From hotels built in regal palaces to love stories that span the ages – Portugal is home to numerous places perfect for igniting (or reigniting) the flames of love.
One such site is in the cool hills of Sintra, a short trip from Lisbon where the royal court of Portugal went to relax for centuries. The town is framed on a large square flanked by a medieval palace, fountains, cafés, and antiques shops. Rising overhead is a green mountain, crowned by a 10th century castle and the whimsical 19th century royal Pena Palace. While there is no shortage of romantic B&B’s, palaces, and noble houses to stay in, the real gem of the area is the 18th century Seteais Palace, about five minutes outside of town, with gorgeous gardens and intimate luxury. In the Buçaco forest perched on a mountain above the Spa town of Luso, an ancient Carmelite monastery was converted to a royal palace a century ago, - then converted again into a luxury hotel - The Buçaco Palace Hotel - just years later. The surrounding forests have been protected by law for four centuries. On the Azores island of São Miguel, the "Terra Nostra Garden Hotel" boasts countless "caldeiras", geysers, steam vents and springs. Twenty-three different hot springs punctuate the local spa town of Furnas, as well as a modern spa, botanical gardens, and a championship 18 holes golf course designed by famed Scottish architect Philip Mackenzie Ross.
Sometimes romance stems not just from surroundings, but from timeless stories of passion and heartache. In southern Portugal, Beja tells such a story – of a twenty six-year old nun who fell in love and was abandoned by a French officer in the 17th century. Her passionate letters to him took Paris by storm after they were published in 1669 and incited a crucial turn in world literature that led to artists like Braque, Modigliani and Elizabeth Barret Browning. Today visitors can travel along Beja’s cobbled streets to the convent where Sister Mariana Alcoforado lived, reading author Myriam Cyr’s “
” to provide the rich historical context that brings the lovers and Portugal’s fabulous history to life.
Another of Europe’s most tragic love stories is that of Pedro and Inês de Castro. Pedro was the heir to the throne, and Inês was lady in waiting to his wife. When Pedro’s wife died, he declared his love for Inês – who was promptly killed by the king (after all, this was the 13th century). Pedro, besides having the hearts of two of the killers torn out, led a revolt to avenge his beloved, had her corpse exhumed and crowned as Queen of Portugal in the great Abbey of Alcobaça. Today, the ruin of the palace where Inês and Pedro lived and the gardens where she was killed are part of the hotel "Quinta das Lágrimas" in Coimbra. Called the "Garden of the Tears", visitors today can trace the ancient paths that the two ill-fated lovers walked together. About 50 miles south is the Abbey of Alcobaça, where the ornate tombs of Pedro and Inês stand foot to foot, so that on the day of judgment the first thing they will see is each other.