After more than a week cruising the Douro River Valley and Portugal’s wine region with Viking River Cruises, we decided it was as good a time as any for a Vixen road trip.
The boat trip ended in Porto, but our return flight was from Lisbon, so we head North and discovered two of our new favorite Portugal boutique hotel picks.
GPS came in handy as we navigated north of the city to take a quick pit stop at an orphanage Lanee volunteered at more than a decade ago.
It was quite a moving experience for her to learn that many of the people she worked with were still there, and to find out how well some of the girls she mentored and helped were now, as young adults.
It was a “coming full circle” moment in many ways, and on the eve of a milestone birthday, it was a perfect opportunity to reflect on how far life has come since then.
Classy Boutique Hotel Outside of Porto
Next stop was Carmo’s Boutique Hotel in Portugal’s oldest city, Ponte de Lima, where we had a super special celebration for Lanee’s 40th birthday.
When we arrived, we were greeted by a miniature pony, Federico, who escorted our luggage to the rooms by a drawn cart. Nice quirky touch!
The hotel is beautiful with well-appointed rooms and has a clear style that exudes elegance with a bit of a quirky edge.
Outdoor beds at the pool and in the gardens make for a romantic and relaxing place to read a book.
Meals were excellent, made largely with produce from the on-site garden. We took advantage of that after eating so much meat during the cruise, a whole plate of salad was a welcome change! (Our apologies to the chef, who we know wanted to impress with more “interesting” dishes, but we were absolutely delighted with the plentiful fresh veggies!)
That said, Lanee’s birthday dinner was an absolute feast, served in the private Wine Atelier and prepared table side on all antique cookware that had been passed down in the owner’s family for decades.
Even the soup was served out of a huge iron caldron, kept warm over a raging fire pit. Each course was served with a wine pairing of Portuguese wines, and every part of the meal from start to finish was superb. A special and memorable birthday celebration, indeed!
The town of Ponte de Lima itself was a lovely place to explore. Though we were there during a torrential downpour, there were some breaks in the weather to walk through the historic outdoor market (which occurs once a month), and enjoy a leisurely stroll along the river.
The hotel is not right in the center of town, it is possible to walk there in about 30 minutes, weather permitting, as we learned — the road back to the hotel had turned into a river so we turned around and drove back instead.
A Luxurious Farm Stay Outside of Lisbon
Next, we were off to the countryside of Lisbon to a unique farm stay at Herdade do Moinho Novo, where once again, the theme of being greeted by animals upon arrival was front and center.
Only this time, it was farm animals of all kinds — goats, birds, pigs, horses, cows, ostriches, ducks, peacocks, dogs, and even emus.
(Side note – have you ever seen an emu egg? It looks like an avocado. No joke. Doesn’t feel like an avocado, but… Super cool.)
Our stay there was the perfect end to the trip – quiet, serene, and though the accommodations were modern, upscale, and quite lovely, it exuded a casual, rustic, familial quality which was exactly what we craved after all the indulgences and people we cruised with the previous 10 days.
The owner was super friendly and hung out with guests in the main house — the property is made up of just a few standalone casas that overlook the fields and pool, with one main gathering house that offers coffee, tea, and refreshments all day and night.
We loved that there were no TVs — the elegant simplicity was an ideal atmosphere to relax and listen to the quiet sounds of nature.
And the floor-to-ceiling windows in the showers overlooking the farmland were something special, indeed!
Dinner that night was prepared by two ladies who live on the property and brought to our room in the most adorable picnic basket with all the fixings. Best part? It was authentic, Portuguese home-style cooking — a fish casserole (don’t knock it ’til you try it), served with bread, salad, wine, and what would a Portuguese meal be without freshly cured olives?
Staying here does feel remote, though it’s only about 45 minutes from Lisbon — and that’s exactly what we wanted.
For those visiting, make sure to get the GPS coordinates to find it — we mean this literally — the coordinates, not the address. It seems like you’re not going the right direction when you pass through a tiny town and then for about 15 minutes end up driving on dirts roads that feel private and leading to nowhere. Alas, they do! And it’s a special reward in the end.
Our only regret was not having more time there. Interestingly, it was our stay there that had us laughing and wondering what to check on our customs and immigration forms coming home.
You know that question about whether you’d visited a farm or been near livestock? Hmmm… We’ll just leave that here.