BY Lisa Lindblad
July 18, 2018
Just returned from a family trip to Portugal, a destination that surprised me with its lack of pretension, its keen sense of aesthetics and design, its orderliness, the atmosphere of calm and serenity. I love the fact that you can drive the length and breadth of the country in a day. And, coming from a land that seems to be perpetually in the grip of a fever, I found Portugal restful to the soul and unthreatening. My son hit the nail on the head, I think. “Portugal is the Uruguay of Europe, ” he said.
We started in Lisbon where we stayed at the Santa Clara 1728, a hotel of 6 spare and beautifully designed rooms located in a lovely 18th century building. More home than hotel, it has rooms with great volumes, a delicious breakfast set at a communal table, and a delightful, helpful staff.
We had an intelligent, amusing guide, Ines, and a car and driver take us into different parts of the city. We walked up and down cobbled hillside streets, skirted the cranes and building sites (Lisbon is in the midst of a tourism and, hence, a building boom), popped into wonderful lifestyle shops, appreciated the tiled (and, I must admit, horribly graffitied) facades, poked around the Tuesday and Saturday flea market, visited the wonderful Gulbankian museum, watched World Cup at the Ribeiro market (keeping our Uruguayan affiliation quiet), ate and drank well, and had a great evening at the Lenny Kravitz concert. A jam packed three days.
Day 4 we drove 1h20m south along the coast to Comporta where I had rented a compound of houses overlooking the rice fields. We were 7 including my 8-month-old grandson, and we settled in to our charming houses which sat about 8 minutes from the small but quite trendy village and the glorious, long Atlantic beaches. Gomes carried all manner of veg, fruit and dried foodstuffs – along with baskets, soaps and scent – which together with the cases of rose, red and white anchored us into a happy week of mostly home cooked meals. Our forays out were casual fish lunches at the beach and a final chef’s tasting dinner at Hotel Sublime.
From Comporta we headed a couple of hours due east into central Alentejo, a gorgeous tawny landscape dotted with cork and oak trees, furrowed fields of lush grapes, and granite boulders and menhirs, some of the oldest standing stones in Europe. It’s a landscape painted with the same colors as the Serengeti, a landscape of wide views, long shadows, sharp light and those rocky outcrops. Our destination was the recently opened Sao Lourenco do Barrocal, a passion project whose mission was to revive a massive farm that supported 50 families up until it was appropriated under the Salazar regime. Across the years the buildings and infrastructure fell into appalling disrepair until, a dozen years ago, the descendent – a talented architect – committed hiself to return it to its former dignity. Sao Lourenco is now a beautiful hotel of 30 rooms, a couple of restaurants, terrific spa, pools, stables and gardens.
Our drive back to Lisbon took us through the bustling UNESCO town of Evora. We walked the historic center to visit the Cathedral and Chapel of Bones. And then I happened upon a exhibition in the Palacio Cadaval, a beautiful patrician building that lends itself surprisingly well to the contemporary African art spread through its high ceilinged, wide floorboard, light-filled grand rooms.
Our last Portuguese lunch was at Cartuxa Enoteca adn then we picked up our road again back to the capital, to the airport, and home.