Its charm is simple, but this friendly and very affordable chalet-style hotel will wow nature lovers with its location right in the middle of Portugal's one and only national park. The cozy, family-run hotel offers a warm welcome, delicious home-cooked breakfasts and accommodations that are surprisingly comfortable for this price category.
There's free parking on site, and staff can arrange activities such as horse riding, kayaking, or wine tasting in the local area.
Hotel Carvalho Araújo has 23 rooms, with single, double and triple bed options. All have views over the woods and mountains, or out to the nearby villages, and all have a simple, homely charm. All rooms have private bathrooms, central heating, TV with cable channels, and a writing desk. Most importantly of all, each room has a balcony where guests can relax in a chair and soak up the fresh forest air and the gorgeous views.
YOU SHOULD KNOW There's no air conditioning, so rooms can be quite hot at the height of summer.
Each private bathroom is clean and well-maintained, with clean white tiling and freestanding showers or tubs. There are complimentary toiletries, hairdryers and makeup/shaving mirrors.
Staff at the small wooden reception desk offer a warm welcome, and a working fireplace takes that warmth up a notch, making for a wonderfully cozy setting in the cooler months (things do get very chilly during the winter). The hotel was several comfortable living rooms, with television sets, deep armchairs and sofas, and lots of English language books and travel guides, which guests are welcome to read while curled up by the fireplace and sipping a drink.
Breakfast is a feast of fresh pastries, home-made preserves, local cheeses and good strong coffee, and can be taken in the cozy dining room with its large windows overlooking the mountains, or out on the terrace, depending on the weather. A simple snack bar, O Torga, sells light meals and drinks.
YOU SHOULD KNOW The hotel is sometimes able to provide home-cooked dinners, but these must be booked with plenty of advance notice.
There's a small bar in the lobby-living space, and guests can enjoy a drink by the roaring log fire when temperatures drop outside.
Don't expect fancy cocktails, but be sure to try at least one vinho verde (the fresh, young wine is produced in the region's many vineyards and exported all over the world).
This mountainous park spreads over some 70,000 hectares of thick pine forest, rustic villages, and dreamy scenery. Hiking and horseback riding are popular ways to see some of the sights, but a car is the best bet for anybody who wants to see more than a small section of the park. It is around 90-minutes' drive from Porto airport to the hotel, and there are well-paved roads crisscrossing the landscape. Walking/riding trails through the park begin virtually outside the front door, and guests will find natural pools and waterfalls, famously health-giving thermal spas and pretty granite villages within a few minutes' walk from the hotel.
The Minho region is famous for its richly-flavored meat and seafood dishes, including the garlicky pork dish rojões, and the thick caldo verde soup made with sausage, collard greens, and potato. Bacalhau (codfish) is another local favorite and comes in many different guises. Sample these, along with simple steaks at Restaurante Lurdes Capela (10-minute walk), where locals queue for a table in a cozy, mom-and-pop style restaurant. A little farther afield, on the outskirts of the park, Cantinho do Antigamente is renowned for its faithful, and hugely tasty, renderings of local dishes made from the freshest local ingredients.
Few people, if any, head to this rural paradise for its hedonistic nightlife, but the villages contain plenty of simple bars, most of which pull double duty as coffee shops/cafes. It's worth walking the 5km or so to Chamadouro bar (20-minute drive or 80-minute walk), which is as famous for its friendly service and delicious cakes as it is for its pretty setting and very cheap local wines (by the glass, bottle or carafe).
WHY WE LIKE IT
The location, right inside Portugal's ruggedly beautiful national park, is perfect, and the highly affordable rate means even travelers on a tight budget can appreciate wild nature without having to forgo creature comforts. Staff are extremely friendly, bedrooms and living spaces are cozy and inviting, and the views from the gardens and terraces are spectacular.