Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Back to my roots - staying in Portugal’s castles and palaces.

One would normally go on holiday and write about it after but that’s not me; I like an element of surprise and I love spontaneity. I have decided to tell you about my next holiday - yes without having been (gosh I imagine the look on your faces, priceless). So having planned our next holiday to Portugal I thought I would give you a little taste of where we are about to go; I warn you that it will look a bit like a “hotelathon”; we have booked some magical places to stay and I feel like a kid in a candy shop! 

By now you know I am Portuguese and so hubby being English wanted to see Portugal through my eyes, so we took an executive decision to stay at the Pousadas; they are located in historical buildings, castles, convents, monasteries, fortresses and palaces. Each is decorated to reflect the culture and heritage of the region in which they are located. After we reserved all the places we are staying at hubby surprises me by saying that I am to choose what we do and where we go (now it’s me that is flabbergasted). I thought as long as I take him to where they serve good Portuguese food and give him enormous quantities of great wine I should be ok, no! What do you think? Well maybe not so I thought where I should take him…being in my own country I am feeling the pressure.

Since we will arrive at around 9pm we decided to stay the night at a hotel near the airport with close proximity to the main road so in the morning we will start our journey up north. 

We are staying at the Leziria Parque Hotel located in Vila Franca de Xira, a famous town for its salty marshlands where the magnificent Lusitano horse is bred.

The next day we will drive up north and stay at the Pousada Condeixa-a-Nova - Santa Cristina - former palace built in the 16th century - 2 Km from Conímbriga, one of the best preserved Roman ruins in Europe. Founded in 200 B.C. the settlement consists of two main houses with magnificent mosaic floors together with several bathhouses and working fountains.

Twelve kilometres from Condeixa is the old University town of Coimbra. It was founded in the 13th Century and, until the 1900’s, was the only University in Portugal. It has a rich academic tradition and its law faculty is known worldwide. 

The University is situated at the top of a hill and dominates the old town with its narrow, cobbled streets and courtyards. There is a Baroque library, with magnificent wall and ceiling paintings, which houses a large collection of rare books I will try and pop in to take some shots of that magnificent room and in case I need pictures for a library post.

The Pousada Santa Cristina offer all sorts of activities like mountain biking, boat trips, horse riding, country walks, fishing (sea), rafting (Mondego river), hunting, tennis, canoeing (river) and cross bow which although I am not one to stay put for too long I think just this time I will be enjoying laying by the pool with a good book (or maybe not, we shall see what happens).

We will then drive up further north to the Pousada de Viana do Castelo - Monte de Santa Luzia. National Geographic magazine wrote 'Santa Luzia is blessed with one of the world's finest panoramas. Set high on the Monte de Santa Luzia, the Pousada overlooks the town of Viana do Castelo and its rooms have panoramic views over the ocean and lush landscapes.’ 

With its elegant interiors the Pousada offers a place where you can enjoy moments of peace while appreciating magnificent views and I for one can’t wait to get there. How magical is this view!
The Pousada is on a hilltop above the old sailing port of Viana do Castelo in Costa Verde. The views are over the port and the river estuary and the long sweep of the sandy beaches of Cabedelo, absolutely breathtaking. In the foreground you will see the dome of the temple of Santa Luzia. 

It seems this hill has been inhabited from about 2000 BC and behind the hotel there is an old village of Celtic round houses. This 'Castro' civilization of Celtic hunter / gatherers flourished until the Romans conquered Portugal and forced the people into the valleys to become farmers to provide food for the Roman legions. The last inhabitants of this old 'Citania' left in about 500 AD.

 Let me share with you a funny story about the Romans when they invaded Portugal over 2000 years ago .

On arriving at the River Lima, the legionnaires mistook it for the River Lethe, the legendary river of forgetfulness. They believed that anyone who crossed it would lose their memory needless to say they refused to cross the river. Their leader then crossed on his horseback and called each man by name to prove that he had not lost his memory.

I have been told that along the top of the mountain for about 20 kilometres through undisturbed woodland and pastures I will be able see wild horses roaming. I hope to get beautiful shots of wild horses.

Activities in the area include river fishing, bicycle tours, golf, country walks, four-wheel driving, cruises, water sports and canoeing. I will let you know which ones I chose.

Before our next Pousada we will be taking a look at the Espigueiros de Soajo; never having been here I am curious to see what this looks like. There are 24 Espigueiros dating back to 1782 and during the winter months they are still used by the population to store grain. These stone structures are raised high above the ground to keep rodents out and the Espigueiros have a cross that stands tall above them, which is to bless the crop annually. 

