Captivating for both its cultural and natural history, Serra da Estrela (meaning mountain range of the stars) was one of Portugal’s first designated nature reserves and remains the country’s largest protected area. The craggy, boulder-scattered pastures, rushing rivers and bizarrely-shaped gorges form one of Portugal’s most unique and spectacular landscapes. With Serra’s vast network of hiking trails, covering fertile valleys, vibrant orange groves and Portugal’s tallest peaks, it’s astonishing to think only a relative few take on these awe-inspiring paths. Oh well, their loss is most definitely your gain.
Bordering the twisting Mondego River, Senses Camping is perfectly positioned to go and explore Serra. A family-run business (hosted by welcoming couple Natasha and Michel), Senses offers a wide choice of camping accommodation. For the more traditional tenters amongst us there are spacious pitches up for grabs, spread out amongst fruit trees and three hectares of peaceful, private land. Safari tents (sleeping up to six) are perfect for families, or for those who love a bit of extra space. They look very cosy indeed, and come furnished with plenty of creature comforts including furniture, rugs, fridge, cooker and outdoor terrace, perfect for a spot of al fresco dining.
One thing that sets this place apart is the amount of activities on offer. After visiting the region on a holiday, Natasha and Michel felt compelled to start a campsite inspired by their personal passions in yoga, health and art. Michel himself is a professional sculptor and his creative workshops allow kids and adults alike to create their very own masterpiece in the medium of clay, wood or stone. Or, if you’re seeking some stress relief then take a deep breath and sign up for a yoga class, held twice a day by fully-qualified instructors.These sessions don’t last too long into the night though, and you’re more likely to be disturbed by the light thud of an apple dropping from the trees than anything else. And when morning comes, the chances are you'll be roused by the sound of birdsong and trickling water from the Mondego River; a truly idyllic way to start your day. So, if you're dreaming of a relaxing European retreat and still undecided where to camp, we suggest you come to your senses and... well... come to Senses.
6 luxury accommodations: safari tents (sleep 4–6) with fridge, BBQ, beds and bed linen, sink and electricity, bell tents (sleep 2–4) with floor beds and linen, and basic tents come with sleeping mats and pillows. 4 showers, 3 toilets, showers, separate female and male facilities and laundry facilities. Restaurant, lovely pool area (including a kids pool), free internet, badminton, whilst the river offers places for fishing. Onsite workshops include: sculpting, yoga classes, horse riding and kids creative workshop activities.
Glampers, campers, tents, campervans, caravans, dogs - yes. Large motorhomes - no.
Senses’ guided horse riding experience is a wonderful way to explore the stunning surroundings and pretty towns. After a couple of hours of riding you stop for lunch, then continue back towards home. Overall its about 4 hours and costs €50 per person (lunch included), shorter rides can be arranged. The Angel Art Festival is a unique summer festival, where artists can share their passion. The festival takes place at the Dominio Vale do Mondego, situated in the Nature Park Serra da Estrela. Further afield, the medieval capital of Portugal, Coimbra (1 hour 40 minute drive) makes for an interesting day trip. The city's university is Portugal's oldest (founded in 1290) and most distinguished, with a third of the Coimbra's population being students. Take short stroll outside the historic centre and you’ll see Coimbra’s modern side; a new riverfront park with restaurants and bars, huge shopping complexes and a pedestrian bridge across the River Mondego. Many tourists make Coimbra their base for visits to the medieval fortress of Montemor-o-Velho (00351 239 687 300), the Roman ruins at Conimbriga and the outlandishly opulent Palace Hotel do Buçaco (00351 231 937 970.)
Food & Drink
There’s an onsite restaurant and bar, set in a mature English style garden. The concept of the restaurant is to source free-range, organic meat, with all the vegetables grown in the site's garden; guests can even pick their own! The menu changes daily, offering a delicious three-course meal. After your fill, head to the bar, which is cradled by a large oak tree, offering shade and atmosphere. This 4 hectare farm produces its very own olive oil, vegetables and fruits, the orchards are open to the people staying. There’s plenty of dining options in the nearby city of Guarda (15 minute drive), including Restaurante Belo Horizonte (0035 271 211 454), Restaurante Robalo (0035 271 754 189) and Sardinha (0035 271 215 448.)
Beginning of May - end of September.
Contact Senses Camping, Senses Camping, Quinta do Rio, Faia Guarda, 6300-095, Portugal
From Porto airport: follow the A44 or A4 to Porto till you see the A1 toll road. Go towards Lisbon and follow until the exit Aveiro/Viseu onto the A25. After Viseu (in the direction of Guarda) leave at exit 28 and follow signs for the IP5/Porto de Carne. Take exit Transito/Porte de Carne to the N16 and follow this road for 12 miles, then turn right to Faia. Drive down the valley and at the roundabout turn into the village Faia (3rd exit). Continue straight through the narrow streets and at the end of the village, a new road begins. Follow this road until you're on top of the hill, here you find a T-junction, take a right turn and quite quickly the road will take a left turn and the tarmac road ends. Keep going down the hill, soon you will see the sites olive orchard on the right hand side, drive around it and when you reach the valley you will see Quinta da Rio (Senses Camping) on the left hand side. See website for directions from Lisbon and Salamanca.
There are quite good bus connections from Porto, Lisbon and Madrid to Guarda. You can also take the train or bus from Porto or Lisbon to Guarda. An international ‘night train to Lisbon’ from Paris stops in Guarda too. From Guarda station take a taxi (€15) and tell the taxi driver to go in the direction of Chaos, then Pero Soares, and finally Dominio vale do Mondego. The site can also arrange a pick up service.
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