The Pousada do Crato is a nice place to stay to see thesplendour and variety of these upscale hostelries and their surrounding regions. With most tourists going to Portugal visiting either the sunny beaches of the Algarve or the city-break sights of Lisbon, see the country that surprisingly few visitors get to see.
Begin the tour south of Lisbon in a former convent sharing a crag with a castle, though most future guests on this tour will start by staying in the Royal Guard’s quarters beside the 18th-century National Palace of Queluz, an elaborate former royal residence close to the capital.
After that move into the deep Alentejo region.
You can see the tall stone walls of the Pousada do Crato from a mile away and minutes later were walking through the grand arch and beneath the columns of the haunting cloister to check in.
The next morning we went to a couple of castellated hill villages that are typical of the upper Alentejo.
At our next stop, Castelo de Vide, where in the Jewish quarter beneath the fortress residents traditionally line their stepped alleyways with dozens of potted plants.
At nearby Marvão, castles played a major role in several battles between the 13th and the 19th centuries, with views across Spain to the east. We had been able to spy this fortress from the tower of its counterpart in Castelo de Vide.
Castles in this area and beyond were built within sight of each other so, if one was attacked, its soldiers could light a fire to alert their neighbors. Through the network of hilltop blazes, a warning could be sent to Lisbon in about 90 minutes – far faster then one could drive the journey today.
Next cross central Portugal, through bumpy hills and more enormous slabs and boulders of granite that provided the building blocks for many of the country’s ancient buildings as well as those prehistoric monuments.
It was another treat. Passing beneath the statues of Faith, Hope and Charity.
In contrast to middle-of-nowhere Crato, this pousada was a 15-minute walk through winding lanes to the town’s medieval core, where the forbidding facade of the cathedral faced that of the more optimistic Church of Misericórdia across the square.
Moving north to our final destination, our coach crossed the Douro within view of the riverside city of Porto, and it was here that a regret tinged this otherwise compelling tour. Porto was the second landmark-packed city we had driven straight past without stopping – the other being Évora further south – arriving at our next hotel far earlier than necessary.
Any misgivings quickly evaporated as we headed through a valley and pulled up outside the Pousada Mosteiro de Amares. The walls of the 13th-century monastery are joined to the twin-towered Santa Maria Church, its mildewed but still impressive facade mellowing ever further back in time.
All pousadas offer regional cuisine and wines and this was no exception. My main course was an earthy combination of chunks of dark pork, chestnuts, cabbage and a “porridge” of finely shredded beef richly infused with chicken broth. The desserts, with generous use of eggs, apples and almonds, were suitably gooey.
Another destination, took us deep into the Peneda-Gerês National Park that we had seen looming ever larger through the coach windows on our journey here.
The bookends of this day trip were a museum depicting the history and nature of the country’s only national park and a visit to one of Portugal’s most important pilgrimage sites, the Sanctuary of St Benedict.
In between, we drove slowly along a crooked mountain road, looking for the wild horses and eagles (and even the wolves) who roam the high ground. A surprise fog descended and we had to be content with pointing our cameras at some soft-eyed, long-horned cows, though I was bewitched by the eerie rock formations visible through the mist.
Scrambling down to the sand, I saw wild trout gliding through the crystal water against a backdrop of smooth grey rocks below steep ranks of deep green trees.
I soaked in the scene – literally. I’m sure the monks enjoyed all the sites many centuries ago.
John Wilmott from The Telegraph July 13, 2017