Pousada perfection in Portugal
Whoever I talk to at the moment seems to be talking about visiting somewhere ‘real’. They want to go on holiday and find an authentic experience that plugs them into the local way of life, the heartbeat of the destination, the history and present of a particular place. Good. Very good. It makes me happy to hear so many people talking this way. I’ve never really understood travelling somewhere and then staying in a hotel that effectively shuts out the locale in case those visiting find the destination a little lacking in the five star department. If people like that fake environment created to ensure as little local flavour as possible I’d suggest just heading to the nearest possible place that offers it rather than jetting across the world. But if you want to feel part of a place, eat the food, meet the people, bathe in the culture, revel in its history then I recommend the whole world as a good place to go. This stuff is everywhere! Not very helpful advice, that, is it?
I shall narrow things down for you in an attempt to be a bit more useful. To one place and one type of accommodation. Try out the Pousadas of Portugal. Portugal sometimes gets forgotten in Europe, living in the shadow of the more fashionable spots in France and Italy. But for those of you willing to set aside reputation and study the facts you’ll see that this little country is packing some serious cultural punch. The Pousadas are the perfect place to stay because becoming one is a hallmark of greatness. These historical sites are all stunning. What’s more they have been stunning for centuries as they were all very beautiful long before anyone thought to turn them into hotels. Or indeed to invent hotels. The whole concept is designed to give tourists the chance to stay in incredibly luxurious historical sites that make you feel, literally, like a king. A king with a castle and lots of lovely people being nice to you. It’s impossible not to feel connected to these buildings as you stroll around them, medieval treasures everywhere you look. Somehow someone has managed to insert hotels into them without spoiling any of the character and, even more impressively, ensuring these small, spectacular spots are luxuriously comfortable. Far more comfortable than when they were built I’m sure!
Here are five of the best for you to consider. I should put a warning sign on the photos though. You’re going to be weeping with longing to get out to one of these immediately!
This place started off as home to Augustinian monks. And then Portuguese royalty moved in. I assume they decided it was too nice for the monks. Well now the royalty have gone which is wonderful news as now it’s your turn to enjoy the stone cloisters, courtyards, and restaurant under the arches of the old cellars.
If walls could talk this place would have some fascinating tales to tell. It has stood on the corner of Terreiro do Paco (Palace Square) for centuries retaining its historical beauty while the world around has modernised. Expect chandeliers, vaulted ceiling, a domed inner courtyard… oh and a spa. Some new things are good.
More monks lived here – this time Cistercian monks in the 12th century. Monks have great taste it turns out. And they like a chilled, calm atmosphere. The gardens here are perfectly peaceful with sculptures and tiles you’ll want to stare at for hours. Surrounded by mountains this countryside escape is a must stay for those keen to explore rural villages, waterfalls, and medieval churches.
Sorry about this, but yes I have to use the word monastery again. But I can also use the words medieval castle and manor house. What a collection! This gothic landmark renovated by a Portuguese architect was the headquarters of some Knights. Which is about as cool as headquarters can be. Think contemporary furnishings contrasting against ancient walls. Delightful.
A relative baby this 18th Century palace with its Turkish baths and gardens inspired by the palace of Versailles. The pool looks worthy of a spot in the ‘best bits of water ever’ list such is the grandeur of the setting. If Pride and Prejudice had been written by a Portuguese person this is where Darcy would have lived.
I hope you like the look of these as much as I do! Let me know what you think below.
See you next week.