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Tedgale Trip Report: Portugal in April 2014 (with Easter in Amsterdam)

Tedgale Trip Report: Portugal in April 2014 (with Easter in Amsterdam)

Old Apr 22nd, 2014, 11:01 AM
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Tedgale Trip Report: Portugal in April 2014 (with Easter in Amsterdam)

We traveled to Portugal this April, to get away from the last of the worst Canadian winter in a decade. Though we travel to Europe twice a year on average, it was a first visit to Portugal for us.

Since we arrived home only yesterday afternoon, I am still coping with jet lag. Therefore, this report will be written in instalments. I will start with tombstone information – how we flew, how we got around inside the country and where we stayed.

After a high-level overview of our trip, I plan to provide some specific advice and insights about travel in Portugal, based on our experience.

Depending on how much interest there is and how energetic I feel, I may continue with write-ups on specific sites and towns.

I will tell you the best things we saw, did and ate. This is not meant to be a blog and I will spare you the granular detail on what we did hour-by-hour.

Before I get deep into the dull facts on flights and room rates, I will give you a taste of the pleasures we uncovered in Portugal. I hope this will motivate you to stick with the preliminary throat clearing about logistics:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?...1&l=938fb6b1b0
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Old Apr 22nd, 2014, 11:08 AM
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FLIGHT INFO:

Mon 07APR
Ottawa to Toronto on Westjet
Toronto to Paris on Air France

Tue 08APR
Paris CDG to Lisbon on Air France
Pick up car at Lisbon airport – Europcar rental, booked through AutoEurope

Sat 19APR
Late morning flight from Lisbon to Amsterdam on KLM

Mon 21APR
We took the KLM 9:35 morning flight from Amsterdam to Toronto. We cleared customs and immigration in Toronto airport, then rechecked our luggage for our onward Westjet flight to Ottawa, arriving home at 2:58 PM.

Bottom lines on flights:
With one reservation, which I outline below, we were happy with all our flights.

Flights were generally on time and went smoothly. We had a one-hour delay in departing AMS because of a problem with water pressure in the onboard restrooms. The pilot was able to make up most, not all, of the time. The resulting delay was immaterial to us anyway: We had abundant time to catch our onward connection from Toronto to Ottawa.

I am increasingly tempted back to Air Canada because of their much improved service performance and the convenience of their direct flights from Ottawa to Frankfurt and London. But for most destinations in continental Europe, KLM/ AF is hard to beat for price (including free “open jaws” bookings and a free stopover in Paris or Amsterdam) and for convenient routing options.

On one of KLM/ AF’s frequent seat sales, we got tickets Ottawa Toronto CDG Lisbon and Lisbon AMS (2 night stopover at an AMS airport hotel) and AMS Toronto Ottawa for about $825 Canadian. That is less than $750 US.

We generally take a one-night stopover in Amsterdam on the way home. This allows us to spend a few hours in a city we enjoy, then take the 9:35 morning flight AMS to Toronto. We are home in Ottawa by 3 PM local time. A big selling point for us.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2014, 11:10 AM
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MY CAVEAT ABOUT OUR FLIGHTS:

Something to be wary of when dealing with regional code-share partners: We were able to check in online for our Westjet flight on the WJ website but were unable to check in there for the Air France flight. Nor could we check in online on the AF website.

We went straight to the WJ counter when we got to Ottawa airport but were chagrined to find that the seats we had chosen months in advance for our outbound flight YYZ-CDG had somehow been arbitrarily changed. We were seated further back and a couple of rows apart.

The Westjet agent in Ottawa airport was able to print the boarding passes but was unable to get into the AF system to try to reclaim our seats. We knew that AF would be unable to do anything by the time we got to Toronto, since we’d have only 90 minutes before flight time – by that hour, only random middle seats are available.

In the end it all worked out once we got into the plane. With some rearranging of seats with nearby passengers - members of a family that wanted to sit together but had been separated – we ended up with three seats for the two of us. And I found I actually preferred being in the rear of the plane – much quieter at night.

