Staying In A Convent In The Middle Of Alentejo

Described by The Guardian as the new Tuscany or, even better, the more affordable Tuscany, Alentejo is one of the destinations you can’t afford to miss ou when you visit Portugal. The wine is amazing, it’s where half of the Portuguese wine production is done. The food is very rich, sometimes rustic but always really tasty with black pork, sheep’s cheese, wild mushrooms as some of the typical dishes you should definitely try. Culturally there’s an abundance of history to discover while visiting roman ruins, castles, museums, wineries or churches from many centuries ago.Alter do Chão Castle – Built In The 13th Century

Since returning to Portugal, Alentejo has become one of the regions I’ve visited the most whenever I have the chance. It’s relatively close to Lisbon and it’s usually warmer and drier plus hotels tend to be cheaper there. This Easter I had some holidays to take so with temperatures around 26° c, that’s 79 F,  I decided to go to Alter do Chão. The idea was to find a nice hotel with a swimming pool inside a small village so I wouldn’t have to go far looking for restaurants. After doing some research, I discovered the Hotel Convento d’Alter, a XVII Franciscan convent that was converted into a beautiful hotel. I’ve added some pictures of the swimming pool although it looks even better once you’re there, sitting on a lounge chair with this incredible view around you. It helped that we were one of the only guests staying at the hotel so the whole space was basically only for my partner and me.

Swimming Pool At The Convent

Quick Access To The Swimming Pool

Canopy beds in some rooms
Now as for the service, irreprehensible, they were really nice to us, very helpful giving suggestions on what to do and see and they even gave us an upgrade giving us a bedroom on the bottom floor, next to the swimming (if you decide to visit, tell them you’d prefer to stay on the ground floor). It was great to just go in for a nap or to get some drinks and be by the pool so instantly. All this for just 117 euros, quite a great price for two nights.

Find out more here.

What to do in Alter do Chão

castelo alter

1. Visit A Medieval Castle – Apart from lounging by the pool, we went around the village and climbed the many stairs of the medieval castle that is right in the centre of the city. It costs 2 euros to go in. There’s an elevator for those with low mobility but if you can, use the stairs, its not only a great workout but you get to feel what it must have been like to live in those days, moving in big armours around the small passways and narrow stairs. Parts of the castle were built during the Muslim occupation but the castle as it is today was rebuilt in 1359.

Coudelaria de Alter do Chão
2. Ride a horse in the Coudelaria de Alter do Chão – Founded in 1748, the goal was to “breed horses for the royal horsemanship“. This stud farm is where Alter Real studs are bred and there’s even an annual auction where breeders or farmers can buy these or other Portuguese horses. There are tours taking place every day in Coudelaria, you can visit the stables and the museum, you can book horse-riding lessons or even practice falconry with experts. Tours take place twice a day, at 11 am and 3 pm but I would advise you to call and confirm the dates they’re open to the public.

Booking Telephone: 961733371 / 245610064 | Email: cri@alterreal.pt.

3. Walk in a Roman Bridge – Although not in Alter do Chão, you can’t miss out this piece of history. This roman bridge in Vila Formosa was built in the 1st or 2nd century and it was part of the roman empire road system that connected Lisbon to Mérida in Spain, at the time the capital of Lusitania. It was so well built, that nowadays, 21 centuries after, cars can still circulate on it.

food_alter

4. Enjoy the Alentejo Cuisine at the Restaurante Páteo Real – Try some of the marvelous Alentejo cuisine in this restaurant right next to the Convento D’Alter Hotel. A roasted leg of lamb or a lamb stew, grilled black pork, together with some good Alentejo wine and bread to dip into the sauce. Unpretentious and delicious.

If you’re planning to take some days off, just to catch up on some reading and sleeping like I did, or if you want to visit high Alentejo, its vineyards and its rich history, Alter do Chão is a great option.

