A pink palace in the Algarve

358 - Pousada de Estói - @mariarebelophotography.comFIt takes a long time to build a beautiful palace. An Algarve aristocrat started in 1840 to build the Estoi palace in an estate near Faro. When he died, his son took over. But by 1893, the building was still unfinished and seemed destined to become a decorative ruin. It was then that a wealthy landowner bought the palace and spent a fortune on its completion. The sumptuous inauguration took place in May 1909. Decades later, the palace was abandoned.

In 2009, a century after its inauguration, Estoi opened once again, this time as a luxury historical hotel. It is a place out of a fairytale, its opulent salons and elegant gardens restored to their original glory.

Our stay at Estoi was an extraordinary experience. Some days, we relaxed by the pool and spent time admiring the statues, fountains and myriad of architectural details. Other days, we went to the beach and enjoyed the pleasures of the sea even more than usual. For we knew that when the day was done, we would have our pink palace to return to.

The Estoi palace is part of a network of historical hotels called Pousadas. Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here to see a large collection of photos of the palace.

On top of the world in Marvão

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Some people climb the Kilimanjaro, others struggle to conquer the Himalayas. But you can feel on top of the world without hiring sherpas or buying oxygen masks. Simply drive to Marvão, a village on the São Mamede mountain, 834 km above sea level.

We spent the morning exploring the ancient castle and walking the beautiful narrow streets. After working up an healthy appetite, we walked to the Pousada for lunch. The view from the dining room is absolutely stunning.

The Pousada has some wonderful signature dishes, including codfish Santa Maria, partridge with 14 (partridge cooked with 14 ingredients), and shrimp Alentejo style. We asked chef Conceição Lourenço why codfish Santa Maria tastes so wonderfully unique. Her eyes smiled brightly for this is one of the culinary secrets she has guarded in her three decades as a chef. She confided that: “the codfish is cooked with flour made from a local mushroom; but that’s all I can say.”

We stayed for quite a while at the table mesmerized by the view. Seen from Marvão, the world below looks harmonious and the skies above divine.

 

Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here for more photos of Marvão.

The serene beauty of Flor da Rosa

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On the way to Flor da Rosa, a medieval castle converted into an historical hotel, we traveled through small villages lost in time and fields of cork and olive trees. Nothing prepared us for the sight of the castle standing proudly on the Alentejo plain.

The hotel has 24 rooms with beautiful views of the countryside and a swimming pool that overlooks the castle. The space is designed to offer guests great privacy. And the staff is so attentive that they made us feel like royalty.

The next morning, we woke up in luxurious silence, far from the cacophony of modern life. We relaxed by the pool until it was time for lunch. We then headed to the restaurant where we tried some wonderful renditions of the local gastronomy: purslane soup, fish in coriander sauce, and marinated rabbit. These courses were followed by cheese from Nisa and Serpa. Our taste buds were celebrating these amazing gifts from the shepherds of Alentejo when a sampling of desserts arrived. They had uncommon names like “sericaia” and “encharcada,” and rightly so for everyday words cannot begin to describe these sweet creations.

We had a great time sightseeing around Crato, the village where the hotel is located. In the late afternoon, the church bell reminded us that the sun would soon retire and that it was time to return to the castle. As we crossed the vaulted arches, we heard birds singing. These are the same sounds that were heard in the castle during the middle ages. Flor da Rosa is a precious time capsule that preserves the beauty of an age gone by.

Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here for more photos of Flor da Rosa.

Spending time at the Arraiolos Pousada

Arraiolos CompositWhen you need to rest your body and nurture your soul, there is no place like Alentejo. It is a land of great natural beauty, blessed by the sun and far from the concerns of daily life.

One of our favorite places in Alentejo is the Arraiolos Pousada, a 16th century monastery that was converted into a wonderful hotel.

There’s a lot to do in the vicinity of the Pousada. You can take horseback-riding lessons, visit wineries, shop for the famous Arraiolos rugs, or do some sightseeing. But it is also great to relax in the spacious balconies that overlook the countryside or to seat by the pool, enjoying the view of the perfectly-round Arraiolos castle.

When we first arrived at the Pousada, we walked to our room through a sequence of hallways of different sizes that took us from light to shade and then back to light. This walk felt like an initiation rite. And indeed it was. Our stay at Arraiolos was an introduction to the art of enjoying the passage of time. We now need to return to continue our apprenticeship.

Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here for more photos of the Arraiolos Pousada.

The place to be in Lisbon

Palácio Valle Flôr compositF©For the price of ordinary accommodations in London or Paris, you can stay in an extraordinary palace in Lisbon. It’s all thanks to José Dias, an entrepreneur who made a fortune producing cocoa to feed Europe’s insatiable appetite for chocolate. After many years of hard work on the island of São Tomé, Dias returned to Lisbon. He received the title of Marquis of Valle Flor and began the construction of a magnificent palace.

The Marquis bought land with breathtaking views of the Tagus river and hired architects to design a building with perfect proportions. He then decorated it with great refinement, commissioning elegant furniture, beautiful paintings, graceful sculptures, and radiant stained-glass windows. After its inauguration in 1915, the palace became a fashionable gathering place for the royal family, celebrities, and nobility.

With the death of the Marquis in 1932, the edifice entered a period of slow decay. To save this work of art from oblivion, Dionísio Pestana, a successful hotelier, bought the building in 1992 to convert it into a luxury hotel.

It took almost ten years to restore the edifice and equip it with modern comforts. The result is the Pestana Palace, a hotel favored by a long list of celebrities that includes Bill Clinton and Madonna. The Marquis of Valle Flor would surely love to see that his palace is, once again, the place to be in Lisbon.

The Pestana Palace is located at Rua Jau, 54, tel. 210401711 , email: guest@pestana.com. Click here for the hotel’s web site and here to see more photos of the palace.

A magical hotel

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The new Memmo Alfama hotel in Lisbon is like Ali Baba’s cave. It is located off the beaten path, on a secluded alley in the ancient Alfama neighborhood. And from the simple exterior, it is impossible to guess what’s inside.

When the doors open, you find an elegant space, decorated with great attention to detail. But the real surprise is the spacious terrace with an astonishing view of Lisbon. The Tagus river, the pantheon, the roofs of Alfama, all these treasures are there for the taking.

Memmo Alfama is a magical hotel that will welcome you, even if you forget to say “open sesame.”

Memmo Alfama is at Travessa das Merceeiras, 27, Lisbon, tel 210 495 660, email alfama@memmohotels.com. Click here for the hotel’s web site.

Waiting in Cascais

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Some visitors like to stay in Lisbon to have the excitement of the capital city on their doorstep. Others prefer the seclusion of Sintra with its romantic palaces and lush vegetation.

If you’re visiting the Lisbon region, there is a third option: you can stay in Cascais, a picturesque beach resort, 30 km north of the capital. From Cascais you can take the train to Lisbon, following a scenic route along the Tagus river. You can also rent a car and visit Sintra, Colares, and Cabo da Roca.

The great writer Samuel Beckett vacationed in Cascais in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Beckett stayed at the Cidadela de Cascais, an old fort converted into a hotel favored by Portuguese writers. This hotel has recently been beautifully renovated to add modern comforts to its historical location and expansive ocean views.

Once Beckett got to Cidadela, he simply stayed there, enjoying the moments when the sea paints the sky with white mist. It’s not surprising that the author of a play about waiting in vain knew to stay still when beauty arrives.

The Cidadela de Cascais is located on Avenida Dom Carlos I, Cascais, tel. 214814300. This hotel is part of a network of historical hotels called Pousadas. Click here for our post on the Pousadas and here for the Pousadas web site.