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Wild Portugal: Birds, Alpine Flora & Prehistoric Art

Tour Code: PRT10

An 8-day holiday focusing on the birds, mountain flora, other natural history and prehistoric rock art of north-eastern Portugal, based in the Côa Valley and Serra da Estrela Natural Park.

8 days from £1495(inc flights) Land Only Price: £1495 SRS: £180


This 2-centre holiday visits the wilder and less-visited north-east region of Portugal — we’ll be based first in the Côa Valley and then in the Serra da Estrela Mountains. After a flight to Porto, we drive east, almost as far as the Spanish border, to the delightful old hilltop village of Castelo Rodrigo where we’ll be based for three nights. The village and its surrounds are teeming with birdlife including Southern Grey Shrike, Black-winged Kite and Montagu’s Harrier. During our stay we’ll make an evening visit to a UNESCO World Heritage Site to view the ancient rock carvings, and we’ll also spend a day at the small reserve of Faia Brava, which is home to breeding Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, as well as other raptors and some elusive mammals. For the second part of the holiday we will drive deep into the heart of the Serra da Estrela where we will make daily walks, exploring the flora and fauna at different altitudes. Our base here is an award-winning hotel which boasts a spa, swimming pool, stunning location and delicious cuisine among its many charms! At the end of the week, we drive back to Porto for our flights home.

  • Stay in two boutique hotels — swimming pools, stunning views & a spa among the facilities
  • Blue Rock Thrush & Rock Sparrow, village of Castelo Rodrigo
  • Cirl Bunting, Azure-winged Magpie, Hoopoe, Golden Oriole & Bee-eater, Côa Valley
  • See introduced ‘primitive’ cattle & horses, Faia Brava Reserve
  • Golden, Booted, Bonelli’s & Short-toed Eagles, Faia Brava Reserve
  • Evening visit to view Europe’s largest collection of Paleolithic rock carvings, Côa Valley
  • Honey Buzzard, Marbled Newt & butterflies among the varied fauna, Serra da Estrela
  • Marsh Gentian, Silene foetida & Campanula herminii among endemic flora
  • Led by expert naturalist guides

Food

All included in the price.

Accommodation

This 2-centre holiday is based in two contrasting boutique hotels, each offering very high standards of comfort and cuisine. All rooms have private facilities, both hotels have swimming pools, and the second hotel offers a spa.

Hoopoe (Cosmin Manci)

Hoopoe (Cosmin Manci)

Outline Itinerary Download

Day 1 Fly Porto; transfer Castelo Rodrigo.

Day 2/3 Excursions from Castelo Rodrigo.

Day 4 Transfer Serra da Estrela Natural Park.

Day 5/7 Excursions within Serra da Estrela Natural Park.

Day 8 Transfer Porto and fly London.

Portugal’s northern and eastern extremities are thankfully neglected by most foreign visitors who are more likely to be lured to the sunshine and sandy beaches of the Algarve. On this 2-centre holiday we will take advantage of this, enjoying the wildlife of two little-known and contrasting regions in the north-east of the country from two exquisite hotels. First, we will stay in the Côa Valley, near the magnificent Douro River, and enjoy the rich birdlife of the region’s open plains, stunning gorges and Cork Oak woodlands. Then we will move up into the Serra da Estrela, mainland Portugal’s highest mountain range. Here we will explore the spectacular mountains that rise to 2,000 metres, and their glacial valleys, in search of a rich alpine flora, a wealth of butterflies and a selection of high-altitude bird species.

We begin with a flight from London to Porto, from where we will drive east to Castelo Rodrigo, close to Portugal’s border with Spain, for a 3-night stay. This wonderful old hilltop village was once a walled medieval citadel and castle central to the struggles between the kings of Portugal and those of neighbouring Castile, then Spain. Steeped in history, it also commands the most spectacular of views — north towards the River Douro and east across the plains of Castile. A short walk around the village may reveal Blue Rock Thrushes and Rock Sparrows on the rooftops, Cirl Buntings in the surrounding bushes and noisy flocks of Azure-winged Magpies. Below, in the plains, we will look for Black-winged Kites, Montagu’s Harriers, Southern Grey Shrikes, Hoopoes, Golden Orioles and Beeeaters, whilst at night we will listen and search for Scops Owls and Red-necked Nightjars.

The greatest attraction of Castelo Rodrigo, some might say, is Casa da Cisterna, a small hotel of great charm. This has been lovingly created by our hosts, biologists Ana and Antonio, from a cluster of the citadel’s old houses and the ancient cistern which supplied the citadel with water. Today, the latter has been converted into a small swimming pool that sits within the hotel terrace and, like many of the rooms, enjoys spectacular views over the village and surrounding countryside.

