This mountain town is only a few kilometers from the highest point in mainland Portugal. People come to one of Portugal’s only ski resorts in winter and marvel at granite peaks, lakes and forest hikes in summer.
In Covilhã, it’s great to see how the town adapts to its impossible terrain to help you get around on foot, with panoramic lifts, cable cars and the incredible Ponte da Ribeira da Carpinteira pedestrian bridge. It is a town rooted in tradition, with a superb museum documenting the wool industry, which supported Covilhã for almost 300 years until the 1900s.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Covilhã:
1. Ranifisios Museum
Covilhã has been spinning and weaving wool for a living since the 1680s, a tradition proudly displayed in the town’s two former factories: Fábrica de Panos da Covilhã and Fábrica Real Veiga.
The first location deals with 18th century industries, while the latter focuses on the 19th and 20th centuries.
Beginning with Fábrica de Panos, there is an informative video explaining the ins and outs of the Covilhã wool trade.
On display at both locations are old looms, both handcrafted and mechanical, utensils from different eras and a range of textile products made in the town, including yarn, clothing and fabric samples.
2. St. Andre Cable Car
Before the cable car was installed in 2013, navigating the slopes south of Covilhã was a bit of a hassle.
The only way to get to the city center is to drive down the twisty streets.
Over the past decade, the town has invested in an elevator and two funiculars to encourage people to explore the city center on foot rather than by car.
This free funicular takes you up a 90-meter slope and has a parallel staircase, the Escada de Santo André, with 162 steps.
3. Elevador do Parque da Goldra
Introduced in September 2013 as part of the Covilhã Mobility program, the elevator is another small attraction worth checking out due to its panoramic cabin views.
Elevators connect Parque da Goldra with Rua Avila and Bulama, making it easier to reach the university on foot.
The course is only 40 meters long, but has a 32-degree slope and can accommodate 11 passengers.
There is a viewing platform on the upper platform, and there are benches to overlook the mountain.
4. Ponte da Ribeira da Carpinteira
This jaw-dropping bridge connects the city center with the Penedos Altos region in the east.
It started in 2003 and took another 6 years and 3 million euros to complete.
Designed by Lisbon-based minimalist João Luis Carrillo da Graça, the structure is so beautiful that it zigzags 50 meters above the Cabinterra valley and reaches over 200 meters long.
During the day the walk offers great views of Covilhã, Serra da Estrela and Cova da Beira, while at night, when the bridge is illuminated by two long light bars on either side of the walkway.
5. Santa Maria Church
All roads in Covilhã seem to lead to this iconic 16th-century church.
It can compete with the prettiest in Portugal, although a lot of what you see now is very recent.
The church was remodeled in the historic Baroque style in the 19th century, when it featured the Virgin Mary in its niches and stately pediments above the windows.
The latest changes are the ones that make the church unique. Covering the rest of the façade is blue varnished veneer, added no more than 20 years ago and telling the life of the Virgin.
6. Sacra Art Museum
Covilhã’s newest museum opened in 2011 in this mansion in the center of town.
The Diocese of Guarda and the city of Covilhã here collect more than 600 religious artifacts from the region’s defunct monasteries and churches.
From the 12th to the 20th century there are vestments, crosses, statues, books, rare manuscripts, altars, furniture, paintings and more.
If you’re wondering what all the images in the Catholic Church mean, there’s a replica of the church on the top floor, with panels that help decode occult symbols.
7. Museu do Queijo
In the village of Pêraboa, just a few kilometers from Covilhã, you can find all information about Serra da Estrela cheese.
No effort is spared as you are introduced to the sheep breed and how it came here through Spain and Portugal, as well as the shepherds and Estrela mountain dogs who have herded them since time immemorial.
Serra da Estrela cheese has an interesting quirk in that the goat’s milk it uses is curdled with a special local thistle instead of rennet (an enzyme from the sheep’s stomach). After learning how it’s made, you’ll be invited to sample a slice or two.
