Portugal’s Historic Mansions – One of Portugal’s greatest gifts (other than its wine) is its vibrant Solares de Portugal (“houses of family heritage), an unique way to see a country still far from the often homogenized destinations of Central Europe.
Rather unknown by North Americans, these are Portugal’s historic family homes, the manors, cottages and mini-palaces open to guests clever enough to have figured out how to find them. And they are very, very family friendly.
Each Solares property must be at least a hundred years old to qualify, and many have been occupied by the same family from the 14th and 15th centuries. All have been simply renovated to preserve the simple, unpretentious integrity and beauty of the original, while providing modern comforts for today’s traveler.
These out-of-the-way discoveries 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 a genuine travel experience into the heartland of Portugal, where guests become part of Portugal’s rich rural life.
Most of the Solares are in the north, around the Romanesque town of Ponte de Lima, in the Minhao region, Portugal’s “soul,” where the country’s roots and origins lie.
At the end of a sinuous road winding through rows of grape arbors near Ponte, is our favorite: Paco de Calheiros an elegant manor house that’s been in the family of Count Francisco de Calheiros since the 12th century. The count is a charming, urbane host as one might imagine, and the children we saw playing among the grape vines and stone walls were very happy.
The inside rambles along blue tiled, cool halls, and the ten guest rooms are maybe 14×18’ with blue azulejos tiles in the entry, and orange terra cotta floors.
The tall French doors open on to a flowered terrace and uninterrupted views of the sculptured hills, olive grooves, and rows of grape vines.
There are no TV’s in the rooms.
There are white and blue porcelain vases filled with proud Calla lilies, and a few apartments where the stables once were. Otherwise the stately architecture is unchanged.
And the cost? A very worth while $100-125 a night for a double and cots for the kids often cost nothing extra.
And since the traveler never knows what the next Solares will be like, they are truly roads less traveled by.
Tip: Must have a car. Breakfasts included. Dinner a bit extra
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Photo of Paco de Calheiros by Wendie Hansen
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