Portuguese Manners in Portugal’s Historic Manors
When Robert Frost spoke of the path less traveled by, he certainly wasn’t referring to Portugal. And in particular, the Solares de Portugal.
But he could have been.
Far from the frenetic pace of Europe’s homogenized, Americanized urban centers, and virtually unvisited by North American travelers,
Portugal offers a vibrant, authentic, relatively new kind of travel: Solares de Portugal, “houses of family heritage.”
These are the country’s historic family homes, manors, mini-palaces and cottages open to guests clever and patient enough to have figured out how to get to them.
Each Solares property must be at least a hundred years old to qualify for the designation.
While some have been occupied by the same family from the 14th and 15th centuries, all have been renovated to preserve the integrity and beauty of the original, while providing modern comforts for today’s travelers.
But above all, each Solares member is a part of an existing, established family, with a history and a deep connection to the region’s traditional ways of life. The owners are on the premises, and all of them are passionate about sharing the history and customs of their homes and region.
These out-of-the-way “finds” have no reception desks.
There are no cute bottles of shampoo.
No professional staff.
There are workers who work the land and manage the property, but that’s it.
It’s an authentic travel experience in the rural heartland of Portugal, where guests become part of Portugal’s rich rural life – paths less traveled by.
And each is uniquely different from the other; each is shaped by the character of the land, the family history…and ultimately, the personality of the owner.
Most of the Solares are around the town of Ponte de Lima, in the Minhao region, Portugal’s “soul” where the country’s roots and origins lie.
We stayed at two Solares treasures there: Paco de Calheiros and Paco de Cipriano,
Calheiros sits on a hillside like a dowager queen festooned with wild wisteria. It’s a sprawling, two-towered mansion with stone balconies, and seemingly countless doors, windows and high wooden shutters. The fruit trees bend under the weight of the lemons, oranges and almonds and the sound of the water from the stone fountains blends contrapuntally with those of distant roosters and dogs barking somewhere over the hills. Unseen bells toll the time.
Inside, the manor house rambles along blue tiled, cool halls. The rooms are big, maybe 14×18’ with blue azulejos tiles in the entry ways and orange terra cotta floors. White thick walls are partially covered with brocaded drapes, and the tall French doors open on to a flowered terrace and uninterrupted views of dramatic hills, olive groves, orange tiled roofs and rows of grape vines. The dark, antique furniture adds depth and warmth, and the bathrooms an artful and simple combination of traditional décor and modern fixtures.
There are no TV’s in the rooms. No phones. No internet connections. There are white and blue porcelain vases filled with proud Calla Lilies next to a simple glass water pitcher.
And of course there’s. Francisco de Calheiros. Count Calheiros, whose family has owned the impressive home since the 12th century. He’s artfully added 10 rooms and a few apartments where the stables once were, but otherwise has done little to alter the stately architecture and 380 degree vista of the valleys, water wheels and stone houses.
Paco de Cipriano, is both rustic, elegant…and continuously occupied since the 15th century. It once hosted weary pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela, and owner Dom Joao de Santiago greets guests with a keen desire to share his knowledge about its history and the land. This moss covered mansion with its carved gardens, water falls, forested hillside and ancient stone chapel is very different from Casa do Tamanqueiro, an 18th century rustic cottage set on a working farm. The two bedrooms have double beds and a fireplace. The granite kitchen is authentic, but modified with modern conveniences, and grape arbor stretches lazily from the house to the river. Tamanqueiro is fully furnished…and the owners deliver breakfast to the door.
At Casa de Santo Antonio de Britiande, Anne Maria and Antonio Riberio, have vividly combined the medieval features of their 16th century home with the eloquence of understated modern art, sacred paintings and traditional crafts. A golden oak staircase sweeps sinuously along exposed, very old stone walls… and meals might include a goose egg from their farm, herbs from their garden, wine from their vineyard, or a Port from 1925.
The Solares are a traveler’s treasure hunt. Torturously winding roads alternate with efficient highways. The countryside changes with delightful whimsy from the stunning Douro valley to the quiet Basto Region best known for its sparkling white wine. And since the traveler never knows what the next Solares will be like, it’s all about discovery. Which, Maro Polo once said, is what travel is all about.
• Most rooms are doubles. Some twins or singles.
• Room rates: between $75.00 and $100.00 per room per night.
• Apartments have a living or sitting room, two loft beds, pullout couch and a small but fully furnished kitchenette.
• Extra cots or beds for children 12 and under. $20.00
• All rooms include breakfast, private bath, linens and towels for $20.00.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Fax: 351 258741444 Phone: 351 258931750. English is spoken.
• You’ll need a car, best rented it in Porto, north of Lisbon. Driving requires patience and some nerve.
• The main activities are exploring the towns, villages and trips to countryside.
• Several nearby larger towns like Braga, Guimaraes, Viana do Castelo offer outstanding tourist sites including 14th century churches, handsome museums and good shopping.
• Hikers and bikers will appreciate the national park, Parque National do Peneda Geres and other rewarding paths.
• Breakfast (coffee, cheese and meat plate, breads, juice) are included and are served in Baroque rooms with high vaulted ceilings or stone kitchens out of a Bruegel painting.
• It’s possible to join the family for a simple dinner, what they are eating that night. Advance notice required.
• Many local restaurants serve meal of fish or meat, soup, vegetables and a bottle of wine will cost about $12.00 for two!