It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for Portuguese manor houses and stately homes, especially ones you can stay in and pretend you own (or perhaps that’s just my little fantasy). Casa da Ínsua is one such place and I jumped at the chance to check it out on a recent trip around central Portugal.
Outside Casa da Ìnsua hotel
Just outside the swirly wrought iron gates and the high white walls of the estate, cloth-capped middle-aged men stood chatting outside the local café. The women of the village of Penalva do Castelo were busy laying a path of flowers from the church to the road.
The village’s statue of Our Lady of Fátima was due back that evening and by the looks of things, she’d be getting a warm welcome home.
Welcome to Casa da Ìnsua
Leaving the village activities behind, we drove into the walled elegance of the cobbled courtyard and seemingly back in time, a feeling that grew even stronger once we stepped inside the grand entrance hall.
The reception area is decorated with black and white hand painted wallpaper and colourful azulejos (tiles) and a thick red curtain with the family crest covers the entrance to the historically preserved part of the former family home.
Casa da Ínsua history
Casa da Ínsua was constructed as the family home of Luís Albuquerque, a former Governor in Brazil who returned to Portugal in the 18th century with a fortune and a passion for innovation.
The baroque style building was the second house in Portugal to have electricity and is full of imaginative inventions, like the cupboard in the radiator outside the dining room which was used to keep food hot while it was waiting to be served.
Elements of the family coat of arms are incorporated into almost every aspect of the building, from the stone turrets on top of the walls to the hands of the mantle piece clock and the elaborate fireguard in the living room.
Unlike many large estates, Casa da Ínsua has remained in the Albuquerque family for generations, owing to an ongoing stipulation that the entire property can only be inherited by the oldest nephew. He is forbidden from marrying or having children in order to prevent the estate from being divided.
The upkeep of this vast old building and its 37 hectares of land has since been taken over by a hotel group and Casa da Ínsua is now a five-star hotel with 27 rooms, mostly modern although there are a few ‘historical’ rooms.
Gardens at Casa da Ínsua hotel
Sheila Sim, a photographer I interviewed a while ago, mentioned how beautiful the gardens were and she was right.
Beyond a terrace patio decorated with beautiful tiles, miniature canons and stone sculptures lies the English Garden. Full of majestic trees like giant cedars, it’s leafy, shady and almost unkempt with rusting farm machinery half-hidden beneath creepers.
Quite a contrast from the manicured French gardens with their box hedges clipped into the house coat of arms and separating a wide variety of flower beds and ornamental ponds. Just don’t get too close to the swans, apparently they’re not that friendly!
Grounds and activities
The swimming pool is in a field behind the hotel, surrounded by sheep, trees and a raspberry patch. The sheep are here for a reason, their milk is used to make Serra da Estrela cheese. Guests can actually have a go at milking the sheep, although you’d have to get up early for that.
I was more than happy to participate in a cheese-making workshop though. They also run jam-making workshops and, during harvest time in September and October, visitors can join in the grape harvest and wine production.
The small museum was closed when I visited so I made do with a closer inspection of the traditional wooden games in the old sawmill. Although I was already familiar with Hoopla, I had to check the information board to find out how some of the others work.
For more information about Casa da Ínsua and its various activities, visit the website.
For more ideas for things to do in the Viseu area, try this: 10 Things to see and do in and around Viseu.
Tip: You really need a car to make the most of staying in this area, unless you simply want to chill out at the hotel for a few days.
Disclosure: I stayed at Casa da Ínsua as a guest of Visit Centro and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. The breakfast was impressive, too.