The Natural Park of Estrela starts right next to Covilhã and has within the highest peak in Continental Portugal often filled in snow during winter.
The rough and mountainous setting dotted with small lagoons offers places of rare beauty.
I did not had much time to fully explore the town of Covilhã but the city centre seems to have a few monuments to see and some manor houses. I would say one of the highlights should be Santa Maria Maior Church. Hidden in the city centre, it has a beautiful glazed tile façade dating back to the XIX century.
Avoid taking the car to the city centre though, there are many narrow streets, difficult to navigate.
As we neared the end of the valley, and not too far from the Poco do Inferno (a waterfall that we would later visit), we stopped to enjoy the view from a small lookout area. Below lay a small village along the banks of the Zerere River, with the lower slopes of the valley now covered in trees.
A short drive on a narrow side-road off the main N338 highway along the valley wall will bring you to the waterfall known as Poco do Inferno (Hell's Well). The drive itself is quite pleasant and the waterfall is also very scenic where the Leandros River flows through a gorge to join up with the Zezere far below. The flow of water was not too spectacular when we were there in late May, but the pool of water at the foot of the falls was crystal clear. It must be tempting, because a sign said NO SWIMMING !
As we reached the crest of this 1760 m (5500 ft) ridge, off in the distance we could see the even higher peaks of the main part of the Serra da Estrela. We also noticed the quite sudden change in vegetation at the side of the road. There were no trees blocking the view up here, just colourful yellow and purple gorse clinging desperately to the rocky summit. These mountains receive snow and icy blasts in winter so the plants must really enjoy the respite that the warm weather of spring and summer brings!
The 13-km Zezere valley was formed 20,000 years ago when a huge glacier moving in the direction of the view in the photo carved its footprint into the mountains. By the time the valley ends in the village of Mantiegas, the river in the bottom of the valley has cut its way down to 680 m above sea level. This longest glacier-formed valley in Europe still retains an ancient flavour, with its rugged appearance and very little modern development. The highway along it slope does not have a guardrail, and, although it does not look steep in the photo, it appears to be a long way to the bottom when you are driving along it!
Covilhã is located in the Serra da Estrela area – a beautiful mountain in central Portugal. This mountain has the highest point in mainland Portugal – about 2.000 m above sea level – and Covilhã is just about 20km from that point, called Torre. Along the winding and narrow road that connects Covilhã to Torre, you will come across several belvederes or viewpoints. Some of them are identified with name and altitude but most of them are just a "space" by the road where you might park the car and approach the cliffs. The views from these places are gorgeous. The mountain is big, strong, rocky, deserted, … imposing!!!! The air is fresh and pure, … we stopped in loads of viewpoints as we couldn't get tired of the fantastic views. I highly recommend driving through the mountain, if you are in Covilhã.
The City Hall seemed to us as the central point of the historical city centre, from which everything else happened. The building itself is very nice, mainly at night when it is all illuminated. In front of the City Hall there is a new square with some white marble modern sculpture – some kind of columns, some taller and some smaller that make a kind of roundabout in the cobbled road. Around the City Hall there are some other buildings with interesting architecture, worth looking at.
This church was built in 1601 and it is said to have a high historical meaning. Inside the church you may see some beautiful works in carved wood. The church is opened and may be visited inside, but it has an interesting “characteristic”: Mass is celebrated in this church only during Holy Week. This church is opposite to City Hall square, in the historical city centre.
This interesting church was built in the 16th century and was back then called Chapel Santa Maria do Castelo. In late 19th century it was refurbished and acquired some Baroque style details, such as a niche with Our Lady. Back then it wasn’t covered in tiles as we can see it nowadays. Those beautiful white and blue tiles were added in the forties (20th century) and they depict scenes of Our Lady’s daily life. Inside the church you will notice that there are 11 altarpieces, 5 of which dedicated to Our Lady. The high belfry was our guide to find the church, since while in main square, we could see it behind the City Hall. After going through some really narrow streets we found this outstanding piece of architecture and art.
If you visit Museu dos Lanificios, then you should also visit this church, as it is just across the street, on the left side as you leave the Museum. It is nice on the outside, with the 2 belfries, but unfortunately we didn't visit the church inside as it was Mass time and we didn't want to disturb. This area was recently refurbished (in year 2000) and now looks very pleasant with the marble stairs and benches. The church itself dates from 1940.
The building where the Museum is it's actually the ancient factory where wool was treated - from the rough wool that comes out of the sheep, until the dyed wool that goes into the manual machines to make fabrics. While visiting the Museum, apart from shelves and pictures where you can read about the process and admire old pictures and ancient artefacts, you will be walking close to the wells were the wool was dyed. Water played an important role on this process and that is why this city grew close to water streams. Another interesting thing to observe on this Museum are the nature pigments used to make the colours.
The Wool Fabrics Museum (Museu dos Lanificios) is quite an interesting place to visit. The entrance fee is cheap - 2euros/person (children don't pay) and it includes a guided visit through the Museum. Fortunately, we arrived late and missed the guided tour, so we were able to explore the Museum by ourselves (I must confess I don't enjoy guided tours, ...). A quiet tour through the small Museum takes at the most 45m to 1h. On your way in you will be given a leaflet with some explanations about the Museum and you will be able to watch a videotape on the Wool treatment process - ever since the wool is taken from the sheep until it goes into machines to be turned into fabrics. No photos allowed inside the Museum.
The Museum is opened:
. Tuesday and Wednesday: 2.30pm to 6pm
. Thursday to Sunday and Bank Holidays: 10am to 12pm, and 2.30pm to 6pm.
This town is near Covilhã, we tried to climb the mountain from Covilhã but since the road was closed, we went to Manteigas and try from that side....
Please see my travelogue where you can see some pictures of Manteigas
On this day it almost snowed: only a few minutes after we left it started to snow. This picture was taken in the middle of the hill over Covilhã.
In the picture I am with Carlos and Eugénia, Beatriz' godfathers.