We have not had this problem, as far as I can recall, when flying out of Toronto with KLM. Seat choice (in Economy/Coach class) is a big enough deal for us that we may have to avoid flying AF out of Toronto in future.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2014, 11:25 AM
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Hi Ted, looking forward to hearing about Portugal, which I really enjoyed.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2014, 11:56 AM
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Looking forward to this!
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Old Apr 22nd, 2014, 12:49 PM
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CAR RENTAL:

We always rent through AutoEurope, generally by researching online and then calling their 1-800 number in Portland ME to deal with a real person. Their agents are very well informed - in our experience, anyway - and have lots more information at their fingertips than I can find online. For example, they were able to confirm that Europcar has a desk in the main terminal and stores its cars in the parking garage next door. Some of the smaller rental firms are located off-site, requiring some shuttle arrangement.

Dealing with an on-site agency was a great plus, especially when returning the car before we headed into Lisbon. From the garage, we were literally steps from the entrance to the Metro, which we took downtown with all our luggage – a deceptively convenient entry point to a subterranean adventure that I would not repeat.

Some bottom lines about our car rental:

1. I had read online that Europcar should be avoided because of the long lineup to pick up the rental. The line was a bit long – but I have seen worse.

2. We rented a compact Fiat Punto – manual, 4 door. It lacked pick up but was otherwise more than adequate. We two adults travel with one 23 inch suitcase apiece, plus a shoulder bag each. The trunk was spacious and we never felt cramped.

3. The barebones price for a week’s rental was low, about $200 Canadian. I had read that CDW charges on Portuguese rentals can be usurious. Wisely or not, we relied instead on the insurance coverage on the driver’s credit card.

4. I had also been warned to check the car for any damage and to record it minutely, as allegations of minor damage are a frequent source of disputes in Portugal. I could see that they do indeed focus on minor scrapes and mars: the newly cleaned car had loads of tiny marks made with a yellow grease pencil to highlight existing damage.

The man who conveyed the car to us went over it very carefully and recorded every blemish. I started out photographing the blemishes he noted on his printed form. Most were barely visible. After he reached 20 or so, I gave up.

When we returned the car, a different man went through the same process but in a very speedy, even offhand manner. He pronounced the car to be just as delivered to us and congratulated us on our stewardship of their property!

5. I knew that we would need a transponder in the car, to record our use of toll roads. Europcar charges 1.50 E per day for transponder rental and does not impose any administrative charge of its own for its role in remitting the charges to the national government. (The company charges the tolls to your credit card.)

We have not seen a bill so I cannot say how onerous the tolls are. But on some toll roads, the charge is signposted at the end of each segment of road and the charges we saw were moderate, given the distances traveled.

In theory, you can drive without a transponder. Your licence number is recorded by a camera when you enter and leave a motorway. You then have five days to go to a public office (or perhaps a post office) to pay what you owe. But there is a lag time of 48 hours before your information is logged into their computer system. So you must present yourself, probably on multiple occasions if you rent for a week or more, and always with very strict timeframes: no sooner than 48 hours but before five working days.

No thanks.

6. We drove cross-country a lot and stayed in some out-of-the-way places. I am the navigator. Another poster here has said he felt he really needed GPS in Portugal.

I am not a GPS fan: I don’t need or want someone whispering commands at me. And I think over-reliance on GPS is robbing some people – some, not all – of any ability to navigate from maps and their natural environment. But I did find it very useful to upload on a tablet a (Google) map for the roads we’d use that day. Even without WiFi access, the map can be enlarged and shrunk and the GPS location function (generally) continued to pinpoint our location on the map throughout the day.

I only wish I had brought our charging cord, which plugs into the car’s cigarette lighter.

