The Viana do Castelo pousada

Composit Pousada Viana do Castelo

We arrived to find the Pousada of Viana do Castelo shrouded in fog. The staff apologized profusely, as if it was their duty to control the weather to please the guests. The fog won’t last long and the view is wonderful, they guaranteed.

It was a warm winter night, so we slept with the balcony doors open. The first few rays of orange light woke us up to see the magnificent view of the temple of Santa Luzia, framed by the Lima river and the deep blue sea.

The hotel was conceived by Domingos José de Morais, a successful entrepreneur who dreamed of turning Viana do Castelo into a beach resort like Biarritz. The project was awarded to architect Miguel Ventura Terra, a disciple of the Beaux Arts movement who also designed the temple of Santa Luzia. Sadly, José de Morais didn’t live to see the hotel inaugurated in 1921. In 1946, the state purchased the hotel which later became part of the pousadas, a network of historical hotels in unique locations.

The Viana do Castelo Pousada offers heavenly views, impeccable service and wonderful tranquility. Domingos José de Morais would be proud.

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

Six Senses Douro Valley

sixsenses (smaller file)

One of the most enchanting places in the Douro region is called Vale de Abraão (the valley of Abraham). It got its name from Abraão Farah, a Jew from nearby Lamego who rented the estate from João Lourenço de Seara, a squire of the king. No one knows for sure what Abraão did. Some say he was a physician, others that he was a scientist. But he must have been a remarkable person for the people of the Douro named the valley after him.

Five centuries later, the estate belonged to a descendent of the king’s squire called Laura Leitão. At the time, the Douro was remote and isolated. But Laura and her husband fell in love with Vale de Abraão and decided to make it their home. Together, they built a house and a chapel surrounded by serene gardens, graceful fountains and woods planted with exotic trees. They brought the first electrical generator to the Douro and at night their lightbulbs shined like new stars in the sky.

In the 20th century, the estate was owned by an aristocratic family from Oporto called Serpa Pimentel who lived there until the 1980s. On the other side of the valley, in the village of Godim, lived a young girl who grew up to become a writer called Agustina Bessa-Luis. Her childhood in the valley inspired “Vale de Abraão,” one of her novels.

A fire destroyed the manor house in the 1990s and the place became a romantic ruin. But the house and the surrounding gardens have since been reborn as an extraordinary hotel called Six Senses Douro Valley. It is the perfect place to connect with nature, relax and recharge.

The quality of the service offered by the 180 people on staff matches the exuberant beauty of the location. Each guest has a “gem” who serves as a guide to all the leisure opportunities available. There is much to do, from wine tastings, to helicopter tours, from cooking classes, to radical sports. But some of the best activities are the simplest: a walk in the woods, a picnic in a cabin by the river, or a lunch by the expansive pool.

Every staff member we met is terrific. Our waitress is an engineer who traded her job as a manager to work in the tranquil environment of the hotel. She spoke with enthusiasm about the excellence of the produce from the Douro valley. The head of the wine shop talks about wines with the erudition of an enologist. We asked him a few questions and soon our table was full of glasses with interesting wines for us to sample. The young chef in charge of the restaurant produces healthy, delicious food cooked with local ingredients using techniques that combine the best of tradition and modernity.

How lucky is this valley whose beauty and serenity keeps attracting such remarkable people.

The Six Senses Douro Valley is located at Quinta de Vale de Abraão, Samodães, Lamego, tel. 254-660-600. Click here for the hotel’s website. 

 

Modern luxury at the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz in Lisbon

Ritz

António Salazar, the man who ruled Portugal from 1932 to 1968, detested extravagance so he resisted the idea of building a Ritz hotel in Lisbon. But a group of entrepreneurs convinced him to support the project. Salazar visited the hotel before the inauguration and disliked what he saw. He exited through the back door and never came back. Despite Salazar’s disapproval, the Lisbon Ritz was a huge success.

The entrepreneurs tapped Porfirio Pardal Monteiro to be the architect. It was an inspired choice. Monteiro used the Parthenon and the Erechtheum to guide his search for the ideal location. But he avoided the temptation to build a hotel that imitates the past. Instead, he drew inspiration from Le Corbusier to design a modern building with beautiful proportions.

Monteiro was friends with the great painter Almada Negreiros. He engaged Almada and other artists to produce works of art for the new hotel. The result is a stunning art collection that creates unique interior spaces. Almada designed exuberant tapestries with centaurs and etched agricultural motifs into black granite using gold leaf. His wife Sarah Afonso produced a joyous allegory of the seasons. Querubim Lapa, Martins Correia, Carlos Botelho and many others contributed to the collection of roughly 600 works of art.

The hotel has 4 elevators for the guests and 12 elevators for the staff. When it opened in 1959, it had 330 rooms and 400 employees. Even though the ratio is no longer the same, the service is still flawless. Run by the Four Reasons group, the hotel has been regularly renovated to continue to offer outstanding comfort. The elegant breakfast room is the perfect place to start your morning in Lisbon. The rooftop was converted into a modern gym with a running track that offers expansive views of the city.

The Four Seasons Hotel Ritz is one of Europe’s grand hotels, a unique combination of architecture, art, comfort, and hospitality that creates an unforgettable experience.

The Four Seasons Hotel Ritz in Lisbon is located at Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca, 88, tel. (21) 381-1400. Click here for the hotel website. 

 

 

Sleeping in a medieval castle by the Sado river

Composite Alcácer

One hour away from Lisbon, you can stay in an historical hotel that occupies a medieval castle with wonderful views of the Sado river and the rice fields of Alcácer of Sal. It is a place where people have gathered since the Iron Age to worship the gods above.

For more than 2,000 years, people came to Alcácer do Sal to farm the land, tend to herds of sheep and goats and produce salt on the marshes of the Sado river. The Sado made it all possible, its waters bestowed fertility on the land and carried boats loaded with agricultural products to far away lands. Underneath the pousada there are remnants of Greek pottery and Egyptian jewelry, foreign luxuries purchased with the fruits of the Sado river.

In the 2nd century BC, Alcácer was conquered by the Romans who made it a center for the production of wool and salt. With their penchant for grandiose names, the Romans named the city Salacia Urbs Imperatoria.

In the 6th century AC, the Visigoths conquered the territory that is now Portugal. But life did not change in Alcácer until the moorish conquered the city in the middle of the 8th century AC. They built the caste and made the town an important trading outpost.

The first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, conquered Alcácer in 1160. But the moors fought back and it was only in 1217 that Alcácer became a permanent part of the Portuguese territory. The castle was then converted into a monastery occupied by the order of Saint James.

In the 17th century, the old monastery was adapted to welcome the nuns of Saint Claire of Assisi. The new building was called the Convent of Her Lady of Aracaeli.

The Pousada is a magical place. Every window frames a beautiful landscape. Every step reminds us that we are on hallowed ground. But hard decisions have to be made: should we stay by the spacious hotel pool relaxing or go see the gorgeous beaches of the coast of Alentejo?

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

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.

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.

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.