The ultimate stargazing road trip
Home to Portugal's "mountain of stars" and some of Europe's least light-polluted skies, the Alentejo region is best seen at night.
一条蜿蜒曲折的长路通往葡萄牙最高的山峰，与其他许多欧洲的山峰会不同，游客可以直接驾车到达山顶。这座山峰海拔1,993米，虽然它的实际名称是托瑞（Torre），但大多数人只是用与它所耸立的山脉相同的名称来称呼它：Serra da Estrela或“星星山”。
A long twisting road leads up Portugal's highest mountain, and here, unlike many other European summits, visitors can drive right to the top. The peak rises 1,993m above sea level, and although its actual name is Torre (tower), most people just call it by the same designation as the range it lofts over: Serra da Estrela or "mountain of the stars".
By day, the drive offers wonderful views across the undulant landscape of this narrow country – from the red hills of Spain in the east to the blue Atlantic Ocean in the west. However, the real spectacle comes as the sun starts to drop. Not only is this mountain a popular spot to watch golden sunsets, but for those who stay later, it offers a glimmering night-time fresco that covers the heavens, made up of millions of white pinpricks scattered in glorious imperfection.
在过去十年中，葡萄牙已被公认为世界上旅行者观察夜空的最佳地点之一，这要归功于在葡萄牙中部阿连特茹地区建立了3,000平方公里的Dark Sky Alqueva（阿尔奇瓦黑暗天空）保护区。2011年，该保护区被联合国教科文组织支持的促进科学和旅游的国际组织星光基金会认证为世界上第一个星光旅游目的地。这一地位是高度评价了该地区理想的观景条件（低水平的光污染和平均每年有286个无云的夜晚，这导致葡萄牙的一些最黑暗的天空），同时也是充分赞赏这里的更广泛的旅游基础设施，这些设施是专为观星者而建立的。
Over the past decade, Portugal has gained recognition for being one of the top places in the world for travellers to observe the night sky, thanks to the creation of the 3,000 sq km Dark Sky Alqueva reserve, in Portugal's central Alentejo region. In 2011, the reserve was certified as the world's first Starlight Tourism Destination by the Starlight Foundation, a Unesco-supported international organisation that promotes science and tourism. This status celebrates the region's ideal viewing conditions (low levels of light pollution and an average of 286 cloudless nights per year, which result in some of Portugal's darkest skies), but also the wider tourism infrastructure it has inspired, which is set up to cater specifically to stargazers.
Dark Sky Alqueva（阿尔奇瓦黑暗天空）保护区也是一个令人惊叹的三小时公路旅行的起点，它将带你穿过欧洲一些光污染最少的地区，沿着该地区的Dark Sky Route（黑暗天空路线）（一系列精心策划的活动和住宿）蜿蜒而行，一路上升到葡萄牙的最高峰，恰如其分地被称为埃什特雷拉山（Serra da Estrela）或“星星山”。
Dark Sky Alqueva is also the starting point for a stunning three-hour road trip that takes you through some of the least light-polluted parts of Europe, winding along the area's Dark Sky Route (a curated collection of activities and accommodations), and rising all the way to Portugal's highest peak, fittingly called the Serra da Estrela, or "mountain of stars".
在一个特别漆黑的夜晚，我和我的朋友在埃什特雷拉山脉以南300公里的库米达村开始了我们的星际之旅。在那里，一所学校被改造成了Dark Sky Alqueva的天文台，该天文台举办了观星会议和天体摄影展。在这里，我们遇到了米格尔·克拉罗（Miguel Claro），他是一名导游，也是Dark Sky Alqueva（阿尔奇瓦黑暗天空）保护区的官方摄影师。
My friend and I began our intergalactic journey 300km south of Serra da Estrela on a particularly dark night in the village of Cumeada, where a school has been transformed into Dark Sky Alqueva's observatory, which hosts stargazing sessions and astrophotography exhibitions. Here we met Miguel Claro, a guide and Dark Sky Alqueva's official photographer.
