Posts Tagged With: Serra da Estrela

A natural beauty

Piodão1Usually, when thinking of architecture, we tend to think of big buildings, whether modern or old. The way I see it, however, credit should also be given to more “popular” types of architecture, using natural materials – like stone!

piodão4Today I’m bringing you a few snapshots of one of the most famous schist villages from Central Portugal, the village of Piodão.

piodão2Located close to the Serra da Estrela region, Piodão is one of a total of 27 schist villages in the heart of the country. In a place with an abbundance of schist as well as zigs and zags, ups and downs, what do you build your houses with? Why, schist, of course!

piodão3Getting to know these villages is very much worth the trouble of getting away from the city and maybe even getting lost on your way back because the GPS isn’t working and it’s a rainy night and you can’t see s**t. Not that it ever happened to me! This is also the part of the country where you’ll find some of the most beautiful river beaches.

piodão5Enjoy!

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Random photo of the week

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Taken somewhere in Serra da Estrela this is, I believe, a good example of how sometimes the rustic, more simple things, can also be the most beautiful – in all their simplicity.

If you’re wondering… no, this isn’t a home, but a shepherd’s hut. 😉 Meant to provide shelter from the elements this example shown here is actually a kind of “deluxe” hut, with a chimney and everything! 😀

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Random photo of the week

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Do you have any favourite place for the Winter? Somewhere where you like to go because of the snow and the white landscapes?

Well, have you ever thought of going there when it’s not snowing? You get to see everything that would otherwise be covered in frost and snow – like this waterfall in Serra da Estrela. Most of your favourite snow covered places will, in Spring and Summer, be filled with flowers, fruits and animals! What’s not to like about it?

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Random photo of the week

vale glaciar

I’ve mentioned the Serra da Estrela region several times before, but, besides the mountainous landscape there’s also a valley. The river Zêzere‘s glaciar valley, to be more precise – and it offers a truly unique view.

Being 13km long (about 8 miles) this beautiful glaciar valley is one of the longest, if not the longest, in Europe.

There’s a hiking route which includes this valley, but you can just follow the road and enjoy the view!

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Random photo of the week

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Way up in Serra da Estrela you can find this sculpture of the Lady of the Good Star, aka, Senhora da Boa Estrela. Carved into the mountain rock it depicts the patron saint of shepherds and it was created in 1946.

As is the case with so many other similar religious monuments there’s a miracle associated with it. In this case, legend has it that a shepherd was lost during a snow storm and that the Lady of the Good Star showed him the way to go back home safely.

Even if you’re not the religious type (like me) you have to admit that it looks impressive. After I saw a photo of the sculptor (António Duarte) working on this 7m tall image I was even more impressed.

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“Safety helmet? Ropes? I’m the badass of big sculptures! Oh, and I wear glasses…” Photo taken from http://ascendensblog.blogspot.pt

Here’s a final photo from a different perspective. Enjoy!

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Portugal: the land of sun, sea and… snow?!

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Even though I mentioned before that, yes, Portugal does have snow I don’t think the pictures made justice to the beauty of the scenery.

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So last time I was in Serra da Estrela I took my time to take in the views and shoot some pics.

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Do note that, although Serra da Estrela is the Portuguese region most associated with snow, the fact is it snows in other parts of the country as well. Depending on weather conditions it may even snow in unsuspected places – like in Lisbon, for example.

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January and February are the coldest months in Portugal, so that’s when the first snow usually falls. Generally around Easter (March/April) there’s still snow (lots of people go there at that time of the year to enjoy a break for a few days). After that the white makes way for the green of new leaves and buds mixed with the yellows, reds and purples of mountain flowers.

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Up in the valley

covão'I know, I know… I’ve mentioned Covão d’Ametade before on this blog – several times. But really, this is one of the must visit places in Serra da Estrela. Why? It offers a varying landscape according to the time of the year but it’s always beautiful.

Last time I was there we were just leaving the car, parking a few meters away from the entrance to the Covão, when a couple approached me and asked, in broken Portuguese, what that place was all about. I told them the place was famous for its amazing rock formations, that there was a river crossing it and that it was really beautiful. The woman translated the whole thing to the man, he seemed quite unimpressed and they just drove away… “Amazing rock formations? A river? A beautiful place? Naaaah… not interested”. Well, their loss!

I’ve visited this place in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter and, well, apart from some bugs in the Summer, I think it’s quite pleasant. Families come here for picnics, mushrooms, running around and just have fun. You can even camp here, although this is far from a standard camping park and I wouldn’t advise it except if you’re a hard core camper. Then there are some people like myself who like to think they’re mountain goats and go hopping from rock to rock like there’s nobody watching (note to self: there’s always somebody watching).

Located in Serra da Estrela, Covão d’Ametade is a small valley area on what used to be an old glacier lagoon, right at the start of Europe’s largest glacier valley.

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Random photo of the week

covãoThis is, without a doubt, one of my favourite spots in Serra da Estrela.

Not only is it very close to the source of the river Zêzere it also gives the visitor a variety of colours throughout the whole year. This picture was taken in early Autumn so there’s still a lot of green, but mushrooms were everywhere.