7. I found a very useful website with information on car rental pick up and drop off at airports and train stations throughout Europe. Here is their entry on car rental return at Lisbon airport. It describes how to reach the airport from the south and west – i.e. from the downtown side. The approach would be somewhat different if you were driving to the airport from the north, as we were:
http://www.carjet.com/blog/returning...lisbon-airport

I found the signs on the airport property quite confusing. When returning the car, we needed the help of a local squad car, which stopped when it saw us pulled over in an odd spot. What confused me further is that there are actually two facades to the airport. One is primarily for departures; around the corner is the one for arrivals. I was only familiar with the arrivals façade; when we drove in from the north on the A1, I found myself facing a vaguely familiar building – but no garage, no metro entrance and so on. Disorienting.

BTW, the nearest petrol station is a BP station at the last roundabout before the airport when arriving from downtown – which, logically, is the first roundabout you’ll see when exiting the airport from the airport garage. I saw this BP station had the dismaying words “24/7” posted outside. This often means that the station is not manned and requires you to use European bank cards – but will not, IME, accept North American credit cards, even those with a chip. Happily, this BP station is also a bar-café, so it was staffed even during the hours of lunch and the siesta and presumably late into the evening. And they do take cash.

8. Finally, a word on Portuguese roads and drivers. The toll motorways are beautiful, superbly maintained – and empty. There are many second-level roads that are motorways in all but name. The average highway – even national (N) roads – will be frustratingly slow, however, if it comes anywhere near a town. We tried to take backroad shortcuts for variety but finally gave it up – driving twice as far on the motorway was actually faster and probably safer, too.

We found roadway manners were less of an issue than we had expected. The drivers are fast but – on the motorways at least – they are very consistent and quite courteous.. On smaller roads, the main problem is truck drivers, who can be bullies and daredevils. And no one gives way, on narrow village streets.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2014, 02:45 PM
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Looking forward to reading about Lisbon
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Old Apr 22nd, 2014, 02:46 PM
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WHERE WE STAYED:

Our accommodations were a high point of the trip. After picking up our rental car, we spent a week in four rural zones: the Alentejo region SE of Lisbon, Ribatejo region and the closely related (and adjacent) Douro and Minho regions. I will describe them in turn but here is the tombstone info:

Nights 1-2:
Imani Country House hotel
Quinta de Montemuro
7000-223 (Nossa Senhora de) Guadalupe, near Evora
Tel : (35) 1 266 782 021

For luxurious country living (donkeys in residence) with a distinctly hip, modern vibe, you can’t do much better than this inn just outside Evora, one of the little architectural jewels of the Alentejo region:
http://www.imani.pt/index.php?option...emid=4&lang=en

Night 3:
Hotel Villa Batalha
Rua D. Duarte I, 248
2440-415 Batalha - Portugal
Tel : (35) 1 244 240 400

As a base for exploring the big-three monastic sites of Alcobaca, Batalha and Tomar, we chose this brand new and very comfortable “design” hotel just moments away from the Batalha monastery:
http://www.hotelvillabatalha.com/en/

Nights 4-5:
Quinta da Pacheca
Cambres, 5100-424 Lamego
Tel : (35) 1 254 313 228

Also known as The Wine House hotel, this property is a luxurious combination of wine estate, fine restaurant and sumptuous accommodation - with views across the Douro River:
http://www.quintadapacheca.com/en/Qu...The-Hotel.aspx

Nights 6-7 :
Pousada de Guimarães/ Pousada de Santa Marinha
Largo Domingos Leite de Castro
Lugar da Costa 4810-011 Guimarães
Tel: (35) 1 253 511 249

This pousada, now managed by the Pestana Group, is a magnificent former monastery perched high above the pretty, moderate-sized city of Guimaraes:
http://www.pousadas.pt/historic-hote...ages/home.aspx

For our four nights in Lisbon, we rented a spacious ground-floor studio at Travessa Joao de Deus, 10. This is in the Chiado district but right on the edge of the Bairro Alto neighbourhood. Its nearest neighbour of note is the church of Sao Roque; the landmark Igreja do Carmo is a few minutes' walk away.

