Portugal’s oldest and largest protected area, the Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela encompasses 888 sq km of the country’s highest mountains. At its centre, rising above a wild, boulder-strewn planalto (high plateau), is Torre (1993m), continental Portugal’s highest peak. Below, steep mountain roads inch past icy lakes and vast granite outcrops as they corkscrew down thickly wooded valleys. The Serra’s rushing rivers – including the Mondego and Zêzere, which have their sources here – historically provided hydropower to spin and weave the local wool into cloth. Nowadays traditional shepherding is giving way to a service economy catering to weekending tourists.
To explore the park, which offers fine hiking and some limited winter skiing, you can base yourself in the attractive mountain town of Manteigas or, in the park’s western reaches, in Seia. To the south, and just outside the park proper, Covilhã is the area's largest town.