Moving a bit further in land we will be staying at the Pousada de Amares - Santa Maria do Bouro. Between the city of Braga and the Gerês mountain range, stands this beautiful Pousada which is the result of the restoration of a former Cistercian Monastery of the XII century, by the architect Eduardo Souto de Moura - recently awarded the Pritzker Prize 2011. The restoration of this Pousada has won many awards as well. 

In accordance with the monastic severity, but with a comfortable and modern decoration, this historic luxury hotel seems like an absolute must while discovering the Minho region.  

It is an idyllic setting, surrounded by lush fields and vineyards where the famous Vinho Verde wine is produced (this wine is usually served with sea food – hungry? I am, and thirsty too) together with the beautiful architecture of the Pousada we are ensured a superbly relaxing stay.

The ancient town of Braga is 15 kilometres away and is the religious capital of Portugal, with utterly beautiful churches, being the Se (Cathedral) the most famous, originally built in the 11th Century on the site of a Moorish mosque and the Bom Jesus Sanctuary.                                                    


I vaguely remember as a child to have gone to Gerês so knowing of its beauty I am eager to see it with different eyes. It is considered to be the most beautiful countryside in Portugal; it is the country’s only National Park (Peneda-Gerês).

It has been described as "this green terraced paradise with a back drop of austere granite mountains is a haven to many endangered species of flora and fauna". Being some of Europe’s  few wolves that prowl the park, as do foxes, wild boars and deer. The park is also home to otters, fish, frogs, salamanders, 147 different bird species and 15 bat species. Garrano ponies are among the park’s most famous inhabitants. It also contains sites of many ancient settlements from prehistoric and Celtic civilisations.

Activities available in this area include hunting, river fishing, horse riding, bicycle tours, 4 wheel driving, water sports, shooting range, paintball, lots to keep anyone entertained. Oh my gosh if we did all this we’d need a week not 1 night so I am going to pause here to get my breath and let you do the same while we pack our metaphorical suitcases and begin the long journey to Lisboa and its environs.


  1. Wow that is a beautiful post! Some of the castles look like an artist's rendering not a real place! They're stunning! My parents are back to Portugal in October (they love it soooo much) I'll point them over here. Really lovely Ana!

  2. Looks amazing

  3. Ana Aguilar-Corney18 August 2011 at 10:41

    Thanks Jenny, so glad u liked it. Yes some of the pictures are breathtaking and I for one can't wait to get there. Do tell your parents about it because I know they will love it and wait for my next post to tell you about other regions of Portugal. That was only half the journey :O)

  4. Ana Aguilar-Corney18 August 2011 at 11:10

    Thanks Mary, You should try and go there, I know its just what you would love & so would Milo. I am looking forward to the views, food, wine and warmth of the people :O)

  5. Thanks Ana for this great article.  I live in this paradise and I wouldn't trade it for anywhere else in the world.  We have the best climate, gastronomy, wines and welcoming people.

  6. Ana Aguilar-Corney18 August 2011 at 14:22

    I so agree with you :O) and am so happy that you enjoyed my article.Maybe if I will be travelling near you , we should meet for coffee. It is a lovely country and keep an eye out because I will be writing about my journey down south.

  7. Ana, hello. Paul pointed this out and it looks like you have an amazing programme. Thanks for the inspiration, I am going to Portugal soon so will have this in mind. Beijinos. S

  8. I have stayed at the pousada of Condeixa-a-Nova and was a little disappointed.  Not that it was a bad experience, but it felt just like an ordinary hotel and lacked the magic of other historic pousadas. However, it's great choice to stay to visit the Roman ruins nearby. Your destinations in Portugal are great, and quite off the beaten path, as it seems to exclude Lisbon, Algarve and Porto.  But Viana do Castelo is a very charming city, as is Guimaraes and Braga.  This is a good introduction to Portugal, but too bad you're not heading south because Sintra really is the highlight of Portugal:

  9. Ana Aguilar-Corney18 August 2011 at 17:35

    Hi Sabine, yes we are going on a "hotelathon" or so it will seem. This is only the first part of the holiday. I will be going down to where you are also, hope you have a lovely time. Hope to see you guys soon. X

  10. Ana Aguilar-Corney18 August 2011 at 17:53

    Sorry to hear that Condeixa-a-Nova wasn't what you expected, I will give you my view once I have been and this post is only half of my holiday. I will be going south too and the reason I keep off the beaten path is because I am not one to go where all the tourists go. I was also born in Lisbon so I know it very well & love it. Keep an eye out for my new post, let me know what you think and thanks you for leaing a comment. Best, Ana

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