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.
It 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.
Seteais means seven sighs, a name inspired, according to legend, by the romance between a Portuguese noble and a Moorish princess.
The Seteais palace was built in Sintra in 1787 by the Dutch consul and later sold to the wealthy Marquis of Marialva.
In 1954, the palace was converted into a luxury hotel. Booking a room at Seteais guarantees you’ll have a memorable experience. If you don’t stay at the hotel, you can still experience its unique atmosphere by visiting the elegant bar for a glass of white port before dinner.
In 1802, the Marquis of Marialva invited the Prince Regent, John IV and his wife for a visit. To celebrate the occasion, the Marquis built an archway decorated with busts of the royals. A Latin inscription praises the prince for his wisdom and prudence. No one could guess that five years later the Portuguese royal family would flee to Brazil to escape Napoleon’s troops.
The echoes of these twists and turns of Portuguese history have long faded. What remains, is one of the most romantic places in the world.
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.
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.
You can have an unforgettable vacation at Casas da Areia, a beautiful retreat on the margins of the Sado river, one hour south of Lisbon. Here, you can rent one of four fisherman huts built from local materials. They have striking African-inspired thatched roofs and impeccable minimalist design.
There are many pristine beaches close by. But, once you settle at Casas da Areia, you’ll probably just want to enjoy the magnificent vistas and bike around the gorgeous Sado estuary. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself talking to Christian Louboutin about the serenity of this place; he has a house nearby.
After staying at Casas de Areia, it’s hard to stop asking your friends “did I tell you about my unforgettable vacation in Portugal?”
You can find more information about Casas na Areia here.
It took two architects to create this incredible hotel on the margins of the Douro river. The first, the Italian Nicolau Nasoni, designed the Freixo Palace in the 18th century for the family of a rich cleric, Jerónimo de Távora. The second, the Portuguese Fernando de Távora, a relative of the original owner, transformed it into a luxury hotel.
Built in 1750, Freixo became the most elegant palace in Oporto. It was here that king Luis I stayed when he visited the city in 1872. But the century that followed the royal visit was one of decline and decay. A soap factory was built on the grounds. Later, this factory was converted into a distillery. Later still, the palace became the headquarters of the Harmonia flour factory. A flour mill was built on the palace gardens and many of the palace rooms were used for storage. When the city of Oporto bought the palace in 1986, it was little more than a romantic ruin.
In 1995 the restoration project led by Fernando Távora and his son brought the palace to its original glory. The elegant rooms were restored to create a spacious dining area and beautiful meeting spaces. The old flour mill was reconfigured to accommodate comfortable guest rooms that have stunning views of the Douro river. Freixo is, once again, the most elegant palace in Oporto.
Palacio do Freixo, Estrada Nacional 108, Porto, tel. 225-311-000, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for the hotel’s website.
It’s a plot worthy of Shakespeare. Pedro, the crown prince, falls madly in love with a noble lady called Inês de Castro. His father, King Afonso IV, opposes this liaison. Pedro ignores the king’s will and has four children with the captivating Inês. In 1355, King Afonso IV orders that Inês be put to death.
According to legend, a fountain sprang from the last tears that Inês shed in Quinta das Lágrimas (the quinta of tears). In the 18th century an elegant palace was constructed on the quinta. This palace has recently been converted into an exquisite small hotel. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself writing a novel during your stay.
Rua António Augusto Gonçalves, P-3041-901 Coimbra, tel. (239) 802 380, email: email@example.com, click here for website.
Portugal has many ancient manor houses and palaces built by noble families and wealthy landowners. These houses are expensive to maintain, so in the 20th century many fell into disrepair. The government created a program called “Turismo de Habitação” (home tourism) that subsidized their restoration. In return, the owners agreed to turn them into “bed and breakfasts.”
You can tour the country staying, at very affordable prices, in aristocratic homes, with expansive vistas and warm hospitality.
These proud houses are silent witnesses to centuries of history. When you visit them, you touch the soul of Portugal.