Just outside the eastern park boundary, and 44km south of Guarda, the prosperous town of COVILHÃ lies immediately below the highest peaks. It’s busiest on winter weekends, when it’s used as a base for trips to the ski slopes, but it has a life independent of the mountains, which makes it an agreeable place to visit at any time. Virtually every thoroughfare looks out across the plain below or up to the mountain crags – the café in the pretty town gardens has the best view, serenaded by practice sessions in the music conservatory opposite.
A market town since the Middle Ages, Covilhã developed a textile industry in the seventeenth century using wool from the local sheep, which also provide the milk for the renowned queijo da serra. Later, the woollen industry harnessed water-power from the mountain streams; factories today, down on the plain below town, are powered by hydroelectricity. You can view the enormous vats used in the traditional wool-dyeing processes in the Museo de Lanifícios, located in the former Real Fábrica de Panos (Royal Textile Factory), a short walk downhill from the centre.