We arrive in Lisbon and immediately I feel happy to be “home” – whatever home means! It is such a beautiful city and we have Dave and Jackie with us; I like having people around, it gives me a new perspective on the place and what my favourite things are. So, first of all walking about in Lisbon is one of my great pleasures and we start our first days ambling about, discovering, roaming and observing. It is a challenge to take photos of things I have seen so many times before but I try to look through others eyes and this is what I see…
No visit to Lisbon is complete without lunch with my brother Zé Pedro and his lovely wife Dulce. They are the sort of people you can spend hours with and it feels nice and comfortable!
The most exciting thing about Lisbon this year was getting the kids registered as Portuguese citizens. They now have ID cards – passports are next! One week in Lisbon feeling jet lagged and running around from one government office to another, looking at shoes and eating a lot of food. What more could I want…
And now for some proper exploring! One week is to be spent exploring Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain range in Portugal. This is one of my old favourite places and the last time I was here was about 20 years ago, give or take! We settle in Manteigas which is at the foot of the Vale do Zêzere, with high peaks and forest-draped slopes all around. There are many mountain villages in this area but Manteigas has been a settlement here since at least Moorish times. It is a pleasant, quiet town, not much goes on here although it is an excellent base for various mountain walks and to visit old schist villages. Well, they did not disappoint! Here is Sortelha which was truly magical.
On to Belmonte, Belmonte is an interesting place… We found out that there used to be a community of “marranos” known as the Belmonte Jews. They are a community that has survived in secrecy for hundreds of years by maintaining a tradition of endogamy (look it up!) and by hiding all the external signs of their faith. The community goes back to the 12th century and they were only discovered in 1917 by a Polish Jewish mining engineer named Samuel Schwarz. Some of them resumed the public practice of Judaism in the 1970s, and opened a synagogue, Bet Eliahu, in 1996. There is a small Jewish Museum which tells you the whole story. Was not expecting to find that in Portugal!
I highly recommend a sojourn in the mountains. It is a beautiful area and is good for the soul.
The area is beautiful and we went on one of the best walks I have ever done. Geoff and I set out with a bottle of water and a couple of bananas expecting to be a couple of hours. Five hours later, hot and very hungry we arrived back at the house! I can only imagine what this walk would be like when there is more water around, before the dry season has sucked out most of the water from the waterfalls and all the snow has melted. The best thing was not coming across more than 2 people in the whole of the walk!!
Another highlight was seeing the glacier valley. It is a truly magical place 13 kilometers long. The last 8 kilometers are the best with a U shape caused by the glacial erosion on the side of the valleys. It dates to around 19,000 years and it is one of the longest in Europe. Here are some of the views.
At the end you reach Torre which is the highest point and where the sky resort is. Well, not in July but in winter it is a rather cool place to visit. Nevertheless, we availed ourselves of the facilities on offer and took a trip on the sky lift. Never been on one before so nothing like the present, snow or no snow!
One place which was worth stopping at was Covilhã. From the road it looks like an ugly urban, messy sprawl but upon arriving, the old part of the city remains intact and is pretty nice to walk about the streets. In the Middle Ages, Covilhã became the centre of wool production due to its location and the access to river transport. This will link in with our visit to a wool factory in Manteigas – the first weaving machines Jeacquard were placed in 1683 in Covilhã! In 1891, the railway arrives and the demand for tuberculosis treatment and mountain sports means that Covilhã becomes quite developed.
One of the great things about travelling with friends is that you at times end up doing stuff that you would never really even consider doing! One of those things was a visit to the Burel wool factory in Manteigas which was just a short walk from our house. Their website showcases some of their beautiful products all made from wool https://burelfactory.com/en/. It is creative, imaginative and beautiful. They offer a free factory tour which Dave and Jackie were quite excited about! We thought we would tag along and I am glad that we did. They talked us through the whole process and showed us the machines, some of which are pretty old! They are still making most of the stuff by hand, incredible!
Here you have it, a holiday in Portugal!