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.
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.
When 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.
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: email@example.com. Click here for the hotel’s web site and here to see more photos of the palace.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for the hotel’s web site.
If you’re tired of boring, conventional hotels, the Hotel da Estrela might be just the place for you. It is a former school transformed into a bohemian boutique hotel with a great vibe and lots of charm.
The hotel is located in the quiet Campo de Ourique neighborhood. But, when you’re ready for sight seeing, all you have to do is board the famous tram 28 which will take you to Rossio, Chiado, or St. Jorge’s castle.
Choosing where to eat when you come back is easy. Around the corner from the hotel you have two great restaurants run by chef Vitor Sobral: Tasca da Esquina and Cervejaria da Esquina (which makes sense, since “esquina” means corner).
But choosing where to have dessert is a more complex issue. The hotel serves a wonderful “pão de ló,” sugar, eggs and flour transformed into pure bliss. Nearby, you have Pastelaria Aloma, which won the prize for the best “pastel de nata” in Lisbon two years in a row. And then there’s a tiny store that serves the world’s best chocolate cake!
The hotel has a nice garden where you can eat a picnic prepared by the hotel’s restaurant. It’s the perfect place to woo someone you love. If you need inspiration for what to say, just visit the nearby house where the great poet Fernando Pessoa lived. It works every time!
The Hotel da Estrela is located on Rua Saraiva de Carvalho 35, Lisbon, tel. 211 900 10; click here for the hotel’s web site. Click here and here for more information on Tasca da Esquina and Cervejaria da Esquina, respectively. For information on the life-changing best chocolate cake in the world click here. Pastelaria Aloma is on Rua Francisco Metrass 67, Lisbon, tel. 213 963 797. The Fernando Pessoa house is on Rua Coelho da Rocha, 16, Lisbon. Click here for their web site.