From this exquisite base, we will visit the small reserve of Faia Brava, part of the ‘Rewilding Europe’ project in which Ana and Antonio are professionally involved. Here, small herds of ‘primitive’ Garrano horses and Maronesa cattle have been introduced, breeding Egyptian and Griffon Vultures are sustained through an essential vulture feeding programme, and Golden, Bonelli’s, Booted and Short-toed Eagles may all be seen. Mammals are elusive, but Genet, Otter and Wildcat all occur, and Iberian Wolves are making a comeback. On one evening we will visit the Côa Valley to see Europe’s largest collection of Palaeolithic rock engravings which date back to 22,000 BC. These were only discovered in the 1990s and were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. They are best viewed by torchlight, after dark, when depictions of wild horses and aurochs, almost identical to the Garrano horses and Maronesa cattle of today’s Faia Brava reserve, can be most appreciated.

For the second part of this holiday we will drive deep into the heart of rural eastern Portugal, to the Serra da Estrela Natural Park, another area rich in history and wildlife. Within this impressive landscape the remains of the defensive castles and fortresses built by the Moors and Spanish are still visible today, as well as an interesting variety of birds, flowers, butterflies and other natural history. In these mountains we will walk at various altitudes, exploring the Beech woodlands, Junipercovered slopes and the rugged peaks and lakes of the mountains above. Honey Buzzards may be seen overhead lower down, while a Marbled Newt might reveal itself in a mountain lake. In particular, we will look for the region’s many scarce and endemic plants (and the butterflies they attract), amongst them Marsh Gentian, the endemic Teucrium salviastrum, Campanula herminii, Silene foetida and, in the wetter areas, St. Patrick’s Cabbage and the sundew, Drosera rotundifolia. We will break our walks each day with picnic lunches amidst some wonderful scenery, and then end the day enjoying a delicious meal back at our hotel, the Casa das Penhas Douradas. This is an award-winning modern hotel set in a remote location high in the Serra da Estrela. Offering a high standard of cuisine and comfort, it also has a spa and pool. Best of all, it makes the perfect base from which to explore the fauna and flora of the Serra on foot!

After a week exploring these two littleknown yet highly rewarding regions — and the birds, butterflies, alpine flora and prehistoric art they offer — it will be hard to leave!

Egyptian VultureGolden OrioleClouded YellowRock Art ViewingView from Casa CisternaBlack RedstartSerra Da EstrelaSerra Da EstrelaNatterjack ToadMarbled NewtMarsh GentianSerra Da EstrelaCardinalBlack SatyrLesser Spotted FritillarySilver-studded BlueHotel in Serra Da EstrelaCommon Toad (Bufo bufo)Iberian Frog (Rana iberica)Ocellated LizardPurple Shot CopperWhite-rumped SwiftIberian Rock LizardLong-tailed BlueLang's Short-tailed BlueBee-eaterHoopoeGriffon Vulture
Mr M.B
July 2015
The variety of activities, superb hotels with first class food and service and two excellent leaders. The whole 8 days was one of the best combination of any natural history holiday I have ever been on (and I have been on many with different companies).
Mrs R.B
July 2015
I liked the combination of all the elements of the natural world rather than the dominance of one - flowers, butterflies, birds, insects, amphibians etc. I loved the whole region and particularly the landscape. The highest point in the Serra da Estrela and its specialised flora. I also enjoyed the chance to view the Palaeolithic rock engravings by night and the Douro river views. The hotels were excellent, both the amenities, service and food. All in a all it was a totally enjoyable trip enhanced further by having two excellent tour leaders.
Mr P.J
July 2015
All was very good, one of the best of your holidays I've been on.
Mrs J.H
July 2015
The Portuguese people and hotel proprietors were all exemplary, helpful and willing to please.
Mrs J.J
July 2015
The holiday embodied many interests of equal weighting. Birds, Botany, Butterflies, Amphibians, Reptiles, Prehistoric engravings and historical buildings.
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DeparturesAvailableCost

Mon 7th May 2018 - Mon 14th May 2018

YES

£1495

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Flights: Flights are included in the tour costMore info

Regional Departures: Regional Departures are limited. Call 01962 733051 for detailsMore info

Land only cost: £1495 More info

Room sharing options: More info

Visiting: Portugal

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Tom Mabbett
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Tour Reviews

The variety of activities, superb hotels with first class food and service and two excellent leaders. The whole 8 days was one of the best combination of any natural history holiday I have ever been on (and I have been on many with different companies).
Mr M.B, July 2015