It’s not every day that I get to stay in a Portuguese palace, let alone one where guests are given a tour of the property by the resident count. At Paço dos Calheiros (Calheiros Palace) I got more than a tour; the countess ended up cooking for me and we dined together surrounded by ornate silverware and candelabras.
I hadn’t been expecting to eat there but when I was kindly invited to join the count and countess for a light meal I accepted, grateful to avoid eating alone yet again. Ordinarily, the cook would have taken care of everything but she was sick that evening so the countess prepared the meal.
It’s usually possible for guests to arrange to have dinner at the palace, with or without the company of the hosts. I doubt you’d be able to arrange for the countess to make fresh vegetable soup for you as standard but if the cook is on duty, there shouldn’t be a problem. Alternatively, there’s a good restaurant in the village or you can drive to nearby Ponte de Lima for more dining options.
Finding Paço dos Calheiros hadn’t been easy but after a few wrong turns, I managed to find the 18th century palace on a hillside a few kilometres outside Ponte de Lima. As I drove along the magnolia and acacia-lined driveway into the sandy courtyard, I still wasn’t sure I’d found the right place; I couldn’t see a sign anywhere.
The white building with its grand stone steps and turrets looked the part and when the countess waved through the tower window, I relaxed, relived that I wasn’t intruding on someone else’s stately home.
It could easily have been the case. This part of northern Portugal is littered with mansions and manor houses and has a rich history of royals and nobility as well as wealthy explorers and landowners. Some of the grand buildings have been restored to their former glory, others have sadly been abandoned and lie in ruins.
The Calheiros family have been influential in the area since the 12th century, producing generations of mayors as well as managing large estates. The paço (palace) was originally built in the 18th century and only used by the family during peak agricultural periods such as the grape harvest. Beyond the ornamental gardens, vineyards cover all available fields within the estate, except the one with the swimming pool and sauna which overlooks the main building.
The grapes are sent to the local wine cooperative to make vinho verde (young, slightly fizzy wine) and if you happen to be staying there in September, you can join in with the harvest and have a go at treading grapes. I made do with drinking some of the light and refreshing co-op wine with dinner.
Only a few of the palace rooms are reserved for private family use and guests can choose which of the cosy living rooms to relax in. Some of the rooms are more like museums, such as the former dining room with its cupboards of china cups and ageing family portraits.
My bedroom had stone window seats and a view of an orange grove. I sat there for a while, contemplating the twirly carved spikes on the headboard. Ordinarily, I find this style of dark wooden furniture oppressive and creepy but I found myself almost mesmerised by the smooth spirals.
In front of the faded mirror there was a jug of water and fresh flowers and oranges from the garden. I don’t imagine the room looked much different a couple of centuries ago, except that it now has a bathroom.
The bathrooms were installed back in 1986 when the palace was renovated to provide a special kind of rural accommodation. Paço dos Calheiros was the first of many Solares do Portugal, a collection of historical family homes which provide a very special bed and breakfast.
Note: I stayed as a guest of Solares do Portugal.
BEFORE YOU GO...
If you're interested in visiting or moving to Portugal, why not get my free insider tips and resources by email? These newsletters also include blog updates and information about relevant products, services and special offers.