There was a time when the world knew very little about Portugal on Europe’s Iberian Peninsula. And despite its illustrious history of giving us world-renowned explorers like Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and others, this beautiful country had faded into near oblivion. It was, to say the least, the kingdom of a dead empire.
Fast forward to today and things have definitely changed. Portugal has become a hot travel and food experience. And, fortunately for 21st century “explorers,” some of Portugal’s fabled castles, posh palaces and serene monasteries now offer a comfortable – and luxurious place – in which to lay yourself down to sleep.
And while it may still be the kingdom of a dead empire, the trappings of that empire are very much alive and accessible.:
Pousada Castelo de Obidos
On check-in you’ll be treated to a complementary cherry liqueur (Ginja) served in a tiny chocolate cup to kick-start the journey. This luxurious throwback to a kinder, gentler age is tucked into a 12th century castle given by King Dinis to his wife Queen Isabel on their wedding day in 1282. There are 14 comfortable rooms inside the castle – three of them in the tower – and in the attached Cottage House. All of them feature modern comforts and top-drawer amenities including a TV, mini bar, safe, designer toiletries, robes and free Wi-Fi. The charming restaurant, located in the castle, dishes up regional cuisine.
Quinta das Lagrimas (Garden of Tears)
As you stroll through the gardens of this 14th century palace in Coimbra, once owned by King Pedro, you may still feel the vibe of the torrid, illicit love affair that transpired here between the king and his mistress, Inês de Castro. Sadly, their affair ended tragically in her murder…on the property. Today, this member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World features 52 elegant rooms and suites located in either the palace or in the newer garden and spa buildings. Two pools, a nine-hole pitch and putt course and a full-service spa promise relaxation. Dining is served in the elegant Arcadas Restaurant, the romantic Pedro & Inês or in the casual Gastrobar.
Tivoli Palácio de Seteais Hotel
Dating back to 1787, the halls of this posh palace echo with fascinating tales from the past. Located in the former “Xentra” (modern-day Sintra), it was built by Dutch Consul Daniel Gildemeester on lands granted by the Marquis de Pombal. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and luxury boutique hotel boasting 30 elegantly decorated rooms with priceless antiques. You can dine in splendor in the classy restaurant to the soothing strains of live piano music before slipping into the cozy wine bar for a nightcap.
Home to Portuguese nobility dating back to 1449, this venerable palace sits atop ancient Moorish ruins near São Jorge Castle in Lisbon and is one of the most distinguished hotels in the Portuguese capital. You won’t find TVs anywhere, but you will find hospitality fit for a king or queen in any of the 10 unique suites furnished with classical as well as 21st century furnishings and amenities. Lush gardens surround a black marble infinity swimming pool, and a wide terrace shows breathtaking views of the ancient Alfama District below.
Pestana Palacio do Freixo
Set on the banks of the Rio Douro, less than two miles from the World Heritage City of Porto, this former 18th century palace now houses a luxurious hotel with 87 rooms and suites incorporated in two historic buildings: a palace once owned by Portuguese nobility and a 19th century soap factory. You’ll be treated to a regal experience in this member of The Leading Hotels of the World with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, Turkish bath, jacuzzi and Magic Spa, which features signature treatments. Guestrooms have air conditioning, cable TVs, mini bars, hairdryers, safes, telephones and free Wi-Fi. Bar Nasoni is the place for river views, all day dining and regional wines while the sophisticated Palatium Restaurant dishes up more formal fare.
Palace Hotel do Buçaco
Built in 1885 for the last king of Portugal, this fabulously ornate fairytale palace is said to be one of the most romantic hotels in the world. Manueline architecture, sweeping corridors dotted with typical blue “azulejos” (tiles) and exposed stone arches lead to 60 spacious guestrooms and suites. Throughout, you’ll uncover trappings of “old” Portugal enhanced by some modern-day amenities. You won’t find an abundance of 21st century frills, but all rooms do offer satellite TV, hairdryers, direct-dial telephones and heat (uncommon in old buildings). Some have mini bars and air conditioning, balconies and private terraces. The formal dining room is the backdrop for an elegant dining experience and regional fare.
Pousada Mosteiro de Amares
Step back in time for a tranquil stay in this remodeled 12th century Cistercian monastery, which is now a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Tucked into the Peneda-Geres National Park, the 32-room sanctuary offers contemporary amenities (including Wi-Fi) with minimalistic décor fitting for a former monastery. For sports enthusiasts, there is an outdoor swimming pool, and there are tennis courts. The onsite restaurant– located in the monastery’s kitchen– showcases traditional Northern Portuguese cuisine, which is served indoors or outdoors in candlelit cloisters.
By Michelle da Silva Richmond for PeterGreenberg.com