As our car climbed higher and higher into the mountains of central Portugal, I watched the dramatic change in the landscape. We left the city of Viseu and its 40,000 residents behind and entered Serra da Estrela Natural Park. Passing huge boulders the size of buildings, I was reminded of the cartoon character Fred Flintstone and his town of Bedrock. In fact, I stopped to take a picture of Casa da Fraga – the house of stone on our way to the hotel. Our lodging for the night, Casa das Penhas Douradas – translated from Portuguese to House of the Golden Rocks, due to the light reflecting off the surrounding stones, casting flashes of color, was a marvel to behold.
Design hotel built for the environment
The 18 room Casa das Penhas Douradas Design Hotel & Spa was built with the environment in mind, as it is situated within Serra da Estrela Natural Park. The eco-friendly, four star hotel opened in 2006, a dream realized by nature lovers and owners Joao Tomas and his wife, Isabel Costa. The entrepreneurial couple divide their time between their Lisbon home and Casa das Penhas Douradas.
“We dreamed that one day we would build this hotel,” notes Co-owner Isabel Costa. “Lots of the local people needed jobs and with our hotel and textile business, we could employ many of the local people.”
While the Portuguese couple live three hours away in Lisbon, Costa credits her great team for keeping the design hotel running smoothly.
Healthy living in high elevation
Originally appreciated for its pure air, Serra da Estrela is known to improve the lives of those suffering from tuberculosis. “People who live in the high elevation don’t have lung disease,” remarks Tomas.
Casa das Penhas Douradas Hotel has the unique distinction of being the highest hotel in Portugal. It began with one suite and three Mansarda rooms, with pitched roof ceilings to mimic the surrounding mountain peaks. In 2010 seven cork rooms were added to the design hotel, as well as the indoor swimming pool, sauna and spa.
Hotel rooms include central heating and offer hair dryer, robe, slippers, telephone, iPod player, internet, LCD television, DVD-player and complimentary fruit and water – some rooms include mini bars. My room, #16, a cork double room, rented for 120 euros and 145 euro on weekends. Individual hotel room rates offered at 15 euro less.
Casa das Penhas Douradas Spa
The small spa offers a couples treatment room, vichy massage room and individual room for signature treatments such as the Birch Stick Massage, Flor da Penha exfoliation, facial treatments and my personal favorite, the Relaxing Massage, with oils made from juniper, elderflower and local mountain herbs (50 minute massage 60 euros) check the website for current pricing. Save time to visit the Relaxation room and enjoy the birch furniture.
Dining options at Casa das