For when it´s safe to travel again…
Raise your hand if you love weekend trips. I, for one, could easily give up my early vacation and take instead a million small weekend or even day trips. And while given the current circumstances flying off to London or Paris for a weekend is impossible, I love discovering Portugal trip-by-trip. Typically, I see a picture of a place that looks interesting, or even hear a story of a place that is still undiscovered, and plan my way there. This time though, it was a picture of a hotel that guided me yet again to Alentejo – specifically the Ribatejo area this time. The Salvaterra Country House is a small hotel, an hour away from Lisbon and it is serious #nexthouse goals. I discovered it on an Instagram account that aggregates Portugal´s most beautiful hotels for your inspiration – @getawaygoto_portugal and I have been dreaming of it for about a month before finally booking a night there. And so, the day came and we left Lisbon early in the morning, drove up the Tejo river and returned late the next night. Here´s where we went, what we saw, what we ate and what we loved most.
Visiting and eating in Escaroupim
Escaroupim was our first stop and we arrived there some 40 minutes after leaving Lisbon, just in time for lunch. It was a gloomy day and while I imagine Escaroupim must be beautiful in the sunlight too, I felt that the colourful fishermen houses were most beautiful in the cloudy winter weather. The village is small and the area you´ll want to see is right by the river. Blue and green fishermen houses and colourful boats will uncover themselves to you as you walk by a completely different Tejo river than you know from Lisbon. We walked a bit around, took some pictures and lunched at the Restaurante O Escaroupim. I don´t know if there are any other restaurants around, but I strongly recommend this one. It´s located right by the water, with a beautiful view, it is fairly priced and the food is delicious. Both fish, seafood and meat are excellent choices and the house wine – Escaroupim – is very nice too. Just don´t try to climb down to the water after having it, you might end up having to be fished out, as I almost did.
Price: visit to Escaroupim was free of charge, lunch at O Escaroupim was cca. 50€ for two people with drinks (a bottle of wine, water and coffee)
Staying at the Salvaterra Country House
After lunch we drove some 20 minutes to our hotel. The Salvaterra Country House proved to be one of the best small hotels I´ve ever stayed at. With only four suites, the staff is able to dedicate their whole attention to their few guests and so, everything is utterly thought through with a remarkable attention to detail. Some highlights: all the tips they sent us via email before our arrival – they made my planning of the weekend so much easier, the tiny sauna and Turkish bath they would turn on just for you, the large room with a fireplace AND a bathtub, the two sets of robes – one of them so pretty I wanted to steal, the quality tea and coffee at your disposal and the breakfast that came in a basket on your private terrace. To sum up: we loved it so much we bought another night stay and offered it to my in-laws, for them to also enjoy this little paradise. We´ll also make sure to return soon enough.
Price: 119€ per suite per night (breakfast included) + optional 19€ for a champagne bottle waiting for us in the room upon arrival and some extra for the drinks we consumed at night from their awesome honesty bar
Horseback riding with lunch and wine tasting at the Quinta da Lagoalva
These activities were suggested by our hotel and so we booked both a 1.5h horseback riding session as well as what turned out to be a private lunch, wine tasting and tour of the estate with one of its owners. As we drove the half an hour to the Quinta da Lagoalva we passed by several other quintas and I wondered why the hotel had recommended this one in particular. We arrived half an hour late, stressed and embarrassed, but the people at the quinta did not flinch an eye and welcomed us with so much enthusiasm that I just knew that was the reason for the recommendation. The day was sunny, so we suited up and took our horses for an almost 2h ride through the vineyards and olive oil plantation. It was perhaps one of the most blissful travel moments of 2020 once I got over my nervousness of riding a horse for the first time in my life. As we rode our horses we learned about the fauna and flora of the region as well as the Lusitano horses the quinta breeds. We then went inside for a delicious lunch and wine tasting – three wines, starters, soup, main dish and a huge dessert. Afterwards, at sunset, we walked about the quinta with Isabel, one of the owners (the quinta had been in her family since the 1800s) and learned about it. Not long ago, the quinta was a little villa – some 100 people lived there and rarely went outside – it had a school, a chapel, pretty much everything they needed for their little community. We got a strong sense of tradition and couldn´t help ourselves but buy some bottles of their wine before leaving for some more food in the city of Santarém.
Price: 60€ per person for a 1.5h horseback riding session + 40€ per person for lunch, wine tasting and tour of the quinta
Dinner at Michelin restaurant Taberna Ó Balcão
By the time we reached Taberna Ó Balcão, Rodrigo Castelo´s famous restaurant, we were as full as a bear going into hibernation. Did that stop us from honouring our reservation and getting some more food at this renowned restaurant from the Michelin guide? No. I had booked this dinner in advance and was really looking forward to it, so I was extremely happy to see the big selection of starters they had – a couple of those would be enough for two full bears like us. We opened with a herb butter, chickpea cream and the world´s smallest shrimp, along with three different types of bread. Next we ordered some caviar with acid cream – my favourite, some fried fish balls and bimis (a hybrid between asparagus and broccoli) fried in lemon – this one I need to try repeating at home, it was di-vine. For dessert we got a fig ice cream with almond merengue and drunken pear. While this is a simple restaurant and there´s no need for formal wear, the dishes are quintessentially Portuguese and most exquisite in their simplicity and quality. What a way to end the year!
Price: all of the above (mainly starters + dessert + drinks) cost 47€ for two people
Our little weekend getaway was our way of spoiling ourselves after a pretty crappy 2020. We realise we were extremely fortunate to be able to get away like this, and experience a bit of luxury despite the dire situation out there. We do not recommend you travel unless you can insure you and the people you have contact with are as safe as possible. But whether at a nice hotel or cabin, or in the comfort of your own home, take some time to enjoy a good meal and a moment of intimacy either with yourself, or with a dear one. Make 2021 count.