The governor’s palace

Palácio do Governador

Just when we think that Lisbon told us all her secrets, the city finds new ways to surprise and delight us. This time we discovered a new hotel called Palácio do Governador (the governor’s palace).  Located near the Tagus river, it occupies a 16th century manor house that once belonged to the governor of the Belém neighborhood.

The governor’s room overlooks the Tower of Belém which used to be connected to the house through an underground passage. Near this passage, you can find the ruins of a Roman factory that produced garum, a fish sauce used in Roman cuisine.

We had a wonderful stay. The hotel integrates old and new with ease, offering  comfortable rooms and elegant public spaces. The service is attentive and the location is perfect.

Our only source of anxiety was the temptation to forego breakfast at the hotel and walk over to the Confeitaria dos Pasteis de Bélem to start the day with a heavenly pastel de Belém.

 

Palácio do Governador is located on Rua Bartolomeu Dias 117, in Lisboa, tel. 212 467 800. Click here for the hotel’s website.

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Santa Maria do Bouro in the light of eternity

Composit Amares, exposição

The granite walls of the Santa Maria do Bouro Pousada belong to a Cistercian monastery built in 1162 by the first king of Portugal. They aged perfumed by incense and lulled by religious chants.

The monks enjoyed their meals sitting around an imposing stone table. The kitchen had two fountains that supplied water, several wood-fire stoves and a fireplace used for roasting. A large chimney released the appetizing food aromas to the skies above. Perhaps the monks wanted to advertise their talents, in case there were opportunities for good cooks in heaven.

This golden age gave way to an era of slow decline. Eventually, the monks moved out. Wild animals and vegetation moved in.

Just when the old monastery had gotten used to oblivion, a small group came for a visit. They wanted to turn the ruins into an historical hotel.  Among them was a quiet man who stared in silence at the granite walls. He is an architect called Eduardo Souto de Moura who would one day win the Pritzker prize.

In his reconstruction plan, Souto Moura left the walls exposed to showcase their beauty. He avoided imitating the old, so he complemented the granite with new materials. The ivy that embraced windows and columns was allowed to stay and a green roof was built to welcome the vegetation back to the building.

Everything in this beautiful hotel breathes harmony and tranquility. The rooms have expansive views of the surrounding mountains.  And there are many spaces, indoors and outdoors where we can enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of tea.

The kitchen was transformed into an elegant dining room and the large chimney became a skylight. The ancient stone table is still there, covered with irresistible desserts that would make the old monks proud.

Today, the walls of Santa Maria do Bouro stand with the confidence they will be beautiful in the light of eternity. And we think they’re right.

Here’s a link to the pousadas’ website. You can find a large collection of photos of the pousadas at www.mariarebelophotography.com.

Tranquility at Quinta de Guimarães

Quinta de Guimarães

The best way to experience the magic of the Douro valley is to sojourn at a local farm. It was this possibility that attracted us to Quinta de Guimarães, an estate that dates back to the year 1720. It offers rooms in an ancient manor house and in two beautifully restored country homes surrounded by vineyards.

We loved the tranquility of the quinta and the sumptuous meals that Fernanda Pinto, the property caretaker, prepares with produce from the farm. Breakfast includes country breads, homemade sausages and prociuttos, eggs from happy chicken, and traditional desserts. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner composed of spinach soup, baby goat with roasted potatoes, followed by the farm’s luscious fruit. The meal was accompanied by a bright “vinho verde” (slightly sparkling white wine) produced on the property under the label Cazas Novas.

A visit to Quinta de Guimarães is a journey to a place where time has stopped because it found perfection.

Quinta de Guimarães is located at Lugar de Miguas, Sta. Marinha do Zézere, tel. 912 915 699. Click here for the quinta’s website.

 

A joyous view

Vista Alegre-Montebelo

In the early 19th century, Portugal’s royal family and nobility served their meals on expensive porcelain imported from China. José Pinto Bastos, an entrepreneur,  saw in this fashion a business opportunity: he decided to produce porcelain in Portugal. It was a risky venture because the process for porcelain production was a closely guarded secret. So, Pinto Bastos started by making glass and crystal to finance his porcelain experiments.

He found the name of his brand and the perfect location for his factory on a hill near Ilhavo that overlooks the “ria,” an elongated body of water where fresh water mixes with salty water. On top of the hill there’s a beautiful church built in 1696 by a bishop who liked the location because of its “vista alegre” (joyous view).

In 1824, Pinto Bastos built a house adjacent to the chapel and a factory called Vista Alegre. There, he started to unravel the secrets of porcelain making. A team of workers labored day and night to feed large ovens with coal or wood so they could burn at 1,400 degrees Celsius for 40 hours in a row.