The rental agency was Fado Flats, whose office is directly across from the apartment. Here is the link to a page of photos of the studio:
http://www.fadoflats.pt/index.php?la...=detalhe&id=16
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Old Apr 22nd, 2014, 03:14 PM
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Love the hotels you chose!! Just starting to plan a trip and look forward to more.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2014, 03:30 PM
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They all were nice but the Imani was the hands-down winner as best bargain. In April, which is often a rainy month, they offered a 2 for 1 deal: Stay two nights, pay their one-night "rack rate".

We had a glorious room with private terrace, a fine buffet breakfast, fluffy robes, attentive service and no interruption but birdsong.

For 75 Euros a night.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2014, 03:45 PM
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Looking forward to reading your TR. We leave for Portugal in a couple weeks. How far from Evora was the Imani?
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Old Apr 22nd, 2014, 05:46 PM
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It is about 10 minutes by road. Very close to an interesting site of prehistoric cromlechs (erect stones, like a mini Stonehenge). There are cromlechs and menhirs in abundance across the region. This seems to have something to do with the latitude and the angle of the moon in those latitudes:

"The countryside around Evora is rich with megaliths of all kinds. This region of Portugal offers some of the biggest and the best sites in Iberia.

"There are only two latitudes in which the Moon's maximum declination is the same as the latitude, meaning that at its maximum elongation it goes through the zenith (directly overhead). These two latitudes are 38˚ 331 N (Almendres), and 51° 10' N (Stonehenge).

"Recent discoveries of astronomical alignments between sites, support the idea that the Evora was important in prehistory..."

In the pool area at the Imani, they have erected rocks in imitation of the nearby cromlech. Sounds cheesy but it is quite appealing. As everything is, in this very well run property.

I don't want to anticipate my fuller description, which I will write tomorrow, but here is a shot of our room at this lovely place:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?f...8&l=aceba2d769
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Old Apr 22nd, 2014, 06:17 PM
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Jumping totally out of sequence ....

I just posted to another thread (started by yestravel) about Lisbon restaurants. So I figured I might as well post my Lisbon restaurant list now.

Then I will revert to my discussion of where we stayed.
_______________

On the level of pure cuisine, I was quite impressed by Cantinho do Alvillez ( I can see how he earned a Michelin star for his main restaurant) though the atmosphere seemed a little anxious and dull -- as though Lisbon residents had saved up their Euros and were trying to make them stretch (at what to us N Americans did not seem like an expensive place at all)

A food blogger recently declared their battered and fried haricot beans were one of the "must eat" dishes of Lisbon. I had them and they are just that good!

Another place we enjoyed was the newly opened tapas bar at the "iconic" Tagide, very close to C do A. From 7 to 8 PM weekdays, order one dish of tapas for 4 Euros and get a free glass of wine, with a killer view over the city.

For deft service and quite nice cooking at moderate prices, we would recommend Sacramento, near the Igreja do Carmo.

Here is my full list, which comprises ONLY places near our Chiado rental apartment:

1. Cantinho do Alvillez: Rua Duques de Bragança 7, Phone:+351 21 199 2369 Hours: •12:30 – 3:00 pm, 7:30 pm – 12:00 am http://cantinhodoavillez.pt/?lang=en

2. Tagide: Largo da Academia Nacional de Belas Artes 18 e 20, Phone 213 404 010
E-mail [email protected] Site http://www.restaurantetagide.com

Tágide occupies an aristocratic building. Its main dining room exudes a certain charm with its delightful Portuguese tiling. Traditional cuisine with a modern touch. Meal prices Menu: 18€/ 42€ - Carte: 23€/39€

Tágide, one of the most emblematic restaurants in Lisbon, have recently opened a new outlet – Tágide Wine & Tapas Bar – Enjoy a wide selection of tapas and appetizers, typically Portuguese but with a gourmet touch, having prices ranging between € 4.50 and € 9.00.