 

4 Best Summer Music Festivals In Portugal 2017

Taken from: http://www.festivalkoning.nl/festival/nos-alive-alges-portugal/
  1. NOS ALIVE 7, 8, 9 July 2017

Location: Algés, Lisbon

This is one of the most famous festivals in Portugal. It’s cheap, the three-day pass costs €129, easily accessible, close to Lisbon and the train will leave you right at the door, and the lineup is usually one of the best. It offers an eclectic mix of pop, rock and indie music. You can stay in Lisbon and travel daily, stay by the beach in one of the beaches of the Cascais area, or even camp in Algés. Now for the bad news, the normal 3-day pass is sold out, but you can still buy the 3-day pass that includes camping for around €20 euros more, €146 or a daily ticket for €59. Find all the info at the festival’s website here. And if by the time you check, they’re sold out, you can always try and find second-hand tickets on Facebook. Troca e Venda de Bilhetes and Bilhetes.

LINEUP (so far)

6th July 7th July 8th July
Heineken Stage
Ryan Adams  Warpaint Cage The Elephant
 Blossoms Wild Beasts
Spoon
Rhye Parov Stelar Peaches 
Glass Animals Savages Fleet Foxes 
Royal Blood Local Natives  Floating Points (solo live)
Bonobo (live) Benjamin Booker 
The Avalanches
NOS Stage
Alt-J Foo Fighters Depeche Mode
The xx The Cult Imagine Dragons
The Weeknd The Kills Kodaline
Phoenix Courteeners
Tiago Bettencourt

2. Super Bock, Super Rock 13th to 15th July 2017

Location: Lisbon

It’s a rock festival, born in the nineties. It’s the only one on the list that doesn’t include camping since it’s right inside the city of Lisbon. The three-day pass €109 or the daily pass for €55. If you’re into something fancy you can always buy the three-day VIP pass for €250. Check the festival’s website for more info. Tickets can be purchased here.

LINEUP (so far)

13 Julho 14 Julho 15 Julho
Palco Carlsberg
Tuxedo
Palco Super Bock
 Red Hot Chili Peppers London Grammar Deftones
 Capitão Fausto Foster The People 
Palco EDP
Boogarins  Tyler, The Creator James Vincent McMorrow
Kevin Morby Slow J Bruno Pernadas
 The Orwells Seu Jorge
TaxiWars 

 

3. Festival Sudoeste 1st to 5th August 2017

Location: Zambujeira Do Mar, Alentejo

The Sudoeste Festival is a 5 day event that takes place in Alentejo, more precisely Zambujeira do Mar. There will be three stages with different artists playing simultaneously. Ticket prices start at €48 for one day. And €105 for 5 days. You can camp on location or rent a house around the area. You can buy the tickets here.

1 Ago 2 Ago 3 Ago 4 Ago 5 Ago
Palco MEO
The Chainsmokers  DJ Snake   Crystal Fighters
Jamiroquai
 Richie Campbell
 Two Door Cinema Club Lil Wayne  
Mac Miller Mishlawi Martin Garrix  
Marshmello Dua Lupa

 

4. Vodafone Paredes de Coura – 16th, 17th, 18th 19th August 2017

Location: Paredes de Coura, North of Portugal

This is one of the oldest festivals in Portugal, it started more than 20 years ago, and it’s still one of music lovers favourite because it tends to mix big famous bands with relatively new bands who sooner or later are going to become big. It takes place in the North, in Paredes de Coura, on the grounds of the fluvial beach of Taboão. As for the price, you can buy the full festival ticket for €90. Find out more on the Festival’s website. Buy the tickets here or here.

LINEUP (so far)

 16 a 19 Agosto
Future Islands
At the Drive In
Beach House
!!!
BadBadNotGood
Foals 
 Benjamin Clementine
 Car Seat Headrest
 TY Segall
Nick Murphy
BEAK>
HO99O9
Sunflower Bean
Manel Cruz
Moon Duo
Foxygen
Young Fathers 
Andy Shauf 
YCWCB 
Mão Morta
King Krule

 

My First Glamping Experience

Let me just start by saying that this kind of holiday may not be fit for those who don’t like bees or any other insects and reptiles. I returned safe and sound, despite the quite considerable amount of time running, jumping, relocating and screaming involved, mainly because of bees. Now back to my fabulous glamping weekend. As you know, glamping is an alternative for those who want to have all the freedom of camping minus the back pain and the gymnastics of trying to get dressed in small spaces. And freedom and nature was what I had at my glamorous yurt at the ecological farm Quinta de São José dos Montes.

