Whether you fancy unwinding with a spa session in an old chapel, sleeping in a monk’s cell or calling a castle tower yours for the night, picking a pousada promises a unique stay. Here we’ve whittled down the best pousadas from the Rough Guide to Portugal.
Set in an immaculately converted sixteenth-century convent around beautiful cloisters and with its own church, Convento de Graça's designer-style is hard to fault. Most of the plush rooms look down over Tavira’s old town – with its hipped roofs, cobbled streets and wrought-iron balconies – or have views over the rural hillside. The swimming pool sits inside the old town walls, while a glass partition in the bar reveals the remains of a Moorish settlement that were discovered during renovation work.
Perched above the town of Alcácer do Sal, this former Moorish castle has had a stylish makeover and is now home to the fabulous Pousada Dom Afonso II, one of Portugal’s classiest pousadas. The ancient shell of the castle makes a dramatic setting for the surprisingly contemporary rooms, and there’s also a swimming pool and top-notch restaurant – the real draw here, however, is the view out over the town’s medieval buildings, the Rio Sado and the vivid green rice paddy fields below.
Portugal’s second city finally has its own luxury pousada, a couple of kilometres east and upriver of Ribeira. The magnificently restored Baroque Palácio do Freixo dates from 1742, and enjoys a majestic riverside location. The main building sticks with period style and houses a restaurant, bar and public rooms, while contemporary guest quarters – superbly appointed and many with classic Douro river views – are set in an adjacent former flour factory. Facilities are top-notch, from the outdoor infinity pool with river view to the indoor pool and spa, and the elegant restaurant and bar mean you don’t have to make the slightly inconvenient trip into town and back if you don’t wish to.
Pousada de São Francisco is set round the cloisters and church of a former thirteenth-century convent – not surprisingly, the atmosphere is serene, with plush rooms modelled from former cells whose small windows keep out the heat. The excellent-quality restaurant and bar spill out into a palm-dotted garden where there’s also a spacious pool and tennis courts, while inside there’s a sauna and Turkish bath. All in all, it’s a tranquil retreat, where the only sound at night is the odd nightjar.
Portugal’s largest pousada, Pousada de Viseu is a super-stylish conversion of a historic hospital, which opened in 1842 – photographs throughout the building show the work in progress. Spacious cherry wood rooms with granite bays – the top floor ones have terraces – overlook Viseu, while lounge seats occupy the soaring glass-topped cloister courtyard. It’s a very calm space, where everything is on-site from the pools and a restaurant to the spa, which is located in the former hospital's chapel.
Set in southern Portugal’s most charming town, Convento de Évora is one of the country’s finest pousadas. Housed in the former Convento dos Lóios, the place is wrapped round superb inner courtyards – one of which has a pool. The rooms are lovely – many with traditional furniture, including some dramatic four-poster beds – and some in former monks’ cells. You can also eat top-notch Alentejan specialties in the sumptuous cloisters.
Around 11km north of Faro, Palácio de Estói was the former nineteenth-century palace of the Viscount of Estói. Now it’s a palatial blend of old-style opulence – wood panelling, gilt mirrors and high ceilings – and contemporary flair, with a pool in the top part of the ornate former gardens, modern rooms, a plush bar and quality restaurant serving gourmet regional food.
Pousada do Castelo is sited within a castle and approached through an intimate courtyard overlooked by carved windows. There are only seventeen rooms, eight of which are housed in a new wing, all done in a lavish Portuguese country style, and making good use of the original stone walls and other features. The top room is the duplex suite in one of the castle towers, complete with canopied bed fit for a king. Guests tend to eat in the restaurant, where there’s a classy take on traditional country food.
This impressive Gothic monastery was founded in the fourteenth century but reopened in 1995 as a stylish hotel. The gardens are laid out in the insignia of the Order of Malta, in honour of the warlord Nuno Álvares Pereira, whose father founded the monastery. It’s a magnificent building, marrying contemporary style with the convent buildings – there’s a games room in the upper cloister, an outdoor pool and a lovely restaurant.
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Top image: Palace of Estoi, Portugal © Carlos Neto/Shutterstock