Our next destination in Portugal was Serra da Estrela Natural Park. On the first day we explored Necropole de Sao Gens, Cabeca do Velho and Senhora da bao Estrela and along the way we stopped at two reservoirs/dams. We did attempt to looked for a shorter trekking route to Covao Dos Conchos (another resevoir) to avoid a 9.4 km round trek. But we did not find a shorter route so we abandoned exploring Covao Dos Conchos.
The next day we spent the whole morning exploring a glacier valley, “Vale Glaciar do Zêzere” This valley was originally not in our itinerary, it was highly recommended by the receptionist of our hotel as a “must see” sight. Since it was only a short drive from hotel we visited it the next morning and it was a truly “must see”!
Necropole de Sao Gens
From Aveiro to “Necropole de Sao Gens” which was near the north tip of “Serra da Estrela Natural Park” took us about 1.5 hour of driving over a distance of 138 km. Two kilometers from our destination we could already see the “huge rock” on the right side of the road. We thought we had reached our destination but could not find a safe parking place by the side of the road and could not find a walking path to cross the terrain to the “huge rock”. So we continued our drive to the final destination (co-ordinates: 40.654498, -7.396755) .
From a larger road we turned right to a smaller road, from the smaller road we turned right onto a dirt road. The place looked deserted so we wondered if we were still on the correct route. Finally we saw a road sign showing that we were right on track.
We parked our car in a wide space by the side of the dirt road and walked forward to the “giant rock”. Along the way we came on upon a “historical writeup” so we stopped to study the information. “Necropole de Sao Gens” was the name of this place and not that of the gigantic “mushroom” rock. The name of the rok was “Pedra do Sino” which translated to “Bell-Stone”.
How did this gigantic stone came to be balancing here? Was its shape carved/created or was it a natural formation? Around the “Bell stone” were other flat rocks. These flat rocks had dug out cavities on them. In some photographs of this place which I had seen, the cavities on the flat rocks were filled with water so I thought they were water troughs. It was after reading the writeout on the information panel, that I learnt that these flat rocks were sepulchres and the cavities were for dead persons. It seemed like “Necropole de Sao Gens” was an ancient cemetery.
We were amused, Granaries de Saojo looked like a cemetery but it was not and this place did not look like a cemetery but it was.
Cabeca do Velho
From the “Bell rock” we drove further inland into Serra da Estrela Natural Park. This natural park was situated in the largest mountain range in Portugal. It occupied about 1,000 km² and more than half of its area was located above an altitude of 700 m. Our stay was near the southern part of the park so by travelling north to south we would be able to see many parts of the park.
Our next destinaiton was “Cabeca do Velho” an interesting rock sitting on a slope by the road. It was hard to believe that its shape was a result of natural erosion. It looked like somebody had shipped an Eastern Island headstone (Moai) and left it on the slope to look over the vast land below. The view here of the plain below was pretty massive and impressive.
Covão do Curral Dam Albufeira
Albufeira da Barragem do Covao do Curra, Lagoa Comprida and Covao Dos Conchos were near to each other. The first reservoir/lake could be seen by the side of the road while the second reservoir/lake just required a walk up a stairs as for the third reservoir there would be a 9.4 km round trip walk.
Upon reaching Lagoa Comprida we saw a high wall. The road branched near the wall, the left branch led to a carpark and the right branch was probably the continuation of the road. At the carpark was a small store selling local products.
We went up a set of stairs along the side of the wall which led us to the top. At the top was a walking path that ran along the wall. Behind the wall was the lake/reservoir. Lagoa Comprida was the largest reservaoir in Serra da Estrela Natural Park. It supplied water to the area and was also a source of hydro-electric power. It was first built in 1912 and was only 6 m high. It was enlarged in 1934 and 1966. As of now, it was 28 m high, 2500 m long and 130 m wide.
From the carpark we saw some dirt paths going futher and one of these probably led to Covao Dos Conchos. Unfortunately, there was no clear sign as to which of these dirt paths led to Covao Dos Conchos. Looking at the terrain and the dirt paths they were certainly not accessible by car which meant we could not drive nearer to Covac Dos Conchos. With that hope dashed we decided to forgo a visit to Covao Dos Conchos.
Senhora da bao Estrela
We drove 11 km from Lagoa Comprida to “Senhora da Bao Estrela” in about 15 minutes. Near the site was a carpark which was at the edge of a small rocky ravine. The “Senhora” could be clearly seen from the carpark, it was on the rocky hill across the ravine. Yat Thong was happy with view the statue from a far whereas I would like to see it upfront.
At the side of the carpark there was a stair leading down to the ravine, so I went that way. It was an easy walk to the base before reaching the stairs that led up to the statue. As I got nearer to the statue I realised that it was actually so much larger and taller than the impression it gave me when I viewed it from the carpark. Wow, I was so tiny compared to the statue.
This sculpture was carved and inaugurated in 1946. It symbolised Nossa Senhora da Bao Estrela, the Saint of Shelperds, protector of shepherds. The sculpture was more than 7 m high and was created by António Duarte.
Vale glaciar do zezere
The next morning after breakfast we left our stay and headed for Vale Glaciar Do Zezere (Zezere Glacier Valley). At about 2.7 km from our stay we turned right toward the village “Manteigas”, this turn brought us to the start of the valley.
About another 1.3 km later was saw a set-in (co-ordinates: 40.326111, -7.572467) by the side of the road that looked like a viewpoint. The set-in space was good enough for a couple of cars so we parked. The view was pretty stunning. It was lovelier than we expected. At the far end of the glacier valley was the village of Manteigas. There was a vehicular road by the side of the valley and something that looked like a trekking trail at the bottom of the valley, both leading to the village.
