Portugal: Where to stay and what to see

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The Independent Travel

ACCOMMODATION

Naturally, Portugal has a wide range of accommodation possibilities, from five-star hotels to clean and well-run camp sites. For something different and characterful, though, head for one of the former convents or monasteries that are part of the pousada network; the name means "place of rest". This collection of hotels was started by the government in the 1940s as a scheme to build new lodges that would provide reasonably priced food and accommodation for visitors, and would also reflect the traditions of the areas in which each establishment is set. In the 1950s the remit expanded beyond construction and a number of historic buildings were restored and converted. There are now more than 40 pousadas, none with very many more than 30 guest rooms and most offering a swimming pool and bar as well as a restaurant serving local cuisine and wine (see page II).

There are also many hotels outside the pousada network which were former monasteries and palaces. For example: Hotel Convento S Paulo, Aldeia da Serra, 7170 Redondo, Alentejo, (00 351 266 989 160, www.hotelconvspaulo.com), and Estalagem São Domingos, Rua Dr Vargas, 7750-171 Mina S Domingos, Alentejo (00 351 286 640 00, www.hotelsaodomingos.com)

The fertile north, particularly the Minho region, is studded with aristocratic manor houses, many dating back three centuries or more. In the 1980s, concern about the dilapidated condition of many of these old buildings prompted the government to establish a grant system. Funds for the refurbishment of private properties of historic merit are provided on condition that these are subsequently opened to tourists. Many of them are now B&Bs of varying degrees of eccentricity, hosted by blue-blooded aristocrats who welcome guests into houses filled with heirlooms.

Several umbrella organisations market this accommodation, the best known of which is Solares de Portugal (also called Turihab) (00 351 258 931 750; www.solaresdeportugal.pt or www.turihab.pt). Along with farm and estate buildings, it has 46 " casas antigas", or old manor houses, on its books.

ART HIGHLIGHTS

Among Portugal's museums and galleries, three stand head and shoulders above the rest. It's worth coming to Lisbon to visit the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian (00 351 217 823 000; www.gulbenkian.pt) on Avenida de Berna alone. This series of modern buildings houses an astonishing, 6,000-piece collection of Eastern and Western art, embracing everything from ancient Mespotania to Art Nouveau. The small Egyptian section is particularly striking, almost every piece of enormous interest and beauty. Open daily except Mondays, 10am-5.45pm; entrance €3 (£2.14).

Set in a former 1920s casino, Sintra's superb Museu de Arte Moderna (00 351 219 248 170; www.berardocollection.com) has a collection that is huge and it changes exhibitions frequently, although works by Warhol and Pollock are usually on show. Daily except Mondays, 10am-6pm, €3 (£2.14).

In Porto, the modern art collection of the Fundação de Serralves (00 351 226 156 500; www.serralves.pt ) is housed in a building brilliantly conceived by Portugal's leading architect, Álvaro Siza. The exhibits are from 1960s to the present and include works by Jannis Kounellis, Bruce Naumann and Ana Vieira. Open daily except Mondays, 10am-7pm (until 10pm Fridays and Saturdays); entrance €5 (£3.57).

MORE INFORMATION

Tourism Portugal (0845 355 1212; www.visitportugal.com; tourism.london@icep.pt). For specialist tour operators see www.discoverportugal.org

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