Living in Portugal is great. It really is. All year round. Even in winter, most days are sunny and relatively warm and when they are not, the worst you may get is a few days in a row of rain and strong wind. There is no changing season tires, no cleaning your front door and car from the snow in the morning, no headaches like that. Which is all nice and very convenient, but for someone like me, who grew up truly enjoying a real white, snowy winter, I really miss having it here. I can't help it - I'm a January baby. The months of December and January are the hardest for me when it comes to missing the snow, and usually around my birthday we go on our annual ski vacation. This year though, that won't be possible and with hubby being super busy at work, we can only take a couple of days off at a time. So last month we headed to the highest mountain in the continental part of Portugal, chasing some snow and real winter views.
Weather forecast was not very promising - after a few cold days the temperatures were staring to rise again, but that was our window. And my chance to have at least a scent of the feeling for a "white Christmas". So we went anyways. Serra de Estrela (in translation it means "Star Mountain Range") is located around 3h drive from Lisbon (including tolls) and as I've already mentioned, it is the highest point in continental Portugal (1993 meters). Highest peak in entire Portugal is actually in the Azores - the island of Pico (means "peak"; climbing it in summer is really an amazing experience I highly recommend) reaches 2341 meters. What is actually very unique about Serra de Estrela is that you can easily reach its peak by car. Near by there's even a ski slope, though I personally have never skied in Portugal. When we went there, all the facilities were closed due to lack of snow, but the slope seemed very well maintained and there were spots for ski equipment rentals. Believe it or not, there is even a small shopping center up there, at the peak, where you can buy some local products as souvenirs. What you should not miss trying while in the area, is the local sheep cheese. It is soft, very delicious, and people say its recipe dates back to more than 2000 years.
As I said, the wind was extremely strong and freezing cold and there was almost no snow, so we didn't spend much time at the peak. Near by we've seen a tiny spot where the snow was still resisting, so we went directly there. After all, we came here for the snow. There was even a snowman waiting for us. To be completely honest, he seemed a but sad, but to me it was the cutest thing I saw that day. Because, when you grow up playing with the fluffy snow and building snowmen yourself, all those childhood memories come back and hit you strong as it was yesterday. And when you live abroad, cherishing them and being able to relive them for a few seconds, even in a country that doesn't have much snow, is something so special and precious...
The entire area of the mountain range is very beautiful and quite different from everything else Portugal is famous for. All those granite rocks might actually confuse you that you're in fact somewhere else.
After playing with the snow for a while, we decided to do a little road trip and went to Manteigas and Belmonte. The first one is a cute little town, nestled in between the mountain with beautiful views and unique atmosphere, and the second one is a historic village with a beautiful and well preserved medieval castle. We had a delicious lunch at Casa do Castelo (just next to the castle in Belmonte) and afterwards went for a stroll around. It may have only around 3500 inhabitants, but it's so pretty and picturesque.
As this weekend getaway was supposed to be my "most wintery experience in Portugal", I for sure wanted to stay somewhere with a fireplace. I was imagining some kind of a cozy, wooden cottage in the middle of nowhere, though we opted to stay in a hotel that offered some of these features. I mean, they also offer cottages, which if you're a bigger group might be a great option, though for just two people, we thought the room in the hotel part was the better fit. Plus, their Medieval Restaurant serves really yummy food.
Here and here you may find some other great options for lodging around Serra de Estrela we are very keen on staying at during our next visits.
So, after all there is snow in Portugal. Not all winter, and might not be a lot, but it was just enough to warm my soul, just before the wind froze my ears, and make me feel less home sick (where by "home" I mean beautiful Bulgaria with its breathtaking snowy views).