Pousadas of Portugal, Paradores of Spain, and French Chateaux are all essentially the same thing: palaces, castles, convents and other historic buildings converted into luxury hotels.
You can literally sleep like a king in one of Portugal’s many palaces turned hotels. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that this category of hotels is my absolute favourite and I’ll tell you why.
They are usually small to medium-sized, giving an intimate, exclusive feel. They curate the best the region has to offer, from the location, service, tours and activities, food and wine. The perfect balance between past and present, old and new, quality and value.
This wonderful concept emerged in the 1920s in Spain as a way to preserve important and historic buildings that would otherwise have deteriorated into ruin. By repurposing and converting these old buildings into hotels they are able to finance their preservation – and also share them with visitors from around the world.
It was formally set up in Portugal a short while later in the 1940s and in France in the 1950s. Over time, the concept has also evolved from preserving historic structures to include the preservation of local heritage, culture and environment.
Portuguese pousadas were state-owned until 2003 when the Pestana hotel group bought the concession. Today, there are 34 pousadas across Portugal divided among four categories: historic, design, charm and nature.
Historic and design refers to the type of renovation, from restoration to full redesign, as well as the interior decoration, ranging from antique to more artistic and contemporary. Charm and nature refer more to the atmosphere and location, such as unique towns, nature retreats, countryside or coastal locations.
You can find information about Portuguese pousadas on the Pestana website, as well as deals for the length of stay, early booking, half board, and seniors. The prices are better than one may expect, an affordable alternative to other hotels.
Pousadas are dotted throughout the country, from the wine valleys of Porto in the north all the way down to the Algarve in the south. A road trip is one of the best ways to discover Portugal, as you can drive from Porto to Faro in just five hours, with much to see along the way.
Choosing a Pousada
Luxury hotels come in all shapes and sizes, which can be a bit like comparing apples with oranges. Interestingly, there is no global standard for awarding stars. Most countries set their own guidelines based on things like room size, provision of 24-hour room service and business facilities.
So I’ve come to find that the hotel chain and association are a far better and more useful differentiator. The Palacio de Estoi, for example, is both a Pousada and member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World – both accreditations I look for when choosing a hotel. The Pousada Castelo de Estremoz is also one of the most luxurious in the group.
In France, the pousada equivalent is privately managed by Relais & Chateaux, (which if you’re a reader of my blog, you’ll know I swear by) as well as other independent companies. Of course, other European countries are also well-known for their centuries-old historic hotels. But their ownership and management structures are usually different, and not under a single group like in Portugal or Spain.
It also depends on whether you are travelling for business or pleasure. Big hotel chains fit my business travel needs perfectly but don’t even come close when it’s for pleasure. The last thing I want when I travel to a new place is a replica of the place I’ve just left. I want to experience the country I’m visiting and immerse myself in the culture, heritage, landscape, architecture, and cuisine. This is exactly what a pousada stay is all about.
Photo Credits: Pestana Group