克拉罗说：“葡萄牙正在意识到这一长期以来被低估的自然资源极其独特和宝贵。”。“Dark Sky Alqueva（阿尔奇瓦黑暗天空）在天文上相当于纳扎雷的冲浪者‘发现’的巨浪——它一直隐藏在肉眼可见的地方，等待着具有适当灵敏度的人仔细观察。”
"Portugal is waking up to this immensely unique and valuable natural resource that has long been underappreciated," Claro said. "Dark Sky Alqueva is the astronomical equivalent of the giant wave 'discovered' by surfers in Nazaré – something that had been hiding in plain sight, waiting for people with the right sensitivity to take a closer look."
Claro is a deep-space specialist, and when he is not taking groups on night-time stargazing expeditions, he spends his time photographing far-away objects like nebulae, galaxies and star clusters. These are things that can look faint and underwhelming to the naked eye or even through an eyepiece of a telescope but explode with colour and detail when photographed.
上图：“我们的天气非常好，云层覆盖很少，也没有光污染……，这使得拍摄天空变得完美，”Miguel Claro说（图片来源：Sam Christmas）
"We have excellent weather, very little cloud cover and a lack of light pollution…, which makes it perfect to shoot the sky," said Miguel Claro (Credit: Sam Christmas)
"To get good images you need very specific conditions," he said. "Luckily here we have excellent weather, very little cloud cover and a lack of light pollution or heavy air traffic, which makes it perfect to shoot the sky. Unlike the coastal areas that have long been developed, the Portuguese backcountry remains scarcely populated and undisturbed, which makes it much easier to pick up light sources from outer space without interference."
The Cumeada Observatory is open every night from Tuesday to Saturday year-round, and travellers can come to observe the Moon, the stars and the Sun using binoculars and telescopes. Claro expertly guided us on a heavenly tour of constellations and planets, as well as the Milky Way and the Orion Nebula.
The next morning we travelled through time rather than space, arriving just before sunrise at the 7,500-year-old stone circle of Almendres Cromlech, another landmark on the Dark Sky Route, located near the Unesco World Heritage city of évora. The biggest prehistoric monument on the Iberian Peninsula isn't gated and can be visited by day or by night – it looks especially awe-inspiring under the pale glow of the moon.
尽管比英国巨石阵早了至少1,000年，Almendres Cromlech巨石阵直到1964年才引起科学界的注意，所以并没有达到如英国巨石阵那样的游客量或保护水平。正如当地的一位导游和实验考古学家–马里奥·卡瓦略（Mario Carvalho）所说，它可以教给我们更多关于早期人类在白天和晚上对他们所在世界的深入了解。
Despite predating Stonehenge by at least 1,000 years, Almendres Cromlech was only brought to the attention of the scientific community in 1964 and doesn't get anywhere near the same footfall or levels of protection. Still for Mario Carvalho, a local guide and experimental archaeologist, it could teach us more about early humans' in-depth understanding of their world, by day as well as at night.
上图：尽管比英国巨石阵早了至少1,000年，但Almendres Cromlech直到1964年才引起科学界的注意（图片来源：Sam Christmas）
Despite predating Stonehenge by at least 1,000 years, Almendres Cromlech was only brought to the attention of the scientific community in 1964 (Credit: Sam Christmas)
"This stone circle is organised in a very complex way," he explained, as he showed us around the site. According to Carvalho, the stones follow a much more complicated equinoctial orientation than the one Stonehenge uses, which is based on the winter solstice. To find the equinox, the builders would have spent years observing the rising and setting of the Moon and the Sun, which suggests that the population was sedentary rather than nomadic, reflecting a monumental shift in human activity at that period.
"It basically shows us the beginning of farming," said Carvalho. "And sites like this show that from the earliest times we have looked towards the sky for answers. Then during the Age of Discovery, Portuguese navigators used the stars to guide them to the New World and beyond. It's interesting that today we seem to have renewed interest in outer space with the dark sky movement."
Driving through the sleepy countryside of the Alentejo, it was surprising to see how little things have been affected by modern development. Large swaths of land are still farmed in the same way they would have been hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago, with small herds of animals grazing under the cork oaks and olive groves. The whitewashed villages also tell a story of their own: street names echo new lands across the sea, and ancient churches boast frescos of navigation and adventure.