After much trial and error, a few pieces of porcelain were finally produced. But these pieces had a light gray color which was much less attractive than the pure white of Chinese porcelain.  Out of desperation, Pinto Bastos sent his son to Sèvres, the famous French porcelain factory, to ask for technical assistance. The young man came back with bad news: porcelain production requires a rare mineral rock called kaolin. Pinto Bastos was not deterred, he searched all over Portugal for this precious rock. Eventually, he found a large deposit a mere 20 km from his factory.

By 1835 Vista Alegre was producing excellent porcelain. Over the years, it became one of Portugal’s most cherished brands and a very successful business.

When, after a long sleep, China woke up to the world in the late 20th century, it flooded the market with cheap porcelain. Vista Alegre had trouble competing and for a while it looked like Portugal would, once again, buy all its porcelain from China. But Vista Alegre found new owners who modernized its factories. They also built a new hotel around the original Pinto Bastos family home, an interesting museum that traces the history of Vista Alegre, and stores where visitors can buy the company’s products.

The new wing of the hotel overlooks the “ria” and the old Pinto Bastos house was converted into elegant suites. It is a thrill to stay in this porcelain palace and enjoy its joyous view.

Click here for the website of the Montebelo Vista Alegre hotel. 

A room with a view to the Estrela mountain

Pousada da Serra da Estrela (75)

The Serra da Estrela Pousada stands 1,200 meters above sea level, at the door step of Portugal’s highest mountain. It was designed in the 1920s by architect Cottinelli Telmo for those who needed to recover from respiratory ailments. The pure air did wonders. And so did the view of the mountain adorned with a mantle of snow or dressed with the grey hues of the granite and the green colors of the pine trees.

In the second half of the 20th century, the edifice fell into disuse. It was rebuilt in 2014 under the guidance of Eduardo Souto Moura, a Portuguese architect who won the Pritzker prize.

Souto Moura found ways to incorporate modern comforts like air conditioning, saunas and swimming pools into the old building. But, at the same time, he endeavored to preserve Cottinelli Telmo’s unusual design. The building is long and narrow so that most of the rooms have a view.

Almost one century after its inauguration, the pousada is the perfect place to rest our eyes on a magnificent landscape that makes problems look small and life large with possibilities.

Here’s a link to the pousadas’ website. You can find a large collection of photos of the pousadas at www.mariarebelophotography.com.

A white palace in Estremoz

Composit Estremoz

Estremoz is a village in Alentejo built on a hill by king Dom Afonso III in 1258.  It was once an important citadel that guarded the Portuguese kingdom from potential aggressors.

In 1360, king Dom Dinis built a royal palace in Estremoz for his wife Isabel of Aragon. It was in this palace that king Dom Manuel appointed Vasco da Gama as the commander of the fleet that sailed to India, beginning a new chapter in world history.

The palace, converted into an historical hotel, is sumptuously decorated with antique paintings and furniture. Corridors and stairs are covered with the famous white marble excavated from local quarries.

The war trophies that hang in the dining room reminded us of the momentous decisions made in this palace. And they made us appreciate even more the tranquil days we spent with only one difficult decision to make: which of the 22 wineries in Estremoz to visit.

Here’s a link to the pousadas’ website. You can find a large collection of photos of the pousadas at www.mariarebelophotography.com.

Eternal beauty in the heart Alentejo

Composit São Lourenço

We hope the gods of the sea will forgive us, but São Lourenço do Barrocal made us forget the ocean and its waves. We were dazzled by the exuberant fields covered with white daffodils, surrounded by the simple elegance of the old farm buildings.

São Lourenço has been in the family of its current owner, José António Uva, since the 19th century. It once employed 50 families who lived and worked on the farm. The estate was occupied in 1975, the year in which José António was born, as part of the wave of expropriations that followed the 1974 revolution. After the property was returned to the Uva family in 1984, the abandoned fields were replanted and the farm was brought back to life. But the buildings that once served as cellars and accommodation for the workers remained in ruins.

After studying in Paris and working in London, José António returned to Alentejo. While thinking about his future, he rebuilt a small house for his own use and a water tank that served as a swimming pool. He decided to devote four years to turning the estate into a hotel. Instead, the project took 14 years. Eight of these years were spent working with Eduardo Souto de Moura, the Pritzker laureate architect who oversaw the reconstruction project. Instead of using the property as a canvas to design new buildings, Souto de Moura followed a humble approach: he preserved and highlighted the beauty of the vernacular buildings that were there.

The interiors were decorated by José António’s wife, Ana Anahory. She used a wide range of artifacts, from antique agricultural implements to the heads of animals once hunted on the property. Her exuberance contrasts with the restraint of Souto Moura’s style. But, somehow, this creative tension works, making the space interesting and alive.

There are great hiking trails on the property with beautiful views of Reguengos de Monsaraz and the surrounding country side. One of the highlights is a menhir that is 7,000 years old.

It is heartwarming to see the natural beauty of a place where humans lived in the distant past so well preserved for the future.

Click here for the web site of São Lourenço do Barrocal.