Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela
Unusually in March there had been a sprinkling of snow in our Portuguese garden, the neighbours thought it was seven years since it had snowed there, and maybe twenty years before that. Yay snow day!! Chaos was excited, we made snowballs and drew a smily face in the van windscreen.
We had the Parque Natural Da Serra Da Estrela on our Portuguese wishlist and now was the time to tick it off. We looked at staying in the mountain village of Manteigas, in the heart of the park, but accommodation was limited so we settled on a room at the Quinta Formosa, part of the Turismo Rural national scheme, located down from Manteigas in the Vale of Formosa.
We set off early so before we were able to check in at the Quinta, we decided to head straight up to the mountains. We drove up to Manteigas, climbing steadily up the mountain road, this was a different Portugal to what we had seen, more like a ski resort. Instead of campo trousers, shirts and straw hats, there were ski suits, bobble hats and hiking boots. Everyone’s gear looked strangely brand new, as this was the only area of Portugal where there was snow maybe there wasn’t too much call for this kind of winter wear! We visited the local Tourist Information Centre to search out any suitable walks leaflets and to find out what the weather conditions were like in the mountains. We were given a huge range of PR routes to attempt, all of which started in or close to the village and then shown a live feed of a blizzard in Torre, Portugals pinnacle and warned the road was closed above 1800m due to the adverse weather conditions.
We chose the excellent PR1MTG route approx 4km from the village of Manteigas. This is a small circular route, which climbs up to 1150m and takes less than two hours heading through a sweet chesnut forest and back to the Poco do Inferno (hell’s well), a beautiful waterfall to stand at the base of, especially in winter when it is in full flow. The walk was considered to be moderate but carrying Chaos and Mayhem we found it slightly more challenging and the varying weather made it even more entertaining, as we experienced four seasons in one day with snow and hail hampering our steps. The walk was invigorating and certainly blew the cobwebs away, and the Poco do Inferno a rewarding end. With a spring in our step after our walk in the snow we drove to check out our Quinta accommodation.
The quinta (farmhouse) was set amongst rows and rows of cherry trees, which were in bloom, we had a view of this from our family room. The owner sat us by the huge fire and brought out the cherry liquor and nibbles, which gave us a chance to look around at the beautifully preserved features such as the giant barrels set into the wall and the network of stone channels where wine and liqueurs used to flow in abundance.
For an evening meal we headed to nearby Belmonte, not in our guide book, Belmonte turned out to be a fascinating town. Until recently the Belmonte Jewish community had been practicing its culture and traditions there for over 500 years in secrecy! We found a small eatery with great home-cooked style food and deserts and a good wine.
Chaos woke early in the Quinta, two hours before breakfast, we tried in vain to keep him quiet until we crept into the breakfast room early, the host put on an incredible breakfast including home-made smoothie, chutney, bread…. and serra da estrella cheese!! When you cut into this cheese the centre oozes out, its buttery with an intense flavour it really is delicious. If you ever see this cheese, try it, you will not regret it, it is simply an amazing assault on the senses.
With full tummies we drove back through Manteigas, intent on driving as high as we could in search of snow. We parked the car at 1800m, the road to Torre was still blocked with snow so everybody was mulling around at this point, skis and all. Portugal’s ski resort has one black run, beginners runs and playpark for the kids. At this height the view was dramatic, rugged and icy. The parque is Portugal’s largest protected area and still has roaming shepherds accompanied by the famous Estrela mountain dog.
It was Mayhems first time in the snow, what a special place for a first play in the white stuff, we threw snowballs, made snow angels and tried not to sink too deep into the humungous drifts. Cold wet and pink faced we got back into the car and drove back down the zig zag steep mountain road. The views were incredible, with the weather changing back to sunshine and the snow all was melting as we headed back to the IP2 main road.