An Accidental Stay at Alcains Manor House
Have you ever made a mistake that’s turned out rather well in the end? For me, not looking properly at the last two letters in a place name meant that I booked a night in a hotel just outside Alcains, near Castelo Branco. Not Alcaide, where I’d planned to go to the mushroom festival.
Alcains holds a cheese festival every spring so when I spotted the advert for the mushroom festival, I automatically assumed it was the same place. I only began to wonder whether I’d got things wrong as we drove into the practically deserted town without seeing a single mushroom-related poster. The only event advertised in Alcains was a soup festival the following weekend.
Confused, we parked up and wandered around, looking for the parish church where the mushroom ‘megalunch’ was supposed to be happening. All we found were a few pigeons, a stray dog and a closed up hot dog stall. An old man wearing a cloth cap was staring, curious to know what we were up to. I headed across the street and asked him about the mushroom festival. He looked blank. If there was a festival, it certainly wasn’t in here Alcains.
Back at the car, I managed to get a wifi signal. I looked sheepishly across at my husband as I read the details again and realised my mistake. Luckily, the two towns are only a 30-minute drive apart so our plans weren’t completely ruined. And my husband milked my shame for all it was worth for the rest of the day.
After an afternoon of penance and mushroom fun, we drove back to Alcains to find our hotel, a lovingly restored manor house just outside the town. Despite being a bit tricky to find in the dark, once through the gates, the long driveway was lit up like a runway and Luís, the owner, was waiting on the doorstep to greet us and show us around.
Downstairs is taken up with living rooms and a dining room, as well as the property’s very own adjoining chapel. A grand, sculpted granite staircase leads up to more sitting rooms and the few bedrooms. Ours was enormous, with a bevelled wood panelled ceiling, wood panelled walls and original wooden floorboards, with patterns laid out in darker wood. My husband has a thing for wood so he was happy even if some of the dolls did look a bit spooky.
Free to spend the evening in any of the four sitting rooms, we chose the one with the balcony, books, televisions and dvds, uncorked the wine we’d brought and made ourselves well and truly at home like Lord and Lady Muck.
Next morning, still experiencing delusions of grandeur, I took a stroll around the grounds, choosing to ignore the ugly disused factory that’s not quite far enough away from the manor house. I very much doubt it was there when Dom José Trigueiros Coelho de Aragão, known as the Farmer Duke, had it built in 1921.
Since then, the Solar de Alcains (Alcains Manor House) has been used as a health and respite centre, the family home of a local doctor and an administrative centre for the Sicel company after which it was closed up and neglected for years.
Luís Monteiro and his wife restored the building over 10 years ago, converting it into a hotel for rural tourism. It’s in need of a bit more work these days but not so much that we couldn’t enjoy the fantasy of dukedom.
Exploring in the warmth of the morning sunshine, I looked back at the house from the huge wrought iron gates and noticed the storks for the first time. Two massive black and white birds stood on their twig nests, preening themselves.
When Luís and his wife first began the restorations, there was only one nest but it was in the roof of the house. They had to get a crane to transport it to one of the trees as it weighed over 300 kilos. Each year, their stork population increases and currently stands at 10 or 11.
The storks keep coming back and I’d like to think that we will, one day. Maybe for the cheese festival next April.