Thursday 17 August 2017

10 best...Portuguese pousadas

As you might expect from converted castles and convents, these chic hotels are steeped in history and in unbeatable locations, writes Damian Corless

Pousada de Santa Marinha, Guimaraes
Pousada de Santa Marinha, Guimaraes

Damian Corless

As you might expect from converted castles and convents, these chic hotels are steeped in history and in unbeatable locations.

Pousada de Santa Marinha, Guimaraes

The Portuguese remain one of the most devoutly Catholic people in the world, but even they have taken the odd turn against the Church. In the 19th century, a new regime suppressed the monasteries, with many going to rack and ruin.

This one was restored to better than its former glory in the 70s, winning the National Architectural Prize in 1985.

It was a worthy winner. Sitting high above the World Heritage city of Guimaraes, it is a truly beguiling complex of balconies, terraces, fountains and gardens, with a swimming pool to boot.

Details: From €120pps in September/October (00351 253 511 249; Email recepcao.

Pousada Rainha Santa Isabel, Estremoz

This is a palatial building fit for a king, although, strictly speaking, it was designed for a queen. Medieval monarch King Dinis built it to impress the apple of his eye, the princess Isabel, who was sufficiently wooed to agree to marriage. Over the centuries, the castle was at the centre of wars and sieges, eventually falling when the gunpowder store blew up. It was rebuilt in the 60s and stands as one of Portugal's most breathtaking pousadas. The town is equally striking, being constructed almost entirely out of fine marble abundant in the locale. Has a swimming pool.

Details: From €115pps, September/October (00351 268 332 075;; recepcao.

Pousada de Santa Maria do Bouro, Amares/Geres

Between the antique city of Braga and the mountains, this former Cistercian monastery is an ideal base to explore the ancient abbeys, castles and picturesque villages within easy reach. With spectacular views, there's also a wildlife sanctuary, mineral spa and national park. The pousada's restaurant serves local specialities. Activities include fishing, hunting, horse riding and canoeing, and there's a swimming pool.

Details: From €120pps, September/October. (00351 253 371970;; recepcao.

Pousada Solar da Rede, Mesao Frio

This magnificent elevated pousada puts the 'port' in Portugal. An 18th-century manor house set in the heart of the Douro wine region, it overlooks 27 hectares of sun-kissed vineyard with breathtaking views of the Douro River. The once fast-flowing river now resembles a placid lake, and sight-seeing cruises are a popular way of absorbing the stunning scenery. Activities include golf, angling and mountain-biking, and there are fairs and markets year round. Has a swimming pool.

Details: From €120pps in September/October (00351 254 890 130; Email:

Pousada Flor da Rosa, Crato

A castle, a convent and a palace, all built at different periods, have been combined into a structure of pleasing harmony. The majority of the bedrooms are located in the modern wing, with all the public spaces in the old castle. The complex is quite isolated and the cuisine on the pricy side, so hiring a car is definitely recommended in this region close to Lisbon.

Crato itself is a sparsely populated district of six parishes, but what it lacks in bodies it makes up for in beautiful scenery and historic sites. Many of these are associated with the military religious order of the Knights Hospitaller, which had its Portuguese base in the area. Swimming pool included.

Details: From €120pps in September/October (00351 245 997 210/211;;

Pousada do Castelo, Obidos

Decades ago, when the state first went looking for a castle to transform into a pousada, this one with walls that encircle the village of Obidos was first choice. The Portuguese are pressing Unesco to classify the compact medieval town as a World Heritage Site. Compacting 14 churches into a small space, the town is indeed a visual treat with its white and blue-trimmed houses, flowered windows, narrow streets and elegant stone paving.

While the room size in this pousada doesn't encourage the swinging of cats, its three chief attractions are location, location, location. There's no pool, though.

Details: From €115pps in September/October (00351 262 955 080;; email: recepcao.castelo@

Pousada do Infante, Sagres

Situated on high cliffs at the south-western tip of the Algarve, this pousada offers super views of the coastline to the big fortress dominating the headland and, way out west, the scene of stunning sunsets. The cliffs are also a birdwatcher's paradise. The hotel retains a 30s ambience, the staff are friendly and the restaurant specialises in local seafood, including sea bream steak, cuttle fish stew and garlic prawns. The town of Sagres holds a special place in Portuguese hearts as the spot from where Prince Henry The Navigator set sail to begin Europe's golden era of exploration. Has a swimming pool.

Details: From €115pps in September/October (00351 282 620 240.; recepcao.

Pousada de Convento da Graca, Tavira

This converted 16th-century convent looks down imperiously on the pretty town of Tavira. Its most noteworthy feature is the cloister preserved in something near its original condition and grand baroque staircase. The town, full of narrow winding streets, dates back 4,000 years. During the time of its occupation by the Moors around 1,000 years ago it was a major fishing hub, but the industry vanished when the tuna changed their traffic routes. The local beaches are some of the Algarve's most beautiful. Has a swimming pool.

Details: From €115 in September/October (00351 281 329040;; recepcao.

Pousada de D Joao IV, Vila Vicosa

This converted convent is a dominant landmark in the village of Vila Vicosa. The pousada has retained the convent cells, retreats and oratories built by the nuns, giving it a gothic atmosphere. Originally the site of a Roman settlement, the area was incorporated into the barbarian Visigoth kingdom then occupied by the Moors. The pousada is close to the magnificent ducal palace built by Portugal's future royal family. After the newly installed royals moved to Lisbon in 1640, they returned frequently to party hard, earning Vila Vicosa a reputation as a decadent spot. Has a swimming pool.

Details: From €115pps in September/October (00351 268 980742;; email: recepcao.

Pousada de Senhora de Neves, Almeida

An elegant, modern structure with spacious rooms, the Pousada de Almeida sits pretty within the old walls of the historic village of Vilar Formoso, part of the municipality of Almeida (pictured below).

The twin settlements of Vilar Formoso and Almeida are traditional border crossings to Spain, and possess such cultural riches that they've been designated a World Heritage Centre.

From the pousada, there is access to castles, medieval buildings and museums, plus a range of outdoor activities, including shooting and sailing. While some pousadas are less than child-friendly, this one provides family fun and games. There's no swimming pool.

Details: From €120pps in September/October (00351 271 574 283/ 290;; pousada

Portuguese pousadas - Need to know

In 1942, when the big powers of Europe were pounding each other to rubble, the government of neutral Portugal set about a reconstruction project that is still going strong. Fascist dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar began reviving the country's heritage by turning palaces, castles, convents and monasteries into chic hotels called pousadas.

Despite the fact that Portugal was western Europe's poorest country, these bijoux centres of luxury and culture quickly caught on. Today there are 44 dotted about the country, with plans to increase that figure to 60. Refurbished from the public purse then handed to a private management company, they are designed to showcase the best that Portugal has to offer in terms of heritage, hospitality and cuisine.

Getting There

Topflight (01-240 1701; specialises in pousada holidays. It operates Sunday charter flights from Dublin and Cork to Faro in the Algarve until October. Seat-only returns are available from €359pp, including taxes. A seven-night Pousada Wine Tour package from €1,059pps plus taxes, including flights, car rental, accommodation and suggested itinerary. Wine not included.

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