A courtly reception

B&Bs in Portugal have a rarefied air now that the nobility has got in on the act

The ambassador was holding court. We were sipping a vintage red in the panelled entrance hall of Casa de Esteiro, an 18th-century hunting lodge on the northern coast of Portugal, and he was regaling us with anecdotes from his distinguished career. José Maria do Patrocinio de Almeida Villas Boas was once Portuguese ambassador to Moscow and to Peking, but these days he runs a B&B. Or, rather, his wife Nia does while he lectures in diplomacy at the local university.

The ambassador was holding court. We were sipping a vintage red in the panelled entrance hall of Casa de Esteiro, an 18th-century hunting lodge on the northern coast of Portugal, and he was regaling us with anecdotes from his distinguished career. José Maria do Patrocinio de Almeida Villas Boas was once Portuguese ambassador to Moscow and to Peking, but these days he runs a B&B. Or, rather, his wife Nia does while he lectures in diplomacy at the local university.

Casa de Esteiro is part of the Turihab scheme, Portugal's attempt to stem the growing dilapidation of its stately homes. Government grants enable the owners to repair and renovate their properties and, in return, they let out rooms to the sorts of tourists who prefer stone houses and heirlooms to discos and deckchairs.

The properties themselves range from grand "quintas" - manor houses and palaces that are lavishly decorated with antiques and tapestries - to small country houses and cottages. They are still very much private homes and offer a personal, and sometimes unusual welcome.

Brandishing a bottle of Mai Tai, like a character from a Garcia Marquez novel, the ambassador launched into another tale. His great-grandmother had bought Casa de Esteiro in the 1850s, and on arrival we had found a shady, cobbled drive leading down to the old hunting lodge. It was white with dark green shutters, and had a terracotta tiled roof.

José had greeted us and led us through the cool, slightly musty corridors, past the library and tiny chapel to our room. Its wooden floors were scattered with Chinese rugs (smuggled past the authorities, he chuckled) and the large old bed stood in state with an ornate wooden headboard and embossed white linen. Through the window, citrus trees bowed under the burden of over-ripe fruit and plump hydrangeas burst from green bushes.

Casa de Esteiro is in the small town of Caminha at the mouth of the River Minho, which divides Spain from Portugal. From the lodge, it was just a few minutes' walk to the town's old square or about the same to a long, windswept beach. There, enormous Atlantic rollers broke onto an unspoilt stretch of sand; an old castle, perched on a rocky outcrop, stood sentinel in the middle of the ocean.

The Minho region is often referred to as the Costa Verde, or "Green Coast" and it rains a lot here, compared to the rest of Portugal. However, that and the fact that much of Portugal's tourism is based on the Algarve, has meant that this area has remained one of the most beautiful in Portugal.

Touring the region by car, we headed inland. Valenca do Minho, on a small hill above the river, is a sleepy, cobbled fortress town, and similarly picturesque is Guimaraes, the country's first capital.

Most people choose to split their stay between a couple of properties and, from the Casa de Esteiro, we had chosen to move on to the Quinta da Boa Viagem, just outside the lively coastal town of Viana do Castelo. To the ambassador's delight, we discovered that this belonged to his nephew, José Inacio Teixeira de Queiroz.

The Quinta da Boa Viagem dates back to the 16th century. Set against a wooded hillside, the house is a rich honey colour, with deep burgundy shutters. José gave us a brief rundown of the local history as he showed us around the grounds.

Outside the main gates a tiny chapel sat among a crop of olive trees. On the hillside above it, a large cross once signalled to approaching sailors that they were in front of the chapel and could pray to Our Lady of Boa Viagem. Inside, an old wooden boat hangs from the rafters, the donation of a grateful sailor who made it home safely.

The tour through the Renaissance gardens over, José presented us with a gift before leaving us to settle in. Not a red from his cellar or a glass of fiery Mai Tai, but a couple of bottles of wine from his vineyard; the juice of grapes ripened in the sunlit grounds of an old Portuguese manor.

Lucy Gillmore travelled with Destination Portugal (01993 773269, www.destination-portugal.co.uk), which arranges tailor-made trips to the area. For an example of what you might expect to pay, return flights to Oporto with TAP cost from £150, a week's car hire around £70, a room at Casa de Esteiro from £24 per night, bed and breakfast, and a night at Quinta da Boa Viagem, £20 per person. To contact Turihab direct, visit: www.turihab.pt

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Finance Manager (FP&A) - Surrey - £45,000

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful leisure company is seek...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionist, Bar and Waiter / Waitress & Housekeeping

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The positions above are available either part ...

    Guru Careers: Fitness Centre Supervisor / Duty Manager

    £25K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Fitness Centre Supervisor / Duty Manager ...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Museum is dedicated to exp...

    Day In a Page

    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
    I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

    I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

    Latest on the Labour leadership contest
    Froome seals second Tour de France victory

    Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

    Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
    Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

    The uses of sarcasm

    'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
    A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

    No vanity, but lots of flair

    A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
    Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

    In praise of foraging

    How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food