Luxury on top of a Mountain: Casa Das Penhas Douradas
The van clambered up a steep and ancient road. The Portuguese road network is for the most part remarkably modern and well maintained, even small villages have perfectly laid roads where you might have expected cobbles or at least the odd pot-hole. But, we’d taken the ‘more direct old road’ in an attempt to save a little time. By the time we reached Casa das Penhas Douradas at the top of Serra D’Estrela some of the mountain bikers of the previous day were convinced that another attempt, as proposed for the next morning’s activity, would be a step too far. It did give us a feel for the magic of the place though as we zig zagged up the tree lined mountain road. The mountain range is the highest in Portugal and the hotel sits right at the top of one of the peaks at 1500 metres.
Casa das Penhas Douradas itself is a labour of love from husband and wife team João Tomás and Isabel Dias da Costa. Renovated from an early twentieth century holiday home in a boutique hotel, the seventeen rooms have been designed to make the best possible use of the natural environment, from birch lined walls to stone floors. Even the burel bedspreads are made from local traditional felted wool in a factory which the enterprising couple purchased and saved from bankruptcy.
While the hotel has strong design elements, there’s a personal touch that makes it feel like home. My cork room was lit by scented candles and when I opened the curtains there was a magnificent view of the mountains. There was water and fruit on a small table, a comprehensive range of toiletries including baby wipes – the sort of things that hotels normally consider just too mundane, and soft thick bathrobes to curl up in. And the Wi-Fi worked without any need for a password.
A welcome champagne cocktail was flavoured with local juniper. And our dinner of modern Portuguese cuisine had all the trappings of a fine dining restaurant, while still making use of local and seasonal ingredients. Casa das Penhas Douradas is a spa hotel and there’s a range of spa treatments and facilities including an indoor heated swimming pool with floor to ceiling windows giving the perfect view out over the mountains.
It’s a wonderful place to escape and relax away from any kind of urban stress.
Walking the next morning across the mountains João explained that in the nineteenth and early twentieth century many of the scattered houses were used as tuberculosis sanatoriums. The houses still have large enclosed balconies looking out over the mountains where the recovering invalids could sit and relax – or on warm days breathe in the mountain air that was thought to have restorative properties.
The other principle residents at that time were politicians plotting the devolution of the monarchy. Portugal has been a republic since 1910 and according to João the republican agitators who were the catalyst for the exile of King Manuel II to the UK, based themselves up in the mountains away from any state interference. So at one time, the area was populated by politicians, invalids and shepherds.
Now, thanks to the stunning landscape and range of outdoor activities, it’s a tranquil holiday activity area. You can ski in a nearby resort (the hotel has a small ski museum), explore the countryside on foot or by mountain bike (the hotel is bike friendly and will also provide picnics and packed lunches on request) or just relax on the terrace looking out over the unspoilt landscape.
On our brief hike around the area we walked through pine and birch woods out to a shrubby flower filled mountain slope and across a rather impressive rose quartz rock. And there’s more to do that we simply didn’t have time to cover – a mountain lagoon, a well planned mountain bike route and hiking to challenge every level of walker.
It was a relaxing end to our somewhat brief trip around central Portugal
- Casa das Penhas Douradas offers double rooms including breakfast from €88
- Herdade da Poupa offers double rooms including breakfast from €110
- Casa dos Poços offers double rooms including breakfast from €88
- TAP Portugal (0845 601 0932, www.flytap.com) flies from London Gatwick to Porto from £126 return including all taxes and charges
- For more information on Centro de Portugal visit: www.visitcentro.com/en/
- For more information on Portugal visit: www.visitportugal.com
I travelled as a guest of Centro de Portugal