Friday 24 May 2019

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Cork Independent

Glamity Jane

The Centre of Portugal is the perfect true romance destination

Wednesday, 6th February, 2019 5:00pm

 

When I think of Portugal, I have many happy memories of beautiful sandy beaches and apartments overlooking the sea in my youth.

However, as an adult I want more from a holiday which includes culture and perhaps a bit of romance. Fortunately for me, I found what is known as the ‘Centre of Portugal’.

Flights now go directly from Cork with Aer Lingus to Lisbon which is a major bonus. Valentine’s is just around the corner and I wanted to share with you the undiscovered parts of this friendly country, with its great hospitality and excellent wine.

Everything about this trip was quite unexpected, as the Centre of Portugal is green (in January at least!), pictorial and breath takingly cultural. You cannot visit a spot that doesn’t have you in complete awe of the history and romantic feeling of this part of Europe.

My favourite cultural part of the visit was to the education hub that is Coimbra. A university town that was once the capital of Portugal, there is much to see and do here.

The university is built on the site of the old palace and boasts a baroque library. The city itself is a riverside one with many historical buildings and cultural hot spots.

We visited the Sapietia Hotel, which is a beautiful four-star is hotel right behind the University of Coimbra. The contemporary minimalist rooms are all individually designed and have a kitchenette. The one thing that struck me about this place is the amount of light in the building. The theme of the hotel was books and wine and to be honest I felt like checking in.

I found the most relaxed looking seating area with books and I could have stayed there all day. The meal we had was superb with each course was delicious. The highlight for me was enjoying a glass of sparkling wine on the rooftop overlooking the magnificent city that is Coimbra.

We toured the university and library with a guide and even got to see some students receive their PHDs. The old-world vibe in Coimbra just makes me want to revisit and spend more time there. Comibra is the home of Pedro and Ines, Portugal’s Romeo and Juliette. Their tragic love story is told by many and is the most famous in Portugal.

We stayed in Hotel Quintas Das Lagrimas, which is rumoured to be the place Ines was put to death near a fountain. The five star hotel itself is full of charm, with big rooms and typical Portuguese tiling in the bathrooms. They have added a spa and a whole new garden wing to the old house but the two marry together perfectly.

The food is Michelin quality serving local full-bodied wines and cheeses. The hospitality of the manager and team was second to none.

The hotel itself has a homely feel and includes a small deconsecrated chapel which they can use for civil ceremonies. The property is spectacular.

Somehow the botanical gardens manage to retain the old-world charm of the property whilst still looking striking and exotic. There is such a romantic feel to the buildings and grounds, with couples of all ages making up the clientele.

We then made our way to the most magical palace which is situated in a forest. Built in the 1800s for Portuguese royalty in Neomanueline style, it was later converted to a hotel. The individuality and romance of Bussaco Palace is unique.

The interior is opulent and remains true to the original décor with no modernisation. The most Instagram worthy part of the palace is the grand exterior which would make the most perfect wedding backdrop picture.

The forest where it is located is so scenic with some of the best green views I have ever seen. It was truly like stepping back in time.

We then moved further inland and up the mountains to the historical town of Marialva and stayed in the chalet style eco-houses at Casas do Côro, where we sampled the local cheese, food and wine. This would make a great stop on an adventure style holiday as the area has perfect views and a museum and ancient chapel.

They do Christmas, new years and weddings there also, but a visit in summer would be best as you would want to make the most of the outdoors.

One of my favourite tours we did was a short lagoon tour in the cutest city called Aveiro. Known as the Portuguese Venice, it is picturesque yet modern. The city itself is decorated with Art Deco style buildings and the old and new marry wonderfully.

The shopping looked good also, although ours was a whistle stop tour. The gondola ride was magical and the weather gorgeous even in January. They provide blankets so that you can stay warm and perhaps get closer to your loved one.

We saw winding cobbled streets, little local markets and sampled some of the local Portuguese tarts.

We lunched nearby and got to spend time in the sunny town of Costa Nova which has the most darling coloured houses and streets.

The food here was superb with so much fresh fish and seafood on offer.

Afterwards we moved on to visit a famous factory, the Vista Alegre Factory which was built in the 19th century to produce porcelain. It is world renowned. There is a museum attached with some of the original kilns and a myriad of teacups, saucers and fine porcelain items with influences in design from all over the globe.

We then went to visit the more contemporary Montebelo Vista Alegre Ílhavo. A modern hotel with large rooms and ultra-modern bathrooms, this hotel is a little walk away from the local town.

This was my last hotel stay. It was perfect for a quick overnight with some minimalist luxury. I would recommend it for business or pleasure.

On the day we were leaving we stopped for a gorgeous lunch and tour of Hotel Areais do Seixo. Each room is individually designed with a theme. Some of the rooms have an outdoor jacuzzi or a bath placed in the centre of the bedroom.

For me this would be the most fabulous place to honeymoon. There is the option of villas which are more practical for a family’s needs.

All our tours were guided by Jose of Madomis tours and he was knowledgeable about the local area and the spots that might interest you. He is also a great photographer!

I would recommend a guided tour for a part of your holiday if you are hoping to take in the most cultural spots and they can also advise of the best places to visit. Of course, you can also use them for just a private transfer.

Portugal, the undiscovered parts are a must see.

See www.centreofportugal.com for more.

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