepherd and his star
The story of a young shepherd, who for many years was led by a star to a mountain, where he had always longed to go in his dreams, is, by the way, also the namesake legend of the Star Mountains. The king offered the now-old shepherd all the riches of the world if he gave him his star, but he replied that the friendship with his star was more important to him than all wealth. Even today, a star above the mountains is said to sparkle more than all the others, and he is in search of his shepherd. And the mountains were called the Star Mountains by the other shepherds.
For us, the winter day on the Torre was an extraordinary day, because snow is something almost unknown for our children. Unfortunately, the icy snow wasn’t right for building a snowman or having a small snowball fight, but we will surely drive up again soon, up to the huge granite roof of Portugal.
How to get there:
From Lisbon follow the A1 to the north and then from Torres Novas take the A23 to exit 30 Covilhã Sul. From here, through Covilhã, follow the signs for Serra da Estral and continue up to Torre. There are also buses and trains to Covilhã, and you can take a taxi for the 30 minutes to the Torre.
GPS (Parking to walk to the Senhora da Boa Estrela):
The terrace has an especially impressive, overwhelming view. Unfortunately, the food is overpriced and the service is bad; long waiting times are not uncommon. Open daily: 8:00–10:00 pm
Directly at the slope approx. 10 Euro/hour
At the top of the Torre, it is really cold and often windy, so be sure to bring warm clothes.