Fascinating for its natural and cultural history, Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela was one of Portugal’s first designated parks, and at 888 sq km remains the country’s largest protected area. The rugged boulder-strewn meadows and icy lakes of its high country form one of Portugal’s most distinct and unexpected landscapes. It's a glorious, seasonal beauty: the altiplano (upland) area is stunning in the morning or evening light. On the slopes below, rushing rivers historically provided hydro power to spin and weave the Serra’s wool into cloth. Nowadays traditional sheep-herding is giving way to a service economy catering to weekending tourists.
The presence of the 1993m Torre – Portugal’s highest peak – at the park's centre is both a blessing and a curse. It forms a dramatic backdrop, but as the only place in Portugal where snow dependably falls, it also lures winter hordes with little consciousness of their impact on the high country’s ecosystems.