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An imposing, former 12th century monastery set on a hilltop 1km outside Guimarães where original, 18th century Azulejos tiles, Moorish architecture and monks’ cells have been given an award winning makeover.
Looking down on the cobbled alleyways, restaurants and arty goings-on of Guimarães‘ old quarter and directly across to the mountain top shrine of Mount Penha with its ferry of cable cars, is the rather sombre-looking Igreja de Santa Marinha and its upmarket companion, the Pousada Santa Marinha.
Originally the home of Saint Augustine monastic orders before their expulsion and replacement by the monks of the Order of Saint Jerome in 1528, the monastery was badly damaged by fire in 1951 and left to decay. Rescued by the Portuguese state in 1972, its subsequent restoration won it the ‘Europa Nostra’ architectural prize in 1985.
With all the grandeur of a stately home where ceilings are so high you wander how they ever get the cobwebs off and your footfalls echo down endless stone passageways and through cavernous drawing rooms and libraries, this is not the place to book for your stag or hen party. Almost as tranquil as it must have been in its original owners’ day, Santa Marinha’s cloistered indulgence is best kept for the honeymoon, the romantic getaway or the stress-busting weekend.
22 former monastic cells in the Noble Wing provide antique furniture, stone window seats overlooking the gardens and granite and marble en suites. Gone is the austere temperance gladly suffered by their original inhabitants to be replaced by plump pillows, polished wooden floors, decorative furniture, firm mattresses and beautifully scented toiletries. Two suites have twin four poster beds decked out in tartan and antique living room furnishings oddly reminiscent of Victorian Britain. The ‘new’ wing on the second floor has incorporated skylights into the design to bring natural light to the halls and rooms. Furnishings are contemporary and floor space is more generous with a small, raised sitting room area fronting floor to ceiling windows.
One of the most striking aspects of the Pousada de Santa Marinha is its rather splendid gardens. From the camellia and magnolia filled beds of the enclosure of the old convent, an enticing stone staircase leads up into the holly, rhododendron, bay, chestnut and oak tree forest to an enchanting secret lake. When we were there it was deep mid-winter and branches were stark but it was easy to imagine the beauty and scent of the gardens in spring and summer which makes them the choice of many local brides for their wedding nuptials. In the former cistern with expansive views over the valley and Guimarães, the swimming pool invites long, lazy days in the sun.
With a reputation for fine food, the hotel restaurant is open to the public and on high days and holidays its stone pillars and terracotta tiles ring with the clatter of cutlery and chatter of locals who make it their special occasion restaurant of choice.
Prices at Pousada de Santa Marinha begin at €142 per night for double room and breakfast.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+
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