From Tuesday to Friday, the Tágide Wine & Tapas Bar offers a Lunch Menu at € 12.50 which includes a soup, a tapas selection chosen by the chef, one drink (glass of red or white wine, mineral water or soda), custard tart and coffee. View over Lisbon! http://restaurantetagide.com/download/MenuTapasBar.pdf

3. Restaurante Carmo: Largo do Carmo, 11, Phone: 213 460 088
Small plates meal in chic atmosphere very near the flat - useful in case of rain or fatigue

4. Lisboa Carmo Hotel: Rua da Oliveira ao Carmo (Largo do Carmo)
Phone 21 326 47 10 Site http://www.lisboacarmohotel.com

In very same area is this small, simple restaurant. Meal prices Menu: 10€/ 17€ Carte approx.: 25€ Cuisine: Traditional

5. Sacramento. Calcada do Sacramento 40-46, Ph. 21 342 05 72

Trip Advisor rates it #28 in the city. Tourists rave. Very near our flat. Medium-pricey. Same owner as Restaurant Carmo. We liked it quite a bit.

6. Jardim das Cerejas Calcada Sacramento 36, (Baixa) Phone: +351 213469308

A cheap vegetarian place to keep in reserve, it is near Baixa\Chiado metro station: (Take Calçada Sacramento, northwest of the station)
http://www.jardimdascerejas.com/

7. Taberna da Rua das Flores Rua das Flores 103 Open weekdays 11:00 am – 12:00 midnight Phone 351 21 347 9418 No reservations. Well reviewed. Copious and inexpensive.

Hip friends also recommended:
8. Restaurante 560 (www.restaurante560.com) Rua das Gáveas 78 +351 21 346 8317
9. In Belem is Descobre, http://www.descobre.com.pt/ 65/69 rua Bartolomeu Dias Belem
10. The Old Pharmacy Wine Inn, www,theoldpharmacy.pt is on Rua Diario de Noticias 73 - 83, Bairro Alto
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Old Apr 22nd, 2014, 11:46 PM
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Very interesting, tedgale - I look forward to following the rest of your report. We are off to Lisbon for the first time in August.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2014, 12:10 AM
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Hi Ted,

Did you eat at every place on the full list or was this the list you took with you and only ate at those you recommended?

The atmosphere at most Michelin star restaurants is anxious and dull -- at best! It is rare to find an exception, and the dour atmosphere of these places happens in flush countries as well as those suffering austerity.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2014, 04:01 AM
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Welcome home Tedgale. Sorry about the weather. Should be better today. Always love your reports.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2014, 05:55 AM
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Snadralist: The list is what I researched and drew up before we went.

We ate only at Cantinho do Alvillez, Tagide's tapas bar (next door to the main restaurant) and Sacramento.

By that point in the trip, I was getting fatigued with dining out every night, so a couple of nights we ate in the apartment, whose kitchen was quite well equipped.

My favourite Portuguese dish, unobtainable in Ottawa, is morcela (like boudin noir or blood sausage) cooked with Delicious apples and onions. We had that with a salad of arugula, cherry tomatoes and poached salmon. Served an Alentejo red, I think, and white port over ice as a cocktail.

The salmon was overkill - I was stuffed.

Cantinho do Alvillez is supposed to be the bistro version of Alvillez's signature starred restaurant. So I was surprised at how subdued it seemed.

The only people who seemed fully to be enjoying themselves were two very pretty young women from NYC (as the whole room learned) who, like, swapped complaints about, like, men, life and work in a nasal Quackspeak.

But our meal of small plates was of a remarkable subtlety, invention and flavour. And not expensive, in NA terms. I would certainly like to explore C do A again another time.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2014, 06:01 AM
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Here are some photos from Cantinho do Alvillez:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?f...1&l=a05e020957

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?f...2&l=74f2987548

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?f...0&l=e58361bc3b
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Old Apr 23rd, 2014, 06:05 AM
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...And some photos of food and drinks at Happy Hour at Tagide's tapas bar. My notes read:

Happy Hour at hip Tagide. Everyone goes for the view.
In characteristic fashion, Happy Hour doesn't start until 7 PM. White wine and tapas: Chicken liver terrine w/ 4 kinds of bread for R, 2 dozen small clams in broth for me.