Vale Glaciar do Zêzere was the largest glacier valley in Europe and it was 13 km in length extending form the Serra Central Massif to the village of Manteigas. At the base of the valley was the Zêzere River. This U-shaped glacial valley was formed by ice/glacier more than 20,000 years ago.
Driving further down the road we reached a sharp corner and there we saw tall mountain ranges with steep granite faces. We wondered if this was Mount Torre of Serra da Estrela.
After the sharp curve was a straight road (N338) that led to Manteigas. As we drove slowly on the road we could hear voices coming from the bottom of the valley. The voices were probably from the huge group of teenage students from Madrid that stayed in the same hotel as us. Last evening they told us that their teacher would be bringing them to trek the glacier valley to Manteigas. Near the village of Mantegier we took the right branch that led us away from the village. We were heading to a waterfall. Soon we came to a stair by the road which led up to the falls (Co-ordinates: 40.372793, -7.516603).
“Poco do Inferno” was a small narrow falls. There was proper steps that allowed us to walk up to anupper section where the falls ended in a pool of water. From the pool the water flowed down to another lower pond.
After the waterfalls we drove back to the village, Manteigas. Along the way we stopped at a scenic viewpoint (coordinates: 40.394048, -7.521527). It was “Miradouro o Coracao da Serra da Estrela”, a high viewpoint of the village Manteigas. There was a signboard at the Miradouro that showed a picture of the view in autumn and it was very lovely valley full of yellow foliage. Though it was summer the panoramic view of the village was still lovely.
We drove into the village to look for a cafe for coffee break. All the houses in the villages had white walls and peach-brown roof tiles and the roads were clean. Unfortunately the village was very quiet and very lifeless. From the village looking out, the view of its surrounding was not scenically exciting. We left as we thought that having coffee here would be boring
Leaving Serra de Estrela
After Zezere Glacier Valley and Manteigas village we started our drive out of Serra de Estrela Natural Park. We drove west, the route out was about 29km. It was a nice scenic drive.
From the village the road went up hill looping left and right. Along the way we saw patches of yellow flowers on the slopes, these patches became larger and soon it was a hill-full of yellow flowers. The yellow flowers were bright and were densely packed and the hill looked stunning. These were wild flowers.
Another interestly sights was a hill full of leafless trees. Rolls of leafless trees line the slope of the hills and from far they looked purplish grey in color. They did not look like burnt trees, they might be trees that had yet grown their leaves when transiting to summer?
We finally found a nice place for coffee break. It was near “Cabeço Das Fragas” a restaurant at (co-ordinates: 40.412836, -7.675616). There was a row of short houses which comprised of cafes and shops selling local products. Just beside the houses was a nice viewpoint with a panoramic view of the lands below Serra de Estrela Natural Park.
We went into “Ha cafe” which was the first shop in the row. The shop sold local products and had a cafe corner. We finally tasted the famous locally made goat cheese of Serra de Estrela! It was nice and we bought one big round cheese. It costed €14 per kg and our piece was 0.95 kg which we paid €13.30. Our cup of coffee was much cheaper it was €1 per cup. After “Ha Cafe” the road went mainly down hill and finally we were out of the Natural Park.
Our stay was “HI Serra da Estrela – Pousada de Juventude” which we booked on booking.com. It costed €38.50 for a room for two with ensuite bathroom, with breakfast and free parking. We selected the hostel because it was in Serra da Estrela Natural Park and near to “Senhora da Boa Estrela”. This would give us the flexibility of pushing our visit to “Senhora da Boa Estrela” to the next morning if we ran out of time the first day.
“HI Serra da Estrela – Pousada de Juventude” had two buildings. The main building housed the reception, dining hall, shared kitchen, rooms and other common/shared function rooms.
“HI Serra da Estrela – Pousada de Juventude” Main BuildingThe shared kitchen was huge and had all the cooking facilities, utensils, crockery etc. For once we decided not to cook even when we had all the facilities we needed in place, because the hostel provided dinner at €7 per person and breakfast came with the room.
This hostel had a huge function room a level below the reception. It was a huge room for a huge group of people.
Our room was in a building opposite to the main building. This second building had two levels and was built on a slope which had an unobstructed view of the valley ahead. The entry to the building went directly to the 2nd level which was also at the road level. Once we entered the glass doors we were in a corridor with rooms on both ends and from the corridor we looked over the railing to a cosy sitting lounge at the lower level. Our room was on the second level.
Our room for two had three beds! I did not like the third bed because it took up space. It was a hazzle to go back to the main building and get them to remove the third bed so we left it where it was.
The ensuite bathroom was large and white and clean.
Ensuite Bathroom at “HI Serra da Estrela – Pousada de Juventude”We had dinner at 8 pm. We took a tray each and picked up our food from the kitchen corner. Chicken was okay, the fruit juice was just syrup water, pumpkin soup was not my favourite, and Jelly-O was plain and sweet. I guessed for €7 per person it was still “value for money”?
Breakfast the next day was bread, croissant, ham and cheese and coffee/tea.
After dinner we took a stroll back to our room in the second building. It was about 9 pm and the sun had set but the sky had not darken yet. The view around was lovely.
We liked “HI Serra da Estrela – Pousada de Juventude” because it was located in Serra da Estrela Natural Park. This allowed us to have more time exploring the park and there was no rush to exit the park in the first evening. It was a good thing that our stay provided breakfast (free) and dinner (charged) which allowed not to have to worry about our meals especially when there was no supermarkets or cafes/restaurants in the vicinity.
Accommodations: Estrela – Penhas