Of all the sightseeing spots in the most famous mountainous area of Portugal, Covão d’Ametade is definitely one that should be on your list.

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Well of Hell

poço do inferno1Even if Halloween is not a tradition in Portugal there are more and more people celebrating it every year.

Let’s face it: it’s a good excuse for kids to dress up as something scary and to gather friends and family for some fun. We do have something that very vaguely reminds me of going door to door saying “trick or treat”: in villages, towns (and sometimes even in cities, in more quiet neighborhoods) on the 1st of November kids go knocking on doors with a bag in hand asking for “pão por Deus”, which means “bread in the name of God” – no one expects to get bread, though: kids usually get candy, cakes and money (from their families). Apparently this began right after the major earthquake of 1755. However, knowing a thing or two about the way pre-Christian and Christian traditions have mingled in Portugal I have my doubts. But I’m not going to talk about that right now.

Although I don’t have a scary story to tell you I can show you a place with a spooky name. 😀

After a while in Portugal you’ll notice that a lot of places have strange/ curious/ bizarre names. Usually they’re some kind of geological formation or some place associated with a legend. Today I’m bringing you Poço do Inferno, aka, the Well of Hell or Inferno Well, depending on the translation you prefer.

poço do inferno3Located in Serra da Estrela, this 10 meter long waterfall offers a spectacular view all year round. Nothing spooky about it – just beautiful. You can also hike there – there’s a specific route you can follow.

poço do inferno4A lot of people go to Serra da Estrela only for the snow, but this spot is well worth looking for. It’s near the town of Manteigas and when it’s really reeeeeeally cold the waterfall freezes. I’d love to see that!

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The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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From Folklore Legend to Science Fact

Like so many other places in Portugal Serra da Estrela (of which I’ve spoken about in all of these posts) has several legends. The most popular is, probably, the one that talks about a shepherd who loved a star. Like all legends it has some variations but it goes something like this: There once lived a shepherd whose only friend was his dog. This shepherd longed to travel to the mountains beyond his village. One night while gazing at the starry sky a star with the face of a child came down and spoke to him, saying that it would guide the shepherd to where he wished to go. So the shepherd walked for years and years, looking for his destiny, with the star smiling down on him. One day he came to the top of the highest mountain he could find. Because it was closer to the sky and his star he decided to stay there and go no further.

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A view of the snow covered Serra da Estrela.

This, according to the legend, would explain the name of this mountain range (Serra da Estrela = Star mountain). Everyone seemed to think this was just another legend and nothing else. But all legends have some element of truth to them and it seems to be the case here, as well. In 2010 Fábio Silva* was in Central Portugal, between the rivers Douro and Mondego, studying 6000 year-old dolmens. Three years later he focused on a particular area of the valley of the Mondego river and that’s when he came to a conclusion: all the dolmens in that area were aligned with the Serra da Estrela. What’s the significance of this? Let’s hear it (or read it, actually) from Fábio Silva himself: From within the chambers of all these dolmens it would not only be possible to see Star Mountain Range in the horizon, it would also be possible to see the stars Betelgeuse and Aldebaran rising above it. These two stars are not only very bright they are also both red. Around 4,000 BC, when the megaliths were built, these stars would disappear from the night-sky at the end of February/beginning of March, not to be seen for two lunar cycles (two and a half in the case of Betelgeuse), until they would reappear in the eastern sky at dawn before sunrise, just as spring was starting to reinvigorate the landscape. This was when the Neolithic communities of the Mondego valley would “follow this star” and transition to the high pastures of the mountain range it illuminates. One can’t be sure whether it was Betelgeuse or Aldebaran that was being targeted, or even both, but the timing of the heliacal rising of the latter, closer to the Vernal Equinox, would make it better suited to be used as a seasonal marker. The presence of the Hyades star cluster around Aldebaran, giving it a “different shine”, would further support this, based on a (semi-)literal reading of the toponymical folktales about Star Mountain Range. (Source: http://www.pia-journal.co.uk/article/view/pia.405/518 and you can read his paper there as well: “Landscape and Astronomy in Megalithic Portugal: the Carregal do Sal Nucleus and Star Mountain Range”).

The Hyades Star Cluster

The brightest star is Aldebaran, the eye of the bull (Taurus constellation). Photo credits: http://apod.nasa.gov.

What I find really fascinating about this is the fact that it is directly connected to something still done today in some areas: transhumance  or migratory herding. Simply put: In Winter months you live in the valley, in the Summer months you go to the mountains. It’s obviously connected to herding, usually of goats and sheep, and even if it seems a waste of time or just plain silly to do it today it does have a reason if you consider all the specifics regarding the production of milk-based products and fleece. Remember this bit of legend Vs science next time you visit Serra da Estrela!

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Painted chamber of the Dolmen de Antelas. Photo credits: http://www.pia-journal.co.uk

*Fábio Silva: BSc Hons., Physics, University of Aveiro (PT), 2006; PhD, Astrophysics, University of Portsmouth, 2010; MA, Cultural Astronomy, University Wales TSD, 2012; currently a PhD student at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL (Sources: http://www.ucl.ac.uk and http://ucl.academia.edu)

Categories: History, Legends, Nature, People, Places | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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