I left Lisbon on a very hot Friday afternoon and arrived at night time at Olalhas, a small town close to Tomar, where we were going to stay. As I got to the reception I was given a key to my yurt and told how to get there. The yurts were located 5 minutes away (by car) from the main hotel, and to get there we had to go through a bit of a rocky path, into the woods until finding a glade. It was night time, so it was both incredible and scary being in the middle of nowhere and just hearing owls, crickets and dogs barking in the distance (I’ve seen too many horror movies, I know). The area where the camping was set was beautifully decorated, there were wooden pathways, connecting all the yurts together and mushroom shaped lamps, illuminating the space at night. Just gorgeous and magical.

The first thing that struck us when getting into our Mongolian tent, was how spacious and well decorated it was. But the most awe moment was when I looked up and saw the dark sky above us. We could see the sky from our bed. How amazing is that? The bed was really comfortable and all the space absolutely done to perfection, with a couch, a desk and a boiler for those winter days.

Wondering around the camp I found a tent in a shape of a globe which I later found out to be a training centre, used for yoga workshops, spiritual retreats, trance dancing, amongst other things. There was also a cabin with a fully functional kitchen and living room. Now the bathrooms, this was a special challenge of its own. Since this is an ecological camp, the showers are outdoors, the men’s urinals are outdoors and, you guessed it, the ladies toilets are outdoors. And, despite being really clean, there were spiders and friendly bugs walking around. There’s also no flush, so you do your thing into a hole (there’s a toilet bowl yet no flush) and then you throw a mix of wood bark chipping inside with the help of a small shovel. It was a challenge but it was really fun at the same time. When it comes to the shower, if you want a hot one you’ll need to make a small fire. It’s all good and all explained to you when you get there. We ended up always showering with cold water or in the bathroom by the swimming pool, which is a normal bathroom.

View from the swimming pool

Breakfast and the swimming pool are all in the main house area so it meant we ended up staying a lot of time here, my partner reading and me running from bees mostly and also enjoying the pool. The view to the countryside, the horses in the fields next to us, it was all so relaxing and peaceful. There was also a table and a barbeque for those who want to cook outside. I mean, the owners of this place thought of everything, it was amazing. Surprisingly enough, despite how cool this place was, there were no other guests in the yurts, this space was just ours, even the swimming pool at the farm.

Insider tips:

  • If you’re not taking a car or even if you are I would suggest you take food and drinks with you, the location of this Farm is remote so it’s not like you can just walk to a cafe and ask for food.
  • I don’t know if it was the lovely ceiling opening but there were a lot of mosquitos in the tent, they didn’t bother me that much but my partner seemed to have been a feast for those hungry creatures. Take mosquito repellent or if you prefer a more natural solution like eucalyptus leaves which you can find in the woods around the yurts.
  • If you don’t want to have the full ecological experience you can always shower in the bathroom, next to the swimming pool in the main building.
  • If you’re staying in a tipi or a yurt, take a lantern, at night you might want to go to the bathroom and it’s easier if you have one.
  • At this farm, you can also stay at a tipi, a cone-shaped tent used by indigenous people in America and also Europe and Asi. If you’d like a more conventional holiday we can also stay at an apartment or even rent a bed in a dorm.

In terms of activities, there are lots things going on at the Farm. From star gazing with experts to renting paddling boards, to horse riding classes, hands-on biological agriculture, equestrian therapy, visiting the pedagogical farm. Once you book the trip the hotel will contact you giving you all the options.

Curious about the farm? I found a video.

Distance from Lisbon:

2h32min

Activities on the farm:

Horse riding

Paddle Boarding Rental

Star observation (advisable for bigger groups). Book it here www.+ciencia.pt

Courses, retreats, workshops and more here (pt version only).

