The castles, palaces, and monastaries scattered across the Portuguese countryside are more than just relics of a time gone by.
The pages of Portuguese history are scorched by tales of lust, passion, and unrequited love. Although some of these stories have been chalked up to legend, haunting imprints of this romantic legacy remain throughout the country.
Fortunately for 21st-century travelers, some of the ancient castles, posh palaces, and serene monasteries where these stories played out have been transformed into luxurious hotels, and while the venerable buildings have been updated with modern comforts, they still give a respectful nod to Portugal’s illustrious past. A stay in one of these historic spots will make you feel like you stepped into the pages of a fairy tale.
Dating from 1787, this stunning palace is the subject of many tales concerning the mysterious origin of its name, “Seven Sighs.” One concerns a Christian knight who arrived in “Xentra” (modern-day Sintra) during the Moorish occupation, a distressed damsel trapped in the palace, and an inevitable tragic ending. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site and stately boutique hotel boasts 30 elegant rooms—furnished with rich decor and antiques—and impeccable service. Dine in splendor in the Seteais restaurant to live piano music—played, of course, on an antique—before gliding into the cozy wine bar for a nightcap. A pool and small spa afford soothing respite after a day’s sightseeing.
The complementary cherry liqueur (ginja) served in a small chocolate cup upon check-in here is the first clue that you’re about to be transported to a kinder, gentler environment. The Pousada Castelo de Óbidos is housed in a 12th-century castle that King Dinis gave his wife Queen Isabel (along with the town around it) for their wedding, which took place on this site in 1282. Despite the age of this ancient building, the 14 comfortable rooms in the castle—three of which are in the tower—and the attached Cottage House feature modern creature comforts and top-drawer amenities, including TV, mini-bar, signature toiletries, plush robes, and free Wi-Fi. The on-site restaurant dishes up tasty regional cuisine, including its popular chicken stewed in a clay pot with potatoes, pearl onions, mustard, slices of bacon, and fresh tomato, plus for dessert, the requisite Portuguese chocolate mousse.
If you wander through the regal gardens of this 14th-century estate once owned by King Pedro I, take note of the crumbling walls, stately fountain, and ancient trees that long ago set the scene for the king’s torrid, illicit love affair with Inês de Castro—an affair that ended tragically in her murder in 1355. Today, this member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group welcomes guests into 52 elegant rooms and suites either in the palace or in the newer garden and spa buildings. With two pools, a nine-hole pitch and putt course, and a full-service spa, there are plenty of opportunities to relax. Meals are served in the elegant Arcadas Restaurant, in the more casual Pedro & Inês, or in the cozy Gastrobar, where you can order snacks and refreshments.
Perched atop ancient Moorish ruins near São Jorge Castle, this venerable palace has undergone many transformations since construction first began in 1449. At one point it belonged to explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral, renowned for “discovering” Brazil, and later it housed Portuguese nobility. The palace wasn’t affected by the devastating earthquake of 1755, but it did undergo several restorations over the years before it was designated a National Monument in 1910. Now, it is one of the most distinguished hotels in the capital. You won’t find TVs anywhere (which for some is a bonus), but you will find hospitality befitting royalty and 10 unique suites filled with classical as well as contemporary furnishings and amenities. Gardens showcase a black marble infinity swimming pool, and a wide terrace reveals scenic views of the ancient Alfama District below.
This fabulously ornate fairy-tale palace set in an enchanting forest is one of the most romantic hotels in the world. Built in 1888 for the last king of Portugal, it is a masterpiece of intricate Manueline architecture, with corridors lined with typical blue and white azulejo tiles and exposed stone arches. The 60 spacious guest rooms and suites—some with balconies and private terraces—are decked out in the trappings of “old” Portugal and enhanced by modern-day amenities. Don’t expect an abundance of 21st-century frills, but all rooms do offer satellite TV, direct-dial telephones, and heat (a true luxury in an old building), while others also have mini-bars and air-conditioning. The formal dining room, which specializes in regional cuisine, is the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable dining experience.
Swap today’s stressors for tranquility in a remodeled 12th-century Cistercian monastery and one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group. Set deep in the woods of Peneda-Gerês National Park, the 32-room sanctuary features contemporary amenities (including Wi-Fi), but the minimalist decor fits the historic setting. An outdoor swimming pool and tennis courts beckon sporting types, and the onsite restaurant—located in the monastery’s kitchen—serves traditional northern Portuguese fare either indoors or outdoors in candlelit cloisters.
Located on the banks of the Rio Douro and less than two miles from the World Heritage City of Porto, this luxurious hotel with 87 rooms and suites consists of two historic buildings: an 18th-century palace once owned by Portuguese nobility and a 19th-century soap factory. A member of the Leading Hotels of the World group, it promises a regal experience with world-class amenities, including outdoor and indoor swimming pools, a Turkish bath, a Jacuzzi, and a spa offering signature treatments. Bar Nasoni is the place for wonderful river views, all-day dining, and regional wines, while the sophisticated Palatium Restaurant dishes up more formal fare highlighting local products and traditional Portuguese dishes.
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