I am absolutely in love with Portugal’s picturesque little villages called Aldeias. Recently, in Part 1 of my aldeia experience, I recounted the memorable weekend I spent with Rita’s family at their home in Avecasta, an aldeia in Ribatejo and how in their gracious hospitality, filled my appetite with the freshest, homecooked meals using all local ingredients and showed me some marvelous historical and natural sites around the countryside. When I arrived home, however, I was left wondering (and hoping) if such a wonderful experience could be repeated if I visited other aldeias on my own.
Last June, I seized the opportunity by searching for a pretty little guesthouse out in the country over a long weekend and found Quinta da Moçamedes. Quinta de Moçamedes is a charming little bed & breakfast in the north center of Portugal near Viseu, in the tiny aldeia of São Miguel do Mato and surrounded by several other aldeias. The recently opened Quinta was rebuilt from a 12th-century stone manor with the added bonus of rating “superb” on Booking.com; hence, my expectations were quite high when we arrived.
Upon entry, we were warmly greeted by the owner and operator, Antonio Borges – an exceptionally lively and gracious guy – who just happened to be a designer and painter by trade. After a long and leisurely conversation, followed by a stroll around the Quinta, he escorted us to our room, a small cozy space with soft lamps and a very large and comfortable bed. The walls were thick stone from the original structure and worked as natural air-conditioning by day and heat by night. Bidding adieu, he later returned with chilled wine glasses brimming with fresh strawberries, mint and red wine, a house favorite.
As the Quinta does not have a formal restaurant on the premises, the family often prepares meals for guests upon request or invites them to enjoy a large family-style meal for a small additional charge. Having already accepted his invite, we enjoyed our drinks and slices of homemade cake on the Quinta’s patio with a beautiful 180 degree view of the surrounding aldeias in the valley below, as the sun gently set behind the Caramulo mountains while dinner was being prepared.
Our family dinner, on the first night, was not only with Antonio’s entire family, but also with a full-house of hotel guests who had all (to every guest’s surprise) accepted the kind invitation. We sat around two large, handcrafted wooden tables and benches in the lobby dining room: one reserved for the adults and one for the children, including Antonio’s three little ones. The meal was simple yet plentiful, with platters of traditional Portuguese churrasqueira grilled chicken, both spicy and non-spicy, accompanied by heaping bowls of bread, potato chips, salad and several large decanters filled with a Dão red wine. The majority of the guests were Portuguese but there were also a few couples from Sweden. After dinner, we celebrated Antonio’s wife’s birthday with a gorgeous cake and bottles of espumante while singing happy birthday to her in both Portuguese and Swedish! With full cups of sparkling wine in hand, we conversed well into the morning hours, a truly wonderful experience.
Breakfast each morning was simple but homemade, including two delicious pastries, an apple cake and coconut tapioca along with fresh local cherries in season. Antonio was always around the Quinta, checking up on everyone to see how we were enjoying our stay or if we needed anything. And aside from treating us to more of his homemade sangria while we lounged at the pool, he was more than happy to give us plenty of recommendations for what to see and do around the area. Here are some of the highlights:
- Our scenic drive through the valley and up the mountain, passing by sweet little farms and several aldeias. Near the top, we came across an aldeia literally perched on the edge of a cliff with an incredible view of the valley below. Having had the “bright” idea of driving the car down the narrow dirt roads of the aldeia, we eventually were stuck with the car pointing off the edge of the cliff! Suggestion, don’t do that! Fortunately, after several nail-biting attempts, we eventually broke loose, allowing us for a safe travel back to the aldeia.
- Finding a small café/restaurant, after the traditional lunch hour, that were kind enough to offer us the cabrito assado (roast baby goat), the special of the day. Served with roasted potatoes and onions, rice with chouriço, a fresh salad and washed down with a cold beer on a hot sunny day, we were in heaven!
- Coming across Quinta da Comenda, an agro-turismo estate dating as far back as the 11th century that had a guesthouse and vineyards open to the public to purchase their organically grown wine. Though they didn’t offer tastings, or have any recent vintages for sale, we went ahead and bought 2 whites, a red and a sparkling. Unfortunately, we later found out that they were a bit past past their prime, but still drinkable all the same. Hopefully they’ll make some new vintages in the future.
- Exploring the antique town of Vouzela on a chilly, full-moon evening, we strolled along the dimly-lit cobbled streets, lined with more eerily beautiful 11th century stone buildings and chapels and a Roman bridge.
So yes, we had some great moments on a our weekend getaway to aldeia country, especially as a result of the attentive, friendly and caring hospitality of Antonio Borges’ and his family at Quinta de Moçamedes. Homecooked food, personal attention and literally eating with the family, you couldn’t help but feel like one of their own! It was one of the most memorable evenings I’ve had in a hotel, B&B or otherwise. And I can now say that my great experiences visiting and staying in aldeias can most certainly be repeated and should definitely be repeated in the near future. On your next trip then, make some time to experience Portugal’s aldeias, you won’t regret it!
To Antonio Borges and the Quinta de Moçamedes family, thank you for making us feel like family!