The Guimarães pousada

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The narrow, meandering road that leads to the Guimarães pousada is good at keeping secrets; it gave us no glimpse of what this historical hotel looks like. When we arrived late in the afternoon, we were stunned to see the imposing granite facade of the church adjacent to the monastery bathed in golden light. Did the architects position the church to benefit from the sun’s exposure or did the sun move so it can shine on the magnificent building?

The origin of this monastery is intertwined with the early days of Portugal as a nation. It was built in the 12th century in fulfillment of a promise. Dona Mafalda, the wife of the first king of Portugal, vowed to fund the construction of a monastery for the order of Saint Augustine if she gave birth without complications. The monastery was named after the patron saint of expectant mothers, Santa Marinha.

In the 16th century, the monastery was transferred to the order of Saint Jerome. The monks offered university degrees in the arts and the humanities that attracted students from the royalty and nobility.  It was during this time that the chapter room, the place where monks read chapters of the bible, and the famous Saint Jerome terrace, an outdoors meditation space, were built.

In 1834, when the state abolished the religious orders, the monastery was sold and became a private residence. In the 1950s, a fire destroyed part of the building and turned it into a ruin.

In the 1970s, the Portuguese government bought the monastery and hired architect Fernando Távora to convert it into an historical hotel. Távora did a masterful job of restoring the old and integrating it with the new.

Every morning we took a walk in the romantic woods that surround the pousada. It is a place with no traces of modern civilization, where damsels in silk dresses and knights in shining armor would not be out of place. We returned to the pousada summed by the chanting of the waters that flow from the fountain in the Saint Jerome terrace. Every minute spent in this terrace was a moment of zen.

The pousada has a proud gastronomic tradition. Its kitchen staff has accompanied the president on foreign diplomatic visits to showcase Portugal’s culinary heritage. The restaurant, decorated with elegant blue tile panels, occupies the space that was once the cellar. We tried two delicious entrées: baby goat rice and roasted black-pork shoulder. They were followed by an artisanal ice cream based on a traditional dessert from Guimarães: toucinho do céu. It is the kind of divine treat you would expect from a convent.

The Guimarães pousada is a history lesson, a gourmet destination, and the perfect place to rest and recharge.

The Guimarães Pousada is located at Largo Domingos Leite de Castro, Lugar da Costa, Guimarães tel. 351 253-5112-49. Click here for the pousadas’ website.

 

A school lunch

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In 1940, the Portuguese government announced its “centennial plan,” a program to build a large number of primary schools. The schools in the north of the country, designed by Rogério de Azevedo, look austere with their granite and schist exteriors. The schools in the south, designed by Raul Lino, have graceful arches and whitewashed walls. Both designs used elements of the vernacular architecture and became integral parts of the Portuguese landscape.

With the number of children in decline, some of these schools have been closing. The school in the village of Cachopos near Comporta in Alentejo closed in the late 1990s but found new life as a restaurant appropriately called A Escola (the school).

The building is located in a beautiful woodland. Our arrival was greeted by the chirping of birds and perfumed by the scent of eucalyptus.

As we sat at the table remembering learning the three Rs, a plate of marinated rabbit and a carrot salad arrived. The menu has lots of great offerings, including cuttlefish rice with shrimp, fried eels, pasta with sea bass, stewed partridge, and rabbit pie with pine nut rice. The portions are generous and the food is delicious. A Escola is a great place to enjoy the simple, hearty cuisine of Alentejo.

On the school wall there’s an old map of the Portuguese empire. Those vast possessions of land and sea are long gone. But the empire of the senses–Portugal’s wonderful culinary tradition–continues to thrive.

A Escola is located at Estrada Nacional 253, Cachopos, Alcácer do Sal, tel. 265 612 816.

 

The convent of the blue monks

Composit Évora

When we entered the Pousada dos Loios in Évora, we stepped on grounds that have seen war and peace, creation and destruction. The Arabs built a castle on this site that was destroyed by fire during the Portuguese war of 1383-85. In 1485, a local noble built a convent for the order of Loios on top of the castle ruins.

The villagers called the members of this order the blue monks because of the color of their robes. These religious men lived an austere life, working and praying in silence. Their serenity and wisdom led the royal family to choose them as confessors.

The convent was severely damaged by the 1755 earthquake and later rebuilt through the efforts of an enterprising priest. In 1834, Portugal abolished religious orders and the convent was closed down.

In 1963, the ancient building was converted into an historical hotel.  The cells of the monks were turned into comfortable rooms and elegant suites. The courtyard became a spacious breakfast room.

The Pousada is in the center of Évora and yet inside its thick stone walls the clatter of the city vanishes. Staying here for a few days felt like a long vacation. We were content and at ease in the convent of the blue monks.

The Pousada dos Loios in Évora is located on Largo do Conde de Vila Flor, tel. 351 266 730 070. Click here for the pousadas’ website and here for a large collection of photos of the hotel.

 

Lisbon treasures

Composit Viuva Lamego

We’re often asked whether you can see Lisbon in a day or two. Sure, you can drink an espresso at Brasileira, take a brisk walk through Rossio and Terreiro do Paço, climb to Alfama to tour the castle, and rush right back down to go to Belém. Once there, you can try the famous Pasteis de Belém and go for a quick visit of the Jerónimos monastery and the Belém tower.

You’ll have seen a lot, but you will not know Lisbon. The city doesn’t reveal itself on a one night stand. To understand Lisbon, you must take the time to walk around and discover its many hidden gems.

One of these gems is Viúva Lamego, a store that has sold handmade tiles and ceramics since 1849. The blue-tiled back of the building faces the bustling Avenida Almirante Reis. If you walk around in search of the main entrance, you’ll be rewarded with the sight of one of the most exuberant facades in Lisbon.

There are many other jewels to discover in Lisbon: beautiful gardens, graceful architecture, quaint shops, enticing vistas, and wonderful neighborhood restaurants.

Those who discover some of these treasures get hooked and as soon as they depart, they start planning to come back.

The Viúva Lamego building is located on Largo do Intendente Pina Manique, 25.

Beauty in the details

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Varandas, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, 2016.

When you visit Portugal you need to sleep well to rest your eyes, because as soon as you wake up there’s so much to see!

A walk in an old neighborhood is a visual feast of architectural details. Doors, windows, roofs, and balconies tell us about the craftsmanship of their builders and the dreams of their owners. Each is a distinctive brush stroke on the beautiful canvas that is Portugal.

The Estrela Basilica

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One of the buildings often found next to a Roman forum is the basilica. It served as a place where people could meet. Basilicas had no statues of Roman gods and had beautiful light that came in through windows near the roof, so they were a favorite gathering place for early Christians.

The plan of the basilica was later adopted for the construction of important churches. Lisbon has an elegant basilica at Estrela, built in 1790 by Queen  Maria I.

Few people seem to know that one can climb the stairs to the roof of the Estrela basilica and enjoy in peaceful silence breathtaking views of the city. It is a perfect place to meet Lisbon.

The rebirth of Lisbon

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One of the most beautiful monuments in Lisbon is a ruin. The Carmo convent, founded in 1389, was destroyed by the earthquake that stroke Lisbon on November 1, 1755. The convent’s gothic arches were left reaching towards the sky, asking questions for which we have no answers.

Today, Carmo is a place of peace and tranquility. For we know that from the ashes of the old city, a new Lisbon was reborn.

The Carmo convent is located in the homonymous Largo do Carmo in Lisbon.