Hiking in the Serra da Estrela

Hiking in the Serra da Estrela

In the middle of the boiling hot summer that was August 2016 we decided to take a few days away in the mountains of the Serra da Estrela. We had managed to book a house in the village of Videmonte, not far from Guarda, big enough for two adults and two hairy ones. It was a fairly short drive so we decided to stop off on the way in Guarda for lunch and a bit of a mooch. Like many places in Portugal there is an historic old centre, on a hill, with a more modern part below. And just like other similar places we found the historic old quarter fairly deserted apart from a few tourists wandering the cobbled streets. Guarda is the highest city in Portugal and despite the sun, there was quite a cool breeze gusting down those narrow alleys. However we were soon out in the open in the large central square with its attendant cafes – actually more reminiscent of Spanish cities than Portuguese. No doubt I suppose due to the fact that we were so close to the border. The old gothic cathedral facing the square was interesting, rather than lovely, as it was quite squat and austere, almost fortress like. In contrast the inside was light and graceful and we also happened upon a wedding in progress – there was life in the old town after all. Back outside we went sniffing down a typical narrow alley and found a cosy restaurant for lunch offering the usual Portuguese fayre – grilled pork or bacalhau. After our little break we headed off into the Serra da Estrela proper and on to the village of Videmonte.

Videmonte is quite small but attractively situated along a short ridge. The houses are clustered close together and built of a mixture of huge granite blocks and slate-like shist. There is one main road going up through the village to the church and our house was very close to this. Nearby was the more modern community centre which also had a very handy roof-top bar which was the only place we could get wi-fi. There were a few cafes in the village but none sold petiscos (snacks) except the community centre bar so this is where we enjoyed the sunsets with a glass of red and a tosta mista (ham and cheese toastie). The house itself, Casa Retiro de Xisto was very comfortable with all the facilities you would expect and we spent a very quiet and restful first night in the Serras.

We were up early on our first day proper. I usually look for the official walking tracks in Portugal. You can often download the map and they are usually clearly marked on the ground with yellow and red stripes and therefore easy to follow. There are 3 main long paths running all the way through the Serra da Estrela but no official short routes around the village so I relied on a couple I found on wikiloc.com. One departed right from the village so we set off on this one. The whole walk was 13kms long, which ordinarily wouldn’t have been a problem but as we were going quite slowly because of the heat and taking it easy we followed a shorter route eventually doing just over 9kms in 3 hours. As there were no trees at all it was very hot but very pretty, views all the way to Guarda and the dried yellow grass contrasting with stands of green scrub. We only saw one other person, a goatherd with his flock of goats and sheep which were ably guarded by four big Estrela Mountain dogs. Fortunately, in my experience, they are loud rather than aggressive, however, we still gave them a wide berth.

After the walk we dropped the dogs at the house and headed off for lunch and some touristing. The dogs were certainly pleased with this plan as they were absolutely shattered and looked forward to an afternoon snooze in a cool house. We headed north to the town of Celerico da Beira. It was a smaller version of Guarda with a hilltop old quarter with church and castle and newer part below. It was even quieter (being a Sunday) and we had a bit of trouble finding a restaurant until we got to Muralhas da Celerico which was packed. With good reason as Jackie had a delicious meal of roast lamb with all the trimmings, I had a melt-in-the-mouth steak and it was rounded off with a number of calorie packed deserts.

Muralhas da Celerico doesn’t have its own website but it does have a rather tasty looking video on youtube!

From here we headed to Trancoso, situated on the hot plains just north of the Serra. It was actually the prettiest town we visited. The old town was completely surrounded by sturdy walls and inside were attractive flower bedecked squares and of course a castle and a sprinkling of old churches.

On the second day we followed another route found on wikiloc, this time we drove a little out of town to the start. It was along the very edge of the serra as we had views of the plains far below for the entire time. Similar to the day before but also we benefited from a bit of shade from some small pine woods that had been planted here. Half way along the walk was an outcrop of rocks called Penha de Prados with especially good views.

As before we dropped the dogs off and went out again for the afternoon. This time we went to another hilltop fortress village, Linhares. the huge castle walls were very impressive and could be seen for miles around. As is usual there was nothing inside. The village that spreads below the castle was also full of interest but rather lacking in an affordable restaurant so we headed back to Trancoso for lunch. In fact here we had a few problems as most of the restaurants were closed! But we did find a very nice cheap and cheerful place which was doing excellent business and enjoyed a great meal in pleasant surroundings at the Restaurante São Marcos.

On our last day we took the dogs out for a special treat in the late afternoon. A swim. And we saw a Buzzard just hanging around by the side of the road. That night we had a quiet night in. Jackie going through her photos and Betty taking it easy on the sofa.

More photos here

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