Casa das Penhas Douradas

Serra da Estrela, Mountain Beiras, Portugal Book from

A chic, tranquil and cosy mountain hotel with glorious views, excellent hiking and a heated pool and spa
Picture yourself waking to crisp blue skies, fresh mountain air and the staggering vistas of the Serra da Estrela. Slip out of bed for a hearty breakfast, then lace up your walking boots and head out for the day. Hike through glacial valleys, past ancient mountain villages and the vast granite tors (penhas) which give the area its name. Swim in natural lakes, picnic by waterfalls, then head back through the verdant scenery for a well-deserved afternoon tea. You're 1550m above sea level, hidden in majestic wilderness and way off the beaten track - yet you're only 2 hours from Porto airport.

Yet whilst the landscape is rugged, this boutique hotel has manicured, contemporary good looks. There are squashy sofas and woodburners in the lounges, 18 swish bedrooms, and a heated pool, sauna and spa to ease aching muscles. Floor-to-ceiling windows maximise the glorious views and the polished lacquer walls give the hotel a Scandinavian feel. This is a year-round destination: come in spring for mountain flowers, summer for perfect walking conditions, autumn for blankets of red-gold leaves or winter to go snow-shoeing and skiing.


  • Staff are super friendly and kind: when we revisited this hotel in 2011, they couldn't have been nicer
  • Stylish rooms have a surpisingly modest price tag: you get a whole lot of comfort for your euros
  • Owner João is passionate about the region and has mapped out trails for various levels of agility: from gentle 2-hour strolls right through to full day hikes
  • Fab food: menus showcase regional specialities and the presentation is worthy of the smartest restaurant
  • Great for outdoorsy kids: tors for hide-and-seek, caves to explore and lakes to swim in


  • It can get pretty cold at night off season, but the heated pool, indoor fires and cosy rooms will keep you snug
  • The nearest restaurant is 6km away, so if you stay for a week be prepared to eat in every night or drive
  • You should be prepared for some cloud or rain at any time of year: after all, you are almost a 1,000 feet higher than the top of Ben Nevis!

Best time to go

This is a hotel where you'll be comfortable at any time of year and every season in the Beiras has its own rewards. The landscape changes colour throughout the year, with stunning red golds in autumn, crisp white snow in winter, beautiful mountain blossoms in spring and blue, blue skies in summer. Walkers would naturally choose the months when there's less likelihood of rain, meaning late spring, summer and early autumn. But, like Scotland or the Lake District, those days when you are immersed in mist and rain have their own unique beauty: seeing a blanket of morning mist gradually lifting from the surrounding hills and valleys is a memory which we'll savour for many years to come. And to trek out from the hotel into the high Beiras when the snows are down would be an extraordinary experience. Summer temperatures are around 28ºC; winter around 6ºC.

Our top tips

You'll plough through novels so pack two or three, as well as walking boots, rain gear, a day pack, compass and maps and your swimgear.

Great for...

Cheap & Chic
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 18
  • Restaurant (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Indoor Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available


It was a leap of faith by P.D.'s architect to design such an innovative building in a deeply traditional region. Waving goodbye to local mores, he chose gleaming epoxy floors, laquered pannelling and a seamless union of glass and wood. The resulting rooms are light and uplifting with a Scandinavian feel. In the upper wing, the Cork rooms feature original pieces of 60s furniture by Nordic designers.

Floor-to-ceiling windows, flat TV screens with DVD players and sliding doors leading to bathrooms ensure that all available space is put to good use. Beds are dressed with bright Burel wool textiles, and comfy spa mattresses guarantee a great night's sleep. You also get iPod docks and writing desks.

Ensuite bathrooms have massage showers or baths with translucent glass panels. Expect towelling bathrobes, slippers, a hairdryer and a big pile of towels as well as locally sourced toiletries made from indigenous Beiras plants.

There are 18 rooms, spread through the upper and lower wings of the hotel. Most of these are Cork or Veranda rooms. When we revisited in 2011, we spent a night in each, and loved them both. The Veranda rooms on the lower level are smaller, but have private terraces where you can drink in the extraordinary views from the comfort of armchairs. The Cork rooms in the upper wing are bigger, with bigger bathrooms; these rooms can fit a rollaway bed and can interlink, so they're best for families.

The biggest room is hoisted high above the dining room - an airy Suite, which was once João's private apartment. With sofas, glass walls, a separate bath and shower and heaps of space, this is a great option for families.

The cheapest Mansard rooms are tucked into the eaves of the lower wing; they are small, so it is well worth the upgrade to the Mansard Superior, which has more light, and a sitting area.

Features include:

  • Bathrobes
  • Cd player
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Dvd player
  • Extra beds
  • Fruit dish
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Internet access
  • Ipod dock
  • Phone
  • Satellite tv
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi


The buffet breakfast is designed to give walkers energy for the day ahead - in other words, it's huge! Served in the wood-clad dining room with its panoramic views, you can expect fruit salad, homemade breads and cakes, local honey, fruit marmalades, freshly squeezed juices and cheeses. Groups can sit around the big dining table or there are smaller tables set next to windows so you can gaze out as you eat.

A 3-course lunch can be served in the dinng room if requested in advance, and picnics can be made up for those going on a full-day hike (a sandwich, cookies, piece of chocolate, fruit, water, juice, hot coffee or tea).

