• The best XC site in Portugal
  • Fly big distance from here into Spain
  • A strong local scene and popular family holiday spot
  • Flyable from late February to October

Heading into the flats near Covihla. Photo: marcus King

Heading into the flats near Covihla. Photo: marcus King

Fly Portugal’s highest peak and the beautiful Manteigas Glacier Valley before setting off on a marathon XC adventure.


Serra da Estrela is the highest terrain on Portugal’s mainland, reaching 1,992m, and the Manteigas Valley is one of the best places for XC in Portugal. It’s a prime spot for recreational flying as well as a good choice for national and international competitions.

The season starts as early as February and lasts as late as November. From June to September 3,000m cloudbase and 100km+ XCs are common.

The flying area is in the centre of a wide range of high plateaus and open valleys, surrounded by vast plains to east and south. This makes it perfect for flying safe XCs. Depending on conditions pilots fly triangles in the mountains or head out to the flats.

The local club (Clube Vertical) operates a shuttle to take-off whenever it is flyable and can also organise retrieve. If it is flyable the locals will be flying.

Azinha is the main take-off. With its south-facing launch high above the valley it presents a stunning view towards Torre, mainland Portugal’s highest peak, and over the River Zêzere. Access is by a 15km tarmac road plus 3km of dirt track.

Because of its southern aspect it is possible to fly Azinha in any wind direction, so long as the meteorological wind speed does not exceed 15km/h. If the met wind is also south then it will be flyable up to 20km/h. In a south wind the site normally works all day. In an easterly until 6pm; north and west until 3pm. The ideal forecast is a light south or westerly wind.

The second take-off is Vale de Amoreira, which locals rate as one of the most underestimated take-offs in Portugal. Low above the valley, the small round hilltop is surrounded by the imposing ridges of Serra da Estrela – but its location is one of its main assets. Protected from strong winds outside the Serra da Estrela the site exposes its east face to the wind aligned with the River Zêzere.

It takes winds from more than 180-degrees, counter clockwise from east-southeast to west. It is 840masl and uses the same landing as Azinha. A house thermal in front of take-off works from early on.

May, June and September are ideal. July and August are good, especially for long distance, but can be strong.

Azinha take-off: 1,250m
Vale de Amoreira: 840m
Valley floor: 700m
Cloudbase: 3,000m

You will need your own vehicle but both take-offs can be used by hang gliders. The landing is big enough but some pilots do not feel comfortable with the approach if the wind direction means they need to come in close to the trees. There are other, bigger fields further down the valley that may be used – find out which ones as they are cropped.

The Torre Triangle is an 85km route that takes in the high peaks.

Fly due south towards Castelo Branco – people have flown 250km this way.

Fly NE towards Almeida for a 100km XC into Spain.

Fly east into Spain and aim for Segovia, a someone’s-done-it 260km away.

Free of most hazards but there is military airspace about – check in with the local club as there are occasional exercises and they will know about it. The route west/SW is possible but not recommended.

The Serra da Estrela is a popular holiday spot, so there is everything from camping to farm stays. There is a list of pilot-friendly places on Clube Vertical’s website.

Portugal has a lot to offer, and even if this region is not known for its beaches, there are still plenty of activities available. River beaches and sunbathing are still valid options, and the local food is great. Climbing, trekking, hiking, mountain biking and other outdoor sports are all available. There are also plenty of historic villages and castles in the area.

Clube Vertical maintains a daily forecast page on its website and states whether it’s flyable and which take-off to use.

Lisbon and Porto are the closest airports, and there are trains and bus services from these cities to Serra da Estrela. You can also fly to Madrid or Faro if you do not mind a 500km drive. If the family is coming then a car is recommended. If it is just you, then the club can help with transport to take-off and retrieve.