To book the same adventure I had click here.

A Weekend Away In Alentejo – Grândola

I love to plan mini-breaks, it’s actually been proven how good they are for our general health. To be able to just drive somewhere with a few items of clothing in a bag and not many plans except lounging by the pool and venturing in small towns.

And that’s why I decided to take a warm September weekend to go to Alentejo and explore a little bit of this region, an undiscovered region for me and many other travellers. I chose Hotel Rural Santa Bárbara dos Mineiros in Lousal, a pyrite mining village part of the Grândola municipality. The reason? It was close to Lisbon yet felt isolated enough. Also, the price was great and the swimming pool seemed delicious.

Hotel Piscina

The hotel’s decoration was inspired by the mining and rural traditions of the area, at the reception you can even find a cows’s bell, sitting there, waiting for you to ring it and alert the receptionist of visitors. As for the location, it was exactly what I expected, remote yet easy to access, with a few cafes, a restaurant and beautiful gardens surrounding the area. The swimming pool looked as appealing as in the pictures and next to it an outdoor bar with foosball, table games and a paintball machine. By the pool there was also a gym with lots of aquatic accessories for children and adults. I really enjoyed a nap on the pool mattress, there were also badminton racquets and free bikes to explore the area (note: If you decide to take the bikes, be wary of the many dogs wandering outside the hotel, they were all nice to us but they did bark and follow us around). For those who want to stay in, the living room at the hotel has a DVD room and even more table games. As for the rooms, they were decorated with a simplicity that really reminded me of an old Alentejo house.

What to do?

  • Friday evening
The parade in the medieval fair

There are parties all year round in the little villages surrounding Lousal. You can ask at the front desk for information. In our case, since we went in September, we got to go to a very fun Medieval Fair, taking place in a village called Alvalade. The entrance cost was €3.50 and it was worth every single coin. There were actors re-enacting medieval times, walking around in horses, selling medieval food and drinks, traditional games, including shooting real arrows, and lots of handicraft articles on offer. We even joined in on a medieval banquet. Click here to see videos of previous years.

  • Satuday
Badoca Safari Park

We started the day with an amazing breakfast, fresh orange juice, toasts with jam, Alentejo hams and homemade cakes. Feeling full and happy, we headed to the Badoca Safari Park, an animal park merely 40 minutes away. There were barely any signs pointing to the park so it was a bit tricky to find it but with the help of the GPS and with a lot of asking around we got there. This is a great adventure if you have kids, but even if you don’t it was so much fun. Doing a safari with a guide, we got to travel around the park, stopping by the animals and learning fun facts about them. Being close to giraffes, buffalos, lions, flamingos, gorillas and baboons was wonderful. But the highlight of the day was the trip down the rapids. For €2,5 extra you can “descend the river” on an African raft. We did it twice and ended up soaking wet which was very refreshing after a hard day in the sun. I wouldn’t recommend it on the winter thought. Returning to the hotel we stopped for a quick bite in a bakery in Santo André and then back to the hotel for some swimming pool time and a Trivial Pursuit challenge. We ate at the hotel since we were tired and didn’t want to go too far. I would suggest this if you just want to enjoy a night in and don’t want to take the car.

  • Sunday

We decided to go and explore the Centro de Ciência Viva. For €4,50 we got to see minerals and learn more about rocks and the mines, in times the epicentre of the region. The tour was great but I would recommend more for children. There are lots of interactive areas with things to test and play with, exactly my type of museum. We ended up not visiting the actual mines.

Porco

We had lunch at Armazém Central, right by our hotel, the restaurant had excellent reviews on Tripadvisor and was highly recommended by some friends. The best part of the whole experience was hearing the Cante Alentejano group singing as we ate. The funny thing was, the singers were by our side, eating lunch with their wives and they would get up every now and again to sing. Beautiful idea.

Summing it up, the weekend felt like a week’s holiday. We went back in time right into medieval times, we ate really well, slept late, pedalled away, running from dogs, discovered the science of mines and even went on a Safari. All in 2 and half days.

