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Where to Stay in Portugal: Lodging Tips

SmarterTravel

Portugal has so many historical buildings reimagined into fabulous lodging that there’s little reason to ever stay at a boring, out-of-the-box chain hotel. While there are handfuls of standard business hotels throughout the country, a fair number of lodging options — from posh boutique hotels to small, family-run inns — are actually in centuries-old structures, such as stately palaces and medieval convents. Read on to learn more about where to stay in Portugal.

Hotels and Resorts

Major international hotel corporations, from Best Western to Four Seasons, all have a presence in Portugal, though you won’t find nearly the same number of chain properties as you’d see in the United States or in other parts of Europe.

Instead, you’ll encounter quite a number of older properties that perhaps were once rundown but have been restored to their historic glory. For example, a six-story manor house in Porto was converted into the ornate, five-star Hotel Infante Sagres. Such a conversion is typical of hotels in Portugal. The landmark Hotel Metropole on Lisbon’s Rossio Square dates back to 1917.

Most hotels are privately owned and rated on a national classification system from one to five stars. Ratings are based on amenities and services offered. A one-star hotel has basic furnishing in rooms and should, at minimum, accept credit cards and make air conditioning available, according to the official regulations. Three-star hotels have nicer furnishings and staff reception at least 16 hours a day. Five-star properties offer additional amenities (i.e. Internet access, bathrobes, laundry service) and 24-hour room service and reception.

Especially along the southern Algarve coast, Portugal has a number of resort hotels, often catering to golfers and to families. The Dona Filipa Hotel in Almancil is a sprawling five-star, family-oriented resort with a swimming pool overlooking the ocean, tennis courts, a private beach, a spa, a kids’ club and an award-winning golf course. The oceanfront Praia D’El Rey Golf and Beach Resort along the Silver Coast in Obidos offers guestrooms, plus private apartments, townhouses and villas. Known for its golf course and numerous restaurants, it offers additional activities, including tennis, horseback riding and surfing.

For a different take on a resort, head north to one of Portugal’s thermal springs (called termas) — there are several dozen of them. The town of Chaves possesses a thermal spring that’s said to aid rheumatism, diabetes, obesity and gout. Hotels in thermal spring towns tend to be basic yet comfortable — such as Chaves’ Hotel Encostas de Nantes — though some of the bigger towns have more substantial lodging (including the town’s more elegant Forte de Sao Francisco). Most are only open May through October.

Portugal has also jumped on the boutique hotel bandwagon in recent years, either building chic lodging from scratch or renovating historical structures into modern masterpieces. The 50-room Altis Belem Hotel and Spa in Lisbon’s Belem neighborhood has won design awards for its property, which has a sushi bar overlooking the Tagus River and a Turkish spa. Trees grow in the middle of some of the 14 guestrooms at the Areias do Seixo on the Costa de Prata just north of Lisbon. The hotel uses geothermal and solar energy.

Portugal Hotel Resources:
MaisTurismo.pt
Portugal.com/travel
TermasdePortugal.pt

Pousadas

The Portuguese government decided in the 1940s to turn especially old and historic buildings into luxury hotels. Today there are more than 40 such properties, called pousadas. Similar to Spain’s paradors, pousadas are categorized four ways:

– “Historic” pousadas are in nationally preserved buildings such as fortresses, castles, convents and monasteries. The Pousada de Estremoz is considered the most lavish in the country, with more than an acre’s worth of marble in the Middle Ages-area building that once hosted explorer Vasco da Gama. The 39-room Pousada de Vila Vicosa is in a 16th-century royal convent.

– “Historic design” pousadas are also in historically important buildings but have been architecturally modernized. Newly opened in 2014, the Pousada da Serra da Estrela in Covilha is a wholly renovated, early 20th-century sanitarium with sweeping mountain and valley views.

– “Charm” pousadas are in romantic locales. The 28-room Pousada de Braganca is in a 17th-century castle just outside one of Portugal’s prettiest and best-preserved medieval towns (also called Braganca).

– “Nature” posadas are situated in countryside settings. In northern Portugal, the 15-room Pousada de Sao Goncalo overlooks the river valleys of Alvao National Park.

You’ll find the most pousadas in the Alentejo region and in the north. Expect a high level of service — and a high price tag. Note that some pousadas limit stays to a maximum of five days during the summer because of high demand.

Portugal Pousada Resources:
Pousada.com
Pousadas.pt
PousadasPortugal.com

Manor Houses, Country Houses and Villas

Equally as charming as Portugal’s pousadas — but often less expensive — are manor houses, country homes and farm cottages that you can rent by the night, week or month.

Known as solares, quintas and casas no campo, these private properties range from a 17th-century, multi-building manor house with original frescoes and antiques to a small, stone-wall cottage on a lavender plantation (both of these can be found on SolaresdePortugal.pt). Most are 17th- and 18th-century buildings that have been restored — some more lovingly than others. In general, you’ll find them in country settings and small villages, especially in northern Portugal. Stays usually include breakfast.

When booking a property, be certain to vet the quality of the house. You’ll likely find a range of renovations and amenities, with some houses more modernized than others. For instance, not all have Internet. Also confirm whether your property has a minimum stay, and check its cancellation policy; often you need to give more advance notice of a cancellation than you would at a hotel.

Portugal Manor House Resources:
SolaresdePortugal.pt
CasasnoCampo.net/EN/

Small Inns

Portugal’s small inns are known as estalagens. Like solares and quintas, they are often converted manor houses and farms — but in this case the proprietor opens his or her doors to a number of guests, not just one private group. Breakfast is usually included.

When searching for an inn, note that a good number of them use the word “hotel” in their names. Some proprietors consider the term “estalagen” to be outdated. The best rule of thumb is that an inn has fewer rooms than a hotel. For example, the Hotel Porto Antigo near the Douro River in Figueira Castelo Rodrigo is considered an inn, with 23 rooms.

Portugal Inn Resources:
Inn-Portugal.com/estalagens.html
ResponsibleTravel.com/holidays/portugal/bed-and-breakfast

Pensaos and Residencias

Families run these boardinghouse-like lodges as a way to supplement their income. Pensaos tend to be separate from the family home, while residencias are often rooms in the family’s house (though sometimes the two terms are used interchangeably).

These accommodations tend to be very basic, perhaps even slightly rundown, depending on the rate (which, more likely than not, will be payable in cash only). Bathrooms are usually shared, and breakfast may or may not be included. Don’t expect the proprietors to speak English.

There’s no one website dedicated to this type of lodging, but you’ll commonly find them mixed in with other low-budget options on many hotel booking engines and hostel websites.

Hostels

Compared with some countries in Europe, Portugal doesn’t have a tremendous number of hostels. Hostelling International, for example, lists just 45 properties. Most are concentrated in big cities, such as Lisbon and Porto, and in beach towns that attract surfers.

There are no consistent standards for hostels in Portugal; some are dingy spots you wish you never discovered while others — such as the Paradise Hostel in Baleal — are clean, have relaxed vibes and offer a number of common areas that encourage getting to know your fellow travelers.

Portugal Hostel Resources:
HIHostels.com
Hostels.com/Portugal

Camping

Thanks to a number of national parks and natural areas, Portugal has hundreds of sites for tent camping and parking recreational vehicles — including some along the coast with views as good as those at five-star hotels. Some campsites have cottages or bungalows to rent. There are even two campsites for nudists!

Portugal Camping Resources:
CampingPortugal.org
Orbitur.com

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