When I think of Portugal, I have many happy memories of beautifulsandy beaches and apartments overlooking the sea in my youth. However, as anadult I want more from a holiday which includes culture and perhaps a bit ofromance. Fortunately for me I found the “Centre of Portugal”. The flights nowgo directly from Cork with Aer Lingus to Lisbon which is a major bonus. Valentines is just around the corner and Iwanted to share with you the undiscovered parts of this friendly country, withits great hospitality and excellent wine. Everything about this trip was quite unexpected, as the Centre of Portugal is green, pictorial and breathtakingly cultural. You cannot visit a spot that doesn’t have you in complete awe of theancient history and romantic feeling of this part of Europe. http://www.centreofportugal.com
My favourite cultural part of the visit was to the education hubthat is Coimbra. A university town that was once the capital of Portugal thereis much to see and do here. The university is built on the site of the oldpalace and boasts a baroque library. The city itself is a riverside one withmany historical buildings and cultural hot spots. We visited the Sapietia Hotel,which is a beautiful 4-star is hotel right behind the University of Coimbra.The contemporary minimalist rooms are all individually designed and have akitchenette. The one thing that struck me about this place is the amount oflight in the building. The theme of the hotel was books and wine and to behonest I felt like checking in. I found the most relaxed looking seating areawith books and I could have stayed there all day. The meal we had was superb with each coursemore delectable than the next. The highlight for me was enjoying a glass ofsparkling wine on the rooftop overlooking the magnificent city that is Coimbra.www.sapietiahotel.com. We toured the university and library with a guide andeven got to see some students receive their PHD’s. The old-world vibe inCoimbra just makes me want to revisit and spend more time there. Comibra is thehome of Pedro and Ines, Portugal’s Romeo and Juliette. Their tragic love story is told by many and isthe most famous in Portugal. We stayed in Hotel Quintas Das Lagrimas, http://www.quintadaslagrimas.pt, which is rumoured to bethe place Ines was put to death near a fountain. The 5- Star Hotel itself isfull of charm, with big rooms and typical Portuguese tiling in the bathrooms.They have added a spa and a whole new garden wing to the old house but the twomarry together perfectly. The food is Michelin quality serving localfull-bodied wines and cheeses. The hospitality of the manager and team wassecond to none. The hotel itself has a homely feel and includes a smalldeconsecrated chapel which they can use for civil ceremonies. The property is spectacularand perfectly maintained. Somehow the botanical gardens manage to retain theold-world charm of the property whilst still looking striking and exotic. Thereis such a romantic feel to the buildings and grounds, with couples of all agesmaking up the clientele. http://www.quintadaslagrimas.pt
We then made our way to themost magical palace which is situated in a forest. Built in the 1800’s forPortuguese royalty in Neomanueline style, it was later converted to a hotel.The individuality and romance of Bussaco Palace is unique. The interior is opulentand remains true to the original décor with no modernisation. The mostInstagram worthy part of the palace is the grand exterior which would make themost perfect wedding backdrop picture. The forest where it is located is soscenic with some of the best green views I have ever seen. It was truly likestepping back in time. http://www.almeidahotels.pt
We then moved further inland and up the mountains to thehistorical town of Marialva and stayed in the chalet style eco- houses at Casasdo Côro, where we sampled the local cheese, food and wine. This would make agreat stop on an adventure style holiday as the area has perfect views and amuseum and ancient chapel. They do Christmas, new years and weddings therealso, but a visit in Summer would be best as you would want to make the most ofthe outdoors. http://www.casasdocoro.pt/
One of my favourite tourswe did was a short lagoon tour in the cutest city called Aveiro. Known as thePortuguese Venice it is picturesque yet modern. The city itself is decoratedwith Art Deco style pastel buildings and the old and new marry wonderfully. Theshopping looked good also, although ours was a whistle stop tour. The gondolaride was magical and the weather gorgeous even in January. They provideblankets so that you can stay warm and perhaps get closer to your loved one. Wesaw winding cobbled streets, little local markets and sampled some of the localPortuguese Tarts. We lunched nearby and got to spend time in the sunny town of Costa Nova which has the most darling coloured houses and streets. The foodhere was superb with so much fresh fish and seafood on offer. Afterwards we moved on to visit a famous factory, the Vista Alegre Factory which was built in the 19th century to produce porcelain. It is world renowned. There is a museum attached with some of the original kilns and a myriad of teacups, saucers andfine porcelain items with influences in design from all over the globe.
We then went to visit the more contemporary Montebelo Vista AlegreÍlhavo. A modern hotel with large rooms and ultra-modern bathrooms, this hotelis a little walk away from the local town. This was my last hotel stay. www.montebelohotels.com. It was perfect for a quick overnight with some minimalistluxury. I would recommend it for business or pleasure. There was a large groupthere also for a conference which shows great versatility.
On the day wewere leaving we stopped for a gorgeous lunch and tour of Hotel Areais do Seixo.Each room is individually designed with a theme. Some of the rooms have anoutdoor jacuzzi or a bath placed in the centre of the bedroom. For me thiswould be the most fabulous place to honeymoon. There is the option of villaswhich are more practical for a family’s needs. ww.areiasdoseixo.com
All our tours were guided by Jose of Madomis tours and he was knowledgeable about the local area and the spots that might interest you. He isalso a great photographer! www.madomistours.pt. I wouldrecommend a guided tour for a part of your holiday if you are hoping to take inthe most cultural spots and they can also advise of the best places to visit. Ofcourse, you can also use them for just a private transfer. Portugal, the undiscovered parts are a must see.