Europe 2005-2006 travel blog

The view out our back window at our campsite in the Serra...

Stone house in Sortelha, Portugal

The castle in Sortelha

Cork tree with cork recently harvested

Incorporating the huge boulders into the architecture in Monsanto

Again working around the boulder strewn landscape in Monsanto!

Is this cute or what? She was determined to escape from her...

Wherever there is a mountain range, you are sure to find Maureen and Randy heading up, or down, the winding, treacherous switchbacks! We left Salamanca and took the highway down the east side of Portugal, close to the Spanish border. We identified a campsite that was open in Covilha, on the edge of the Parque Natural Serra da Estrella. We had been driving through a valley for some time so it did not occur to us that this large town would be on the side of a mountain. We drove through it and then carried on up into the mountains looking for the campsite until we were at 1500 m - in the clouds and surrounded by terrain that reminded us of the Northwest Territories! Our campsite was high on the mountain overlooking the valley - no doubt the most scenic of all the campsites we have stayed in. We got up in the morning and walked for two hours on the forestry roads snaking up and down the hill - surrounded by autumn colours and with a view across the valley to the Serra da Malcata range on the Spanish border. We would pass by the odd little stone house with terraced fields down the hill - wondering what the heck they were doing living up in the clouds like that - but the guide book said many people still live in the tradition stone houses and raise sheep for wool and Serra da Estrella cheese.

There are a string of rock fortresses in this area built in the 12th century to guard the frontier. We visited three of them: Sorthela, Monsanto and Idanha-a-Velha, all within about 20 Km of each other. After touring the old town and castle in Monsanto, we sat in the sunny square, having a coffee and brandy at noon (ah, life in Iberia is grand), and Randy remarked, "This is what I came to Europe to see and feel". When we arrived in the square, it was like a play being staged for our benefit: an old man arrived leading a donkey pulling a cart, tied the donkey to a tree and went in to the café for his morning dram; a woman arrived to fill up her water bottles at the community fountain (no drinking water in her house?), several woman dressed in traditional Portuguese garb (leggings, aprons, head scarves topped with fedora-style hats upon which they place cloth donuts to help them balance trays of bread, etc. they still carry that way). The old towns are located in "boulder strewn" valleys - boulders the size of small houses that have been incorporated into the houses and walls around the villages. The houses are all made of stones, the streets as well so walking is tough on the ankles. We watched an elderly woman balancing a tray of freshly baked bread on her head navigating through those cobblestone streets - straight up hill - and marveled at their good health and balance

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