 

Travel Time

From Lisbon to Lousal 1h26m

Cost

Tolls and Gas: 50

Hotel: €96 with breakfast included

Badoca Safari Park: €17,90 per person + 2,5€ rapid descent

Centro Ciência Viva – Science Centre: 4,50€ per person

Lunch: Armazém Central – 32€ with drinks and one dessert

One Day In Guimarães

Following my stay in Guimarães, I had a few days to discover the city and see why it’s so special. Here are my suggestions of places to visit, eat and hang out.

One Day In Guimarães

The historic centre

In The Morning – Start your day with a visit to the historical center, classified by UNESCO as Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Lose yourself in the narrow cobbled streets and you’ll feel like you’re back in medieval times. While walking around the center I ended up at a leather tannery from the XIX century. There were no tourists and no English explanation of what it was but it was great to make guesses of what it could be while walking around and taking pictures of the area.

Rua dos Couros

In the meantime, I made a little research and it was interesting to find out that all the tanks belonged to a factory called Mirandas, Ferreira & Carvalho, Lda that stopped working in the XX century. It started with a small conglomerate of small industries which got together and formed the company. They would also rent the space to individuals who wanted to treat their own animal skins and produce leather. If you want to know more about the process used to transform animal skin into leather you can go here but let’s just say it involved having the animals’ skin dipped in urine and then soaking it in animal feces, in particular dog and pigeon feces, also called dung.

In the afternoon – Right, after this lovely description and if you are still up for lunch head up to O Histórico, it’s one of the most known restaurants in the city. Here you’ll be able to sample some of the flavors of Minho.

Tradicional cuisine

After a big meal which I am sure they will serve you, it’s time for a sesta, portuguese for nap, at least that’s what I would do. But if you still have some strength to keep going, I would suggest you head to the palace of the Dukes of Bragança. At the front desk, you will be able to buy a ticket for the three of the attractions in the area. For 8 euros you will get an entry to this palace, the Castle and the Alberto Sampaio Museum (they offer discounts for children). Starting at the Palace of the Dukes de Bragança, here you will see Decorative Arts from the 17th and 18th centuries, armors and weapons, tapestry and porcelain from the Portuguese East India Company. What struck me about this palace was the fact that it was built around 1420. The palace was also used as a military building during Napoleon Invasions and it was the official residence of the Portuguese dictator Salazar. And this is just a brief glimpse of what you can discover inside.

After the palace, head up to the Guimarães Castle. Built in the 10th century, it was intended to protect a monastery from the Moors and Norsemen (scandinavian vikings) and eventually was the birthplace of Portugal’s first king Afonso I.

Very close by, is the Alberto Sampaio Museum. This museum features classical religious art and inside you can find a beautiful garden.

If you’re anything like me, at this time you will be tired of so much history. If you want to take a break, and experience history in a different way, visit the Pastelaria Clarinha. Nothing beats the quintessential Portuguese experience of stopping at a bakery and enjoying an expresso or a meia de leite (half a cup of coffee and milk) with a delicious cake. You can stop by at any bakery, most of the ones I tried were great, but this one was highly recommended by everyone.

Nighttime – I know I’ve just mentioned stopping to get some food but here we go again. I would start the night with dinner at the Real Plazza, which is a no-frills restaurant with endless choices of francesinhas.

Northern cuisine at it’s best

The francesinha, which in English means “the frenchie”, is a sandwich made with bread, cured ham, chorizo, roast meat, fresh sausage, melted cheese and covered in hot tomato and beer sauce, which is usually a secret, served with french fries. It’s a dish originally from Porto but if you try it here you won’t be disappointed.

Guimaraes by night

End the night at the Largo do Toural, trying some drinks in some of the bars in this area. I did kind of a pub crawl around here and I had a lot of fun.


