Continuing on with our trusty driver- (making our journey so much easier and about the same price as a hire car) we travelled through small Portuguese villages with low stone walls, ancient vineyards and olive trees. The sleepy towns were deserted, except for a few old widows and shepherds.
We were off to the Stroganov Hotel near Oliveira do Hospital, but actually located in a small hamlet of Fiais de Beira, way off the normal tourist trail. I had found this hotel on the internet and the decor was so amazing, that I just had to stay there. The Stroganov Hotel was once owned by a Russian Officer Grigory Alexandrovich Stroganoff who had fallen in love with a Portuguese aristocrat Juliana de Almeide e Oyenhausen.While it is supposed to celebrate their love story, Juliana died in 1864 and the house was built in 1898, so the dates do not match, but it makes a good yarn.
The little village of Fiais da Beira is in the middle of nowhere, but the restored mansion is magnificent. It is a Trompe -l’oeil fantasy. Frida Kahlo meets a Russian Bordello, and it is so over the top and just bordering on bad taste, almost in the syle of ‘NARCOtecture ‘ the tacky taste of drug barons. We loved it.
No expense has been spared on the restoration. We suspect a bit of Russian mafia money as there was no-one else there. It was bit weird eating in the fabulous restaurant, alone. Portugal is full of these crumbling mansions waiting to be restored and if I was 20 years younger I would be restoring one, probably in the Algarve. The gold plastic, the ornate tiles, embroidered jewels, satin drapes and vibrant colour schemes made it one of the most unusual places I had stayed in.
However the real highlight for me was stumbling across the Anta da Caveda an ancient stone dolmen or burial chamber, reputedly 6,000 years old, just sitting at the edge of a vineyard. We had to really search to find it , and we walked past it twice. There are no signs or information.
We stumbled around very old pathways and vineyeards, past crumbling stone walls, and ancient wells, long forgotten. It was a magical mysterious path to the dolmen. We had just about given up, as the directions we were given were sketchy, and then we found it! Originally they were covered by earth and grass so they were more hidden. Some believe they were not burial chambers but energy transmitters. Either way we were blown away by it. There were no other tourists, in fact the fields were deserted. I had seen dolmens in other parts of the Celtic world which were crawling with busloads of tourists, but Portugal has not succumbed to this as yet.
But there was more to come. Our driver whizzed us on toBussaco Palace. This would be my second visit to this amazing hotel, once the hunting lodge of the last king of Portugal.
It was a scorching hot Saturday afternoon, and the forest and moss covered grottos of the palace grounds were crawling with tour groups and picnicking locals. It was cool in the shady nooks and by the magical lakes and hidden waterfalls.
But we were not alone. There was a huge wedding in progress and part of the palace had been sectioned off, which was annoying. Always check for weddings when booking at the palace! ..old Portuguese saying!
The palace is decorated in the Manueline style with amazing blue and white azulejos of Portuguese explorations and naval battles, intricate marble stairs,suits of armour and has a slightly shabby but classy air. Thankfully our room was far away from the wedding reception.
We had a stunning dinner in the refined elegant dining room, we chose to eat outside in the conservatory, and a bottle of the Bussaco Vintage wine. We met some interesting fellow travellers while being entertained by the wedding guests and their drone. What is a wedding without a drone!
The next day our driver took us to Coimbra where we caught two trains to Viana do Castelo at the top of Portugal, in the Minho. Please note I had to prove we were seniors this time to get our discount!