8. Sun Gate
Until the 18th century, Covillian sat in the shadow of a huge castle built in the 11th century and faced attacks from Moorish and Spanish armies in the following centuries.
The walls were partially demolished by construction work, and then almost completely collapsed in the 1755 earthquake.
But there is still evidence in the elevated Portas do Sol area west of the town.
In this picturesque old neighborhood, you can still see the buttresses that support the dwellings, built into the exposed rocks of the hillside.
There are several places to stop and admire the mountain views, while some newer buildings are decorated with stylish murals commissioned by the town and marked with plaques.
9. Plaza Mayor
The town’s central square is where you can learn about Pêro da Covilhã.
A 15th and 16th century explorer, diplomat and spy, his career took him to India (before Vasco da Gama) and Ethiopia.
Pêro is remembered in a statue in front of the town hall, and a huge polished granite panel shows his voyages.
The old buildings on the square are arched, and it’s a good idea to explore the adjoining streets, which were once home to the Covilhã Jewish Quarter, adorned with more imaginative street art.
10. Igreja da Misericórdia
If you’re passing by, it’s worth your attention for a few minutes for this church built in the early 17th century.
In its Mannerist style, it is more dignified than the Church of Santa Maria, but it also underwent major renovations in the 19th century.
Look for sculptures of three virtues, faith, hope and charity on the front.
The interior decoration is relatively low-key.
The lower walls have beautiful patterned tiles, but the highlight is the frescoes that cover the entire barrel vault on the ceiling.
11. Senhora da Boa Estrela
If the traditional cheese and wool trade has caught your imagination, you might be moved by this shrine at 1,850 meters above sea level, near the highest point of the Serra da Estrela.
Carved from a huge granite boulder, this image of Mary represents Senhora da Boa Estrela, the patron saint of Estrela shepherds.
The relief is 8 meters high and was carved in 1946. You can reach it via the spectacular N339 road, which winds into the Serra da Estrela Natural Park west of Covilhã.
12. Centro Interpretativo da Cereja
You know all about Covilhã’s wool and cheese traditions, but there’s a local industry to discover.
If you take a walk on the outskirts of town when spring is in bloom, you’ll realize the flourishing of cherry orchards.
This small museum in the southeast of town is dedicated to cherries and features multimedia displays and interactive games to teach you about the fruit and its local applications.
You can sample some local produce including cherry liqueur, kirsch, cherry jam and sweets, and of course there is a shop for anything that tickles your taste buds.
The N339 will also take you to the highest point in mainland Portugal, 20 km west of Covilhã, at just under 2,000 meters above sea level.
What’s unusual about being so high up is that you don’t need to leave your car to get to the top, as the road goes right there.
If you come here on a clear summer day, you can expect to see the Atlantic Ocean and Figueira da Fos resort all the way.
The highest point is marked by the triangular column Torre, which also houses a weather station and a ski lift.
14. Villado Paulo
A day trip from Covilhã is a town about 20 kilometers southwest that has a lot to offer.
First of all, the views of Serra da Estrela are breathtaking, especially in winter and early spring, when it is covered in snow.
In summer, there are many beautiful sights around the town, like a natural waterfall pouring into a crystal-clear swimming pool just five minutes from the city center.
The townscape is also lovely, with an abundance of baroque churches and traditional granite houses with interesting features; few have chimneys, as the attic is used as a smokehouse for smoking sausages.
15. Winter sports
Portugal is probably one of the last European countries you can think of for snow sports.
But the high altitude of Estância de Ski Serra da Estrela gives it good snow cover in four or five months of the year until mid-April.
There are nine marked pistes here, mainly for experienced skiers, but there are a few green and blue pistes.
If you want to get off the slopes, you have plenty of options, with 8 challenging red runs.
All the usual facilities are available, including a ski and snowboard school, three snow parks and equipment rentals for activities such as skiing and snowshoeing.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Corville, Portugal
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