You are going to Portugal this summer. Of course you are. When I went there last month, they had already started to arrive: the crowds of Portugal fans who keep the country on the perpetual travel list. And so, the secret to a heavenly vacation there, despite the crowds: two properties to visit before anyone else.
Palacio Ludovice Wine Hotel How the capital of a country with more than 300 grape varieties not have a wine hotel? Here’s the first one, and it’s a palace. Literally: the former private residence of João Frederico Ludovice, architect of King João V in the 18th century, features 18th century white and blue tiles, balconies with a breathtaking view of the city, a chapel with Masonic symbols, frescoes , stucco ceilings and a majestic staircase, all painstakingly restored by the Portuguese architect Miguel Câncio Martins, known for his work on the Buddha Bar in Paris and the Opium in London. The slice of history in the heart of Lisbon opened earlier this year, with 61 absurdly comfortable rooms and suites.
And, yes, wine. It is everywhere: in the tasting room adjacent to the lobby; at the bar, an old cellar with a wall full of Portuguese varieties; in the design scheme, green carpets and brass balconies are adorned with elegant vines; in the small gym, which used to be the Solar do Vinho do Porto; and – the best! – in your room, where every night a small bottle and a candy appear as if by magic.
At the magnificent FEDERICO restaurant, the local cuisine with French accents is both gourmet and creative: Enjoy Chanfana, a traditional Portuguese goat stew served with truffle mashed potatoes and turnip greens; monkfish carpaccio with passion fruit; cod confit with chickpeas and pig’s trotters with coriander; and pastel de nata with coffee ice cream and caramel sauce. Of course, the charming and wise sommeliers Armindo Saraiva and Tânia Silva are there to oversee your pairings and make sure you try the really special wines from the awe-inspiring wine list, like Tinta Negra from Madeira and Alicante Bouschet from Italy. Algarve.
Hotel Casa Palmela A few days in a wine hotel will make you want to sleep in a vineyard. Hotel Casa Palmela allows you to do just that, while offering vast golden sandy beaches, a national park crowned with chalky cliffs and an ancient monastery, villages steeped in local traditions, in an area little known to the masses, only 30 minutes from Lisbon. .
Arrábida, a 10,000 hectare natural park nestled between the towns of Setúbal, Azeitão and Sesimbra, means “place of prayer” in Arabic; when checking in at the Casa Palmela hotel, located in the heart of it, you will indeed say a prayer of thanks. Situated in Quinta do Estevala beautifully named 17eCentury mansion nestled among 170 acres of rolling Syrah and Moscatel vineyards, it’s the country’s best-kept secret. At least that’s what I decided as I strolled through the park on my arrival, marveling at the perfectly perched swimming pools, the small spa designed like a humble barn, the vegetable gardens and cherry trees, the walking paths lined with corks and daisies. ‘olive trees (and soon to be the site of a cool soundscape project that lets guests experience the seasons via a Bluetooth audio experience). Wherever I thought I might want to sit and listen to the symphony of birds, or watch the sun and clouds put on a light show over majestic mountains, two chairs just sat there, waving .
After my first dinner at Hotel Casa Palmela, the chef was applauded by all. Well Named. The menu is extensive, varied and flawless: partridge soup with egg and mint, duck and sausage risotto, cod tartare with gazpacho that looks like modern art on a plate, braised John Dory with rice lime and whelks and, my favourite, the pica paua fish and seafood stew served with bowl of cocoaa thick bread dressed with basil pesto.
I was reluctant to leave the property, but – what else? – wine appealed to me. The region is home to three large wineries, including Bacalhôa Vinhos de Portugal, as well as a dozen small boutiques, such as the beautiful Quinta de Alcube, full of history and views. There was a lot more to do after that. In nearby villages like Azeitão you can learn how to make Queijo de Azeitao DOPa famous local cheese, or handmade painting azulejos tiling in São Simão, in one of the few artisan workshops in the world still in operation. Worth exploring is the sprawling 16th-century Monastery of Our Lady of Arrábida, founded in 1542 by the Franciscans and offering magnificent views. Savor fresh Sado oysters at a local oyster farm; discover the joys of a fish auction, yes, fish auction—to the history Mercado do Livramento in Setubal.
And of course hit the beach – this area is home to some of the best in the area. On one of these shores, you’ll find another hidden gem: the Farol Restaurant, where you can feast on the freshest local catches and savor the most supreme lobster curry while watching the dolphins dance – and, yes, sipping a glass of vinho verde.