Light snacks are available throughout the day, there's an honesty bar in each wing of the house, and tea and cake is served in the dining room at 4pm - a sweet treat for those who've worn themselves out walking.

The evening meals are also a reward for tired bodies, kicking off with a cocktail and nibbles in the lounge at 8pm; we had Port wine with tonic (surprisingly nice) and a gazpacho in a shot glass (delicious). Dinner is then a 5-course feast. We started with a yummy Serra herbed goat's cheese salad, followed by a heavenly roast pumpkin soup with garlic bread. Next up was a beef steak wrapped in mushroom pate and filo pastry (sublime), followed by a yoghurt, honey and egg yolk dessert (sweet and rich). You later help yourself to cheeses, digestivs and coffee which are laid out along the counter. The price of your meal includes an excellent red or white house wine; your glass will be frequently replenished.

And if you can walk to your room after all that, you're doing well!

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Children meals
  • Packed lunches
  • Restaurant
  • Vegetarian menu


  • Hike through some of Europe's loveliest and least-trodden mountain scenery: the 2000m Serra da Estrela offers glacial landscapes of white waterfalls, dark granite, green moors, ancient junipers and tiny villages. We were simply bowled over by the beauty of the area when João took us out on a short, 2-hour 'taster' hike. This walk was a tiny part of the guided tours which João arranges in conjunction with Casas da Lapa and include 2 nights full board in each hotel
    Click for 4-day walking itinerary

  • If you'd prefer to walk independently, just ask for a sketch map

  • Reception can arrange guided hikes and tours into the heart of the Serra; they own a jeep and, with a bit of planning, can drive you to the start of a trail / pick you up at the end / bring you a gourmet picnic lunch at a beauty spot halfway

  • Admire massive granite tors and golden-pink quartz outcrops (penhas douradas), eroded by the ice, sun, rain, snow and wind into wierd and wonderful shapes. The local shepherds have names for many of them: the friar and the nun, the wizard and the wolf, the dog and the toad (lots of stories for kids, and great hide-and-seek territory!)

  • Try your hand at abseiling or mountain biking (the hotel has 21-geared bikes to borrow and can recommend various routes)

  • In winter, go skiing at Torre (Portugal's only proper resort) or borrow the hotel's snowshoes and hike through Planalto Central (great for toning the bum!). Return home to the heated swimming pool and watch the snow fall outside as you float in the warmth

  • Check out Vale do Rossim lake, a fluvial beach, where in summer you can swim in wonderfully invigorating pure mountain water, or relax under the trees in pristine natural scenery. This natural park is also the source of the rivers Mondego, Zezere and Alva in which you can go trout fishing

  • In autumn head out for a half day of mushrooming with João or Paolo then have the spoils of your hunt incorporated into your evening meal

  • Discover the stunning villages of Linhares and Piódão, and the crumbling castles which dot the landscape. Seia has a Park Visitor Centre, a Toy Museum and a Bread Museum, Gouveia a zoo, Belmonte a museum recalling the rich Jewish heritage and the local woollen industry. Ski aficionados might be entertained by their collection of century-old skis and instructions on how to use them

  • Back at the hotel, the blissful spa is just the ticket for easing tired muscles. A range of treatments and massages is on offer, some using oils flavoured with herbs of Serra da Estrela (juniper, rosemary), and others using the lovely Terraké range

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Cycling
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Mountain biking
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Skiing
  • Swimming
  • Trekking
  • Well being


Chic, remote mountain hideaways usually sound more Bond-villain than family fun, but PD is an exception. The atmosphere is very child-friendly, with a special kids' menu, baby equipment and free food for under 4s (which impressed us a lot). Feedback from families who have booked through us suggests that it's a great place for teenagers too; outdoorsy kids will enjoy the varied terrain for hide and seek and other fresh air games. Take Joao up on the offer to tailormake a hike for your family, with the option of a jeep pick-up if it's too far for little legs.

Best for:

All ages

Family friendly accommodation:

The Cork rooms can accommodate an extra bed, and can interconnect. The Mansard Superior room also has space for a rollaway bed, and all rooms can fit a baby cot. If you're travelling with 2 or more children, book the Suite, which sleeps 2 adults and 3 children (or 2 adults, 2 children and a baby cot). There's a small extra cost for the extra beds for children - cheaper for 4-10 year olds than for those 11-15. See Rates).

Baby equipment:

  • Cots
  • High chair
  • Baby chair
  • Baby bath

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

Kids' menu; those under 4 eat for free. Breakfast is huge, picnics can be made up for the day and there's a high tea (tea and cakes) at 4pm. You can get snacks through the day in the hotel.

Kids Activities on site:

  • Mountain bikes
  • Swimming pool
  • Snowshoes to hire in winter
  • Small walking programmes designed for families

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Tors to climb and play hide and seek around
  • Caves to explore
  • Vale do Rossim Lake - good for swimming
  • Mushrooming trips in season
  • Seia Toy Museum and Gouveia Zoo are wet weather options

Families Should Know:

It rains a lot - so bring children's DVDs with you, although there are a few here. There are no nearby supermarkets so stock up on essentials before you get here.


  • Airport: 2 hours (Porto), 4 hours (Lisbon)
  • Hospital: 20 minutes
Kid Friendly:

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