The mountains of Serra da Estrela, featuring rugged snow-capped peaks in the distance under a blue sky, a sunlit green valley and shady snow in the foreground.

‘Mountains of the Stars’ is perhaps the most romantic translation of Serra da Estrela. These are the mountains of Guarda, Central Portugal – an overlooked alpine wilderness at the heart of a country better known for its beaches and cities.

Centred between Lisbon and Porto, roughly 100 km (66 miles) inland, the mountains’ slopes rise steeply and suddenly out of the surrounding hill country, catching the earliest sun while the foothills lie cloaked in mist.

As you ascend through small pastures and well-kept campos, the arcadian groves gives way to sunlit, tumbling slopes with a Mediterranean mood. Climbing higher, towards the strange peaks that call to you from above, you’ll trade the shade of trees for heath, scrub and stone.

The extraordinary landscape is characterised by winding paths that divulge their secrets slowly – leading you through precipitous valleys, virginal streams and over primordial outcrops that offer a view of all you have conquered. All about you giant boulders that were once the playthings of a vast glacier now sit parked, often precariously, on ledges and clifftops. Beautiful, brutal; at times almost whimsical.

Covão de Bois, a natural amphitheatre in the mountains created by glacial action. It is a large depression surrounded by pillar-like granite formations. At the bottom is a green heath with various scubby plants growing amidst the rocks, while a stream winds between the stones.
Covão de Bois by S. Gussev [CC-BY 2.0]

Slopes on the Eastern flank of the Serra are forested – in places with ancient woodland – although now increasingly threatened by wildfires. The Western side is more scantily clad, but no less interesting. The variety is part of its appeal, allowing one to roam freely between fairy-tale forests, lofty lakes, weather-beaten heaths and alpine meadows brimming with birds, butterflies and rare flowers.

Covão d'Ametade in early autumn. Light falls obliquely on green and yellow leafed birch trees. In the background precipitous grey crags loom in partial shadow against a bright blue sky. In the foreground a shallow pond perfectly reflects the trees and crags.
Covão d’Ametade by Hurtuv [CC BY-SA 3.0]

In addition to its natural beauty, Serra da Estrela is a gastronomic wonderland, offering delicacies not found in other parts of Portugal… succulent javali (wild boar) seasoned with mountain herbs and berries, thistle cheese from an endangered breed of sheep, kid roasted over a wood fire and sweet chestnut stew are just a few of the rich dishes you may encounter.

In winter, Portuguese from other parts of the country muster in the mountains, not only to eat well, but to ascend the plateaued peak (named Torre – ‘The Tower’) where they can enjoy a rare phenomenon in most of Portugal: snow.

A snow-dusted hilly landscape composed of large boulders and sprawling conifer forest.
Serra da Estrela in the snow by G. Sarmento [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Serra da Estrela is known throughout Portugal for its strong shepherding culture – an ancient way of life that persists to this day.

The shepherding traditions are closely associated with Serra da Estrela’s unique indigenous dog breed – the Cão de Serra da Estrela or ‘Estrela Mountain Dog’. These large and noble mastiffs can be encountered throughout the mountains, often in the company of fellow natives – the Bordaleira sheep and Serrana goat.

Serra da Estrela will be an ideal home for pack goats. With more than 110 marked trails totalling well over 400 km – plus many more unmarked – it offers a fantastic expanse of wilderness for hiking and experiencing nature in Iberia.

Most of the trails are shepherds’ paths – some hundreds of years old – which means that hooves of goats and the tinkle of bells are nothing new here. Our intention is to blend tradition with novelty, offering visitors to the mountains something unique that is at the same time not at all out of keeping, nor damaging to the environment.

We hope you will join us on our adventure, supporting our mission to bring pack goats to Portugal.

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