The pages of Portugal’s illustrious history are imprinted with sagas not only of daring seafaring explorers, but also of tales of passion, lust and unrequited love in royal circles.
Fortunately, modern-day explorers can experience remnants of Portugal’s colorful past, tucked into posh palaces, regal castles and serene monasteries, now transformed into luxurious hotels offering 21st century comforts and memorable overnights.
Quinta das Lágrimas (Estate of Tears) | Coimbra
Relics from the past pave the way to a luxurious stay — Photo courtesy of Michelle da Silva Richmond
If you wander through the regal gardens of Coimbra's 14th century Quinta das Lágrimas, once owned by King Pedro, you're sure to stumble upon remnants of the torrid, illicit love affair between the king and his mistress, Inês de Castro. Their romance ended tragically with her murder – on the property.
Now, a rippling brook (whose rocks are allegedly stained with her blood), crumbling walls, a stately fountain and other vestiges of the past offer the outdoor framework for what is now a posh hotel. This member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World welcomes travelers into 52 elegant rooms and suites in either the original palace or in the newer garden and spa buildings.
Two pools, a nine-hole pitch and putt course, and a full-service spa assure total relaxation. Meals are served in the elegant Arcadas Restaurante, the more casual Pedro & Inês, or in the cozy gastro bar.
Pousada Castelo de Óbidos | Lisbon
Meandering stone stairs lead to one of the castle's towers — Photo courtesy of Michelle da Silva Richmond
The complimentary cherry liqueur (ginja) served in a small chocolate cup on check-in at the Pousada Castelo de Óbidos is the first hint of the unique journey you're about to embark on as you step into a kinder, gentler time. Housed in a 12th century castle given by King Dinis to his wife Queen Isabel on their wedding day on this site in 1282, this boutique hotel features 14 comfortable rooms inside the castle – three of them in the tower – and in the attached Cottage House.
Throughout, you’ll be treated to modern creature comforts and first-class amenities, including TV, mini-bar, safe, signature toiletries, plush robes and free Wi-Fi. The restaurant’s location in the castle offers a regal stage on which to indulge in tasty regional cuisine, including the renowned Portuguese chocolate mousse, a requisite finale to any meal.
Tivoli Palácio de Seteais Hotel | Sintra
Elegant décor is evident throughout Seteais — Photo courtesy of Michelle da Silva Richmond
Dating from 1787, the stunning Tivoli Palácio de Seteais Hotel is cloaked in mysterious tales concerning the origin of its name, "Seven Sighs." One relates to a Christian knight who arrived in "Xentra" (modern-day Sintra) during the Moorish occupation, a proverbial damsel in distress locked in the tower, and the inevitable tragic ending.
Today, the UNESCO World Heritage site and boutique luxury hotel houses 30 elegant rooms showcasing priceless antiques and rich décor punctuated by impeccable services, paving the way to regal memories. Dine in splendor in the classy restaurant to the sounds of live piano music – played, of course, on an antique piano – before slipping into the cozy wine bar for a nightcap.
A pool and small spa promise a soothing place in which to relax after a day of sightseeing.
Palácio Belmonte | Lisbon
An ancient window offers a view of the modern world below — Photo courtesy of Pálacio Belmonte
Perched atop one of Lisbon's seven hills on ancient Moorish and Roman ruins near São Jorge Castle, the charming Palácio Belmonte has experienced many transformations since construction first began in 1449. Home to Portuguese nobility for some 500 years and one-time residence of explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral, European discoverer of Brazil, it has become one of the most distinguished hotels in the Portuguese capital.
You won’t find TVs anywhere, but you will find hospitality befitting royalty in each of the 10 unique suites boasting classical as well as 21st century furnishings and amenities. Lush gardens showcase a black marble infinity swimming pool and a wide terrace revealing breathtaking views of the ancient Alfama District below.
What to do when you're staying in an 800-year-old Irish castle
What to do when you're staying in an 800-year-old Irish castle
Pestana Palácio do Freixo | Porto
Magical Palácio do Freixo shimmers along the Douro by night — Photo courtesy of Palácio do Freixo
Located on the tranquil banks of the Rio Douro, less than two miles from the World Heritage City of Porto, the luxurious Pestana Palácio do Freixo – a member of The Leading Hotels of the World – features 87 rooms and suites incorporated in two historic buildings: an 18th century palace once owned by Portuguese nobility and a 19th century soap factory.
It promises a regal experience with world-class amenities including outdoor and indoor swimming pools, Turkish bath, Jacuzzi and Magic Spa featuring signature treatments. Guestrooms are furnished with heating, air conditioning, cable TV, mini bar, hair dryer, safe, telephone and free Wi-Fi.
Bar Nasoni is the place for mesmerizing river views, all-day dining and regional wines, while Palatium Restaurant dishes up more formal fare as well as traditional Portuguese cuisine.
Palace Hotel do Buçaco | Luso
Regal touches from days gone by add to the magical experience — Photo courtesy of Michelle da Silva Richmond
Built in 1885 for the last king of Portugal in a proverbial "enchanted forest," the fabulously ornate, fairy tale Palace Hotel do Buçaco is said to be one of the most romantic hotels in the world. Manueline architecture sweeps through corridors lined with typical blue "azulejos" (tiles) and exposed stone arches. These remarkable corridors lead to 60 spacious guestrooms and suites showcasing trappings of old Portugal enhanced by some modern-day amenities.
Don’t expect overwhelming 21st century frills, but all rooms do offer satellite TV, hair dryer, direct-dial telephone and heat. Some have mini-bar and A/C, balconies and private terraces. The formal dining room serves as the perfect backdrop to an elegant dining experience featuring unforgettable regional fare.
Pousada Mosteiro de Amares | Santa Maria do Bouro
Tranquility around every corner at the Mosteiro de Amares — Photo courtesy of Pousada Mosteiro de Amares
Step back in time for awhile and swap contemporary stressors for a tranquil stay in a remodeled 12th century Cistercian monastery, now a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Set in the deep woods of Peneda-Geres National Park, the 32-room Pousada Mosteiro de Amares offers a tranquil sanctuary and minimalistic décor with contemporary amenities (including Wi-Fi) in the historical setting.
An outdoor swimming pool and tennis courts offer a sports break. The onsite restaurant – located in the monastery’s kitchen – showcases traditional northern Portuguese cuisine, served indoors or outdoors in candle-lit cloisters.