在这一切之上，悬挂着该地区布满星星的天空。这本身就是一个吸引力，但Dark Sky Alqueva的创始人Apolónia Rodrigues一直在努力为旅游业带来更多好处。她解释说：“Alqueva Dark Sky Route是一个由当地住宿业主组成的网络，他们支持观星。许多酒店现在在旺季以外的时间开放，提供晚间入住时间，并为夜间远足后的客人提供整夜接待。他们还有更灵活的餐饮选择和打包的食物可带到野外。”
Above it all hangs the area's star-filled canopy. It's a draw by itself, but Apolónia Rodrigues, the founder of Dark Sky Alqueva, has been working to bring more to the table in terms of tourism offerings. "The Alqueva Dark Sky Route is a network of local accommodation owners who support stargazing," she explained. "Many now stay open outside of peak season, offer late check-in times and receive guests all though the night, off the back of nocturnal excursions. They also have more flexible catering options and packed meals to take out into the field."
上图：Dark Sky Alqueva每年平均有286個無雲之夜（圖片來源：Sam Christmas）
Dark Sky Alqueva boasts an average of 286 cloudless nights per year (Credit: Sam Christmas)
She has also worked with partners to develop memorable activities, such as moonlight wine tasting, night canoeing and weekend-long festivals called "star parties". And then there are all the other daytime experiences than can be added to the region, such as visits to historical sites and cultural centres, as well as fantastic local cuisine and wine.
罗德里格斯将观星视为葡萄牙旅游业可持续发展的重要组成部分。大众旅游不是目的，而是保持当地发展和环境保护之间的健康平衡。她正在利用在Dark Sky Alqueva学到的经验，帮助在该国更远的北方发现更多的夜空保护区，这些保护区也提供了有利的观星条件。
Rodrigues sees stargazing as an essential part of Portugal's sustainable tourism future. Mass tourism is not the aim, but rather maintaining a healthy balance between local development and environmental preservation. She is using lessons learned at Dark Sky Alqueva to help found additional dark sky reserves further north in the country that also provide favourable star-viewing conditions.
在旅程的最后一段，我们在前往最后一站埃什特雷拉山脉（Serra da Estrela mountain range）的路上，经过了一连串俯如无数发夹连绵不断地缠绕在挺拔险峻的山峰之间，我们需要保持警惕。在山顶附近，我们遇到了纳塔丽娜·科雷亚，一位葡萄牙国民，她和她的男朋友正在进行公路旅行中；他们是第一次来到这座山峰。
During the final stretch of our journey, a succession of tight hairpins overlooking steep drops required us to keep our wits about us as we made our way to our last stop: the Serra da Estrela mountain range. Near the summit, we met Natalina Correia, a Portuguese national on a road trip with her boyfriend; they are visiting the mountain for the first time.
Near the summit, we met Natalina Correia, a Portuguese national on a road trip with her boyfriend; they are visiting the mountain for the first time (Credit: Sam Christmas)
"My boyfriend enjoys driving on more challenging roads, and here the main roads are absolutely fantastic," she said, gesturing at the snaking grey tarmac that cut through the bold landscape ahead. "From here you can see all the way from Spain to the sea – it's incredible. The Portuguese coast is unrivalled for sunsets as it faces due west, but up here it's even more impressive."
The pair settled on a spot near an abandoned old observatory and Portugal's highest police station. It made for a pretty picture, the geometric architecture contrasting against the natural rock formations and the pink-red sky.
The summit was indeed a glorious location to see off the end of the day and made for a good opportunity to reflect on everything we had learnt on the road. Then true to its name, the mountain of stars began to reveal its full treasures as the night set in. Thanks to our time in the observatory, we could now name some of the constellations, planets and nebulae that slowly came into view.
However, the most poignant lesson of all was perhaps about the value of properly observing our surroundings. The stars are – like many of the most beautiful things in life – slightly hidden from direct sight, but simply spellbinding once we take a proper look.
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