A Passion for Portugal
This is the first of a series of posts about my recent short trip to Central Portugal. I’m still reflecting and putting together the photos and stories from our travels around this fascinating and unspoilt area. But, I’m excited and want to share. So this is just a quick photo montage and a little about our itinerary to give you a taste for the passion that made this trip so very special.
I’m not entirely sure how I ended up on a trip where the focus was walking, cycling and bird watching. As anyone who has read my articles before will realise, I am more often found in the restaurant than in the field. But, I’m very glad I ended up where I did. I’ve seen vultures and eagles. I’ve met some wonderful people, a very friendly goat and a deer who thinks the goat is his mother. And I’ve walked through the sort of meadows of flowers that just don’t exist in this country any more.
Our first stop was at Casa dos Pocas – Villa Torpim. This ten roomed hotel has a hot tub, sauna and small but stunning outdoor pool with a hydrotherapy shower. It was the first of many surprises, a fabulous boutique hotel in a tiny, quiet hamlet. Half of our group were staying there for the night while the others went on to stay at Casa da Cisterna in Castelo Rodrigo, where we spent the evening enjoying the hospitality of owner Ana Berliner.
After a traditional supper of Portuguese food, we went off to the Foz Coa Archaeological Park to see the engravings by night, guided by Ana, whose passion for the area as a whole and for these very special paleolithic engravings was infectious.
Then back to our hotels for bed, sleep and a hearty breakfast.
It was raining when we woke the next day and the idea of a trip to Faia Brava Nature Reserve the next day to walk and see some of the birds was not top of my personal agenda. In fact the hot tub, hamman and sauna in the hotel we’d been staying in really did seem like a better option. But as we arrived, the weather cleared and once again the passion and enthusiasm of the people working in the reserve took over. We were guided by two of the scientists who work at the reserve, and saw a whole variety of birds of prey in flight and nesting as well as learning more about how the reserve operates.
On to Herdade da Poupa for a trip by open jeep across the 4000 hectare park to learn a little about the wildlife in the park, a reception by the river Tejo and then dinner back at the hotel.
Breakfast outside, watching the house martins building their nests before we set off to Monsanto, a medieval village built into the boulders of the mountain top.
What was described on the itinerary as a ‘light’ lunch at Petiscos and Granitos Restaurant but which seemed to involve several Portuguese dishes designed to fuel a mountain lifestyle before the more adventurous of the group set off on mountain bikes down the mountain to Idanha a Velha, while some of us took advantage of a more leisurely walk to see the countryside and people.
At Serra da Estrela natural park the minibus heaved its way up to the top of the highest mountain in Portugal, to Casa das Penhas Douradas where we met owner João Tomás. He told us how he’d left his previous life as a lawyer in Lisbon to restore and develop the hotel and spa. And then, looking for another challenge, how he and his wife had taken over a near to bankrupt local factory making a traditional Portuguese felted woollen fabric called burel. We dined in style on Modern Portuguese cuisine before settling in for a well deserved rest.
Then, on our final morning, after breakfast, more walking or mountain biking, learning about the history and geology of the area.
Lunch looking out over the valley and then a drive back to the airport.
Somehow, we seemed to have managed to pack a seven day itinerary into three. And, none of us could quite believe that we’d only arrived on Wednesday evening and were leaving on Saturday. There’s so much to write about, so much passion to share, I do hope that I can give you a taste for this little known part of Portugal.