What to Put on your phone GPS

The Tanneries

Rua de Couros or Largo da Cidade for the Leather Tannery (Zona dos Couros in Portuguese)

For Lunch

Restaurant O Histórico

R. de Valdonas 4, Guimarães

Palace of the Dukes of Braganza – R. Conde Dom Henrique, 4810-245 Guimarães

Alberto Sampaio Museum – Rua de Alfredo Guimarães, 4800-407 Guimarães

For a snack

Pastelaria Clarinha (The Bakery) – Largo do Toural 86-88, Guimarães 4810-427, Portugal

For Dinner

Real Plazza  Rua Fernando Pessoa 101, Guimaraes 4800-176

Night out 

Tour the several bars in the square – Largo do Toural

 

 

The Best Hotels In Guimarães

I needed some rest, so nothing like a few days in Minho, the most northern region of Portugal, the land of green wine and of great people to relax and de-stress. When looking in the map, Guimarães seemed to be the best spot where to stay since it has a lot of history and places to visit and it’s quite close to all the other cities I wanted to visit. So, here I am and since I have some free time, here’s a list of my carefully selected hotels in Guimarães. Enjoy!

  1. Santa Luzia ArtHotel 
Swimming Pool
Santa Luzia ArtHotel Swimming Pool

I’m writing this as I’m sitting down at the nice hotel living room, with a warming fireplace in front of me. I am going to be biased on this one since this is the hotel where I’m staying on this trip. The Santa Luzia ArtHotel is a 4-star hotel with a 5-star treatment. I got an upgrade, luckely enough, which meant a bigger room in the first floor, with a robe and slippers waiting for me, a big bathroom and a large bed. If you like spending some time with a book by the swimming pool like me then you can’t fail with this hotel. The swimming pool is an amazing alternative for those days when you just want to take a break. There’s also a Turkish bath, a sauna and a steam room to release all those toxins of city life.

Explore it here.

Average Price: £69 | $113

Address: Rua Francisco Agra, 100, 4500-157 Guimarães

 

2. Pousada Mosteiro de Guimarães

This is the only 5-star hotel in Guimarães and even if you don’t stay here this is a place that it’s really worth a visit. The Pousada Mosteiro de Guimarães is part of a group of historic landmarks around the country that were transformed into hotels. This hotel, in particular, is located inside a 12th-century convent and the rooms are set in what used to be the cloisters where the monks used to stay. The Pousada Mosteiro de Guimarães is not right in the center of the historic old town but at the top of a mountain overlooking the city. If you want peace and quiet while staying in a luxurious setting this is the place to be.

Average Price: $100 | £81

Address: Largo Domingos Leite de Castro, 4810-011 Guimarães

Explore it here.

3. Hotel da Oliveira

Hotel Oliveira
Located in the old town

This hotel is located in the historic center of Guimarães, a city considered UNESCO World Heritage. From the Hotel da Oliveira, you can visit all the hot spots in this city by foot or even with a bicycle which you can rent at the hotels’ front desk. For those lazy rainy days, when you just want to sit with a good book, this hotel has a library, so you can just pick a book and sit by the bar with the latest novel.

Average Price: $78 | £51

Address: Rua de Santa Maria, Largo da Oliveira4800-300 Guimarães

Explore it here.

4. Hotel Toural

Toural Hotel

Again, another little gem in the heart of Guimarães. Located in a square where the cattle fair used to take place in the 17th century, hotel Toural is surrounded by history. This hotel is a walk away from all the touristic spots in Guimarães and only 150 meters from the famous medieval castle built in the 10th century. As for the hotel, the rooms here are big but cozy and the breakfast absolutely delicious.

Average Price: $60 | £49

Address: Largo A L Carvalho, 4800-153 Guimarães

Explore it here.

5. Open Village Sports Hotel & Spa Club

Open Village Sports Hotel & Spa Club
Open Village Sports Hotel & Spa Club

Two swimming pools, a luxurious spa and tennis courts, make up for the fact that this hotel is a bit further away from the city center. The Open Village Sports Hotel & Spa Hotel Club, has free parking as well, and at the restaurant, you can try the best of what Portuguese cuisine has to offer.

Average Price: $57 | £44

Address: Travessa da Ribeira 629, Mesão Frio, 4810-235 Guimarães, Portugal

Explore it here.