Wine and food for two with a good tip, an incredible 10 Euros

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?f...0&l=96b0c959ba

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?f...7&l=9d8f0f2fa6
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Old Apr 23rd, 2014, 07:13 AM
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NOTES ON THE PLACES WE STAYED:

Imani Country House: This is a seven-room inn, a conversion of farm outbuildings from circa 1900. It stands in open, hilly grounds up a rutted dirt road from the tiny, featureless village of Guadalupe. You park in the orange grove next to the house – I regularly plucked oranges to nibble. The owner, whom we never saw, lives on-site in the original farm house.

Each room is different and is a combination of hip modern décor and funky relics from the past. In our huge bathroom, there were three old sewing machines displayed on a series of shelves. High ceilings, exposed beams, a woodstove with wood supplied, if you want it. Access to the rooms is from your screened-off terrace, where there are comfortable chairs and a table.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?f...0&l=0a3600d7fc

For some reason, we never did get the WiFi to work – I ended up using the free hotspot maintained by the local government outside their office in Evora.

We did not use the pool, though it was open. Lovely, well groomed grounds – there was much we left unexplored in this extensive property.

The breakfast is served in a huge, renovated hangar-like space, which also has a sitting area with fireplace, a billiard table (I think) and a grand piano. The copious if not overly original breakfast is normally served from 9:30 am, though they brought someone in to serve us earlier, at my request.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?f...0&l=c8c3a161a9

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?f...0&l=38fb48bf6d

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?f...2&l=e022387cbf

In season, they operate a restaurant on site. In the off season, it is closed, though we were offered snacks or a light meal if we wanted it.

Service is of a high standard. The few staff we dealt with were young, very deferential but still friendly. We both felt quite spoiled. It was a very good choice for jetlagged travelers who wanted to recuperate. And the off-season price of 75 Euros was an exceptional bargain.

When researching, I looked into two nearby pousadas, at Estremoz and at Vila Vicosa. We also considered staying our first night close to the Lisbon airport, at the magnificently located pousada at Palmela.

By coincidence we walked by both the Estremoz and Vila Vicosa pousadas during our rambles through the towns east of Evora. We peeked into their grand and well maintained gardens and even spoke to the very eager young man at the front desk in Estremoz. Any of these would be an interesting choice for someone looking for a historic property in or close to a town.

Hotel Villa Batalha: As I mentioned above, we needed a place for one night in the middle of our visit to the big three monasteries – Alcobaca, Batalha and Tomar. I had seen Leiria recommended as a good launch pad for this itinerary but we did not want to stay in a large town or city. Batalha was a good choice: a small, well-serviced town with a large, brand new hotel in a quiet setting facing a main street.

Apart from the monastery, which dominates the town, there is little of note in Batalha but it provides a pleasant, open setting.

The hotel, which has spa facilities but seems more of a businessman’s hotel, is spotless. Our bathroom was very large and quite luxurious. Our room was a bit characterless but had some nice touches, including a small glass-walled balcony. Our room was perfectly quiet but next time, I might ask for a room at the back, just to have a view of their garden.
There were very few other people staying there and the sound-proofing is very good (no sound in the room of the rather loud jazz that was playing in the hallways)

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?...1&l=b9b27ae49f

The breakfast, served in a large room overlooking the garden, was much like the one at Imani – copious, nicely presented but not overly original. Decaf coffee, in particular, seems to be unknown in Portuguese hotels, so I went without until we were able to buy some in a Lisbon supermarket.

This hotel room with breakfast was a good bargain, at 78 Euros. Had we stayed the next night, when occupancy was presumably even lower, we could have had a junior suite for the same price!
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