Honeymoon in Portugal

Continued (page 2 of 3)

After a day of exploring Madeira’s wild beauty, we returned to the coddled world of Reid’s Palace hotel, shell pink and perched on a promontory overlooking the sea. Opened in 1891, Reid’s is one of those grand epoque hotels that has been lovingly preserved with pastel salons and lavish antiques. Its elegant rooms have every modern convenience (flatscreen TVs rise silently at the push of a remote) and dazzling ocean views. As if the setting weren’t romantic enough, the hotel will arrange a moonlit dinner of lobster stew sprinkled with coriander and strawberries flambéed with Madeira wine in a garden hideaway, replete with a strolling violinist.

Historic Meets Hip in Lisbon
From Madeira, we headed to the capital, where picturesque trolleys still clatter up and down the hills. Lisbon’s cool factor recently has soared sky-high, thanks to an ever-changing pastiche of nightclubs, restaurants and boutiques in the Chiado and Barrio Alto neighborhoods. For a touch of history, we toured the Jerónimos Monastery, with its sculpted arches and pillars, and strolled the ramparts of the old citadel, Castelo de São Jorge. Eager to experience the art of fado, we made a reservation at Casa de Linhares (where Mick Jagger goes when he’s in town) and listened as Ana Sofia Varela sang of longing and lost love, her eyes closed and her fingers working their way through the fringes of her scarf.

Lisbon is the perfect base for exploring the area’s centuries-old towns and palaces. Queluz, 20 minutes by train, is home to what has been called Portugal’s Versailles: a neoclassical pink palace with stately gardens and a weekly equestrian show performed by Lusitano stallions. Across the street is one of Portugal’s pousadas, Dona Maria I, in a restored barrack that once housed the Royal Guard. (Similar to Spain’s paradors, pousadas are historic or charming buildings converted into luxury inns with relatively reasonable rates.)

After traveling another 20 minutes by train, we came to perhaps the prettiest town in Portugal: Sintra, called “Glorious Eden” by the British poet Lord Byron and famous for its palaces. The highlight was the Disney-esque Palace of Pena, set high on a hill just outside town with its turrets, cupolas and Moorish minarets painted in a rainbow of lemon, cherry and pimiento hues.

Our base for all this exploration was the Lapa Palace, an idyllic hotel on a quiet street lined with embassies. Once the home of a 19th-century count, the Lapa has the feel of a country manor, from the stained-glass windows in its marble lobby to its gracious rooms, many with Jacuzzis, canopy beds and hand-painted tiles in the bathroom.

A Taste of the Douro Valley
Before visiting northern Portugal, I thought port was a stuffy drink gentlemen imbibed while puffing on cigars in smoky sitting rooms, but while touring the cellars of Porto, Bill and I developed a new appreciation and vocabulary. Soon we were sipping silky tawny ports, rich rubies and crisp dry whites all the while marveling at the delicate nuances. By the time we arrived in the Douro Valley, we had developed a distinct port palate and were looking forward to touring the vineyards themselves. At Peso da Régua, our driver sped up the serpentine roads to the striking new Aquapura hotel, an old quinta transformed into an Asian-inspired minimalist resort with modern suites warmed by grape-colored Roxinha wood floors.

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