Exploring rural Portugal
A rural scene of vendors along a cobblestone street in Sesimbra
Stephanie Voyager heads for Portugal to enjoy the delights of various pousadas
© Richard Bickel / Corbis
I wanted a holiday that took me into the countryside, away
from the hustle and bustle of a big town. I had heard about
pousadas, the state-owned historic dwellings of Portugal –
monasteries, palaces, and castles that had been turned into
hotels – and decided to find out what they were and what
they had to offer.
My girlfriend and I collected our Budget car which had
been booked in London from the airport, but was surprised to
find that although I was insured, it carried a 750 euros excess.
Not wanting an excess, I was obliged to pay an extra 102.34
euros for the week so it’s worth taking this into consideration
when comparing prices.
Our first stop was Palmela, where our pousada, originally
a castle and then a medieval convent, was perched high
up on a hill. Fortunately, our car was small, as access is via
very narrow, winding streets, with a very sharp ascent at
It was well worth the effort, particularly as we had left
Lisbon in the rush-hour traffic, and here we entered a place
that immediately enveloped you in a feeling of peace and
serenity. We dined in a grand room which used to be the
refectory, and tried some of the local dishes.
Although I am adventurous with my food, I did find, in
the areas that we visited, that the chefs are heavy-handed with
the olive oil, use a lot of coriander, and produce very sweet
desserts. Keeping this in mind will definitely help you to
choose dishes to suit your palate.
Wine is grown in most areas of the country, and so at each
new stop we were able to try a different local variety without
breaking the bank. We had planned to eat one night at each
pousada and one night out, but found that some were situated in
such out-of-the way places, that it was more practical to eat in.
Palmela is ideally located to visit the Arrábida nature park,
covering an area of 26,700 acres including a mountain range.
The road is steep with fortunately very little traffic, although
I am not sure how it is in the height of the summer. The views
are wonderful. The park is also a perfect place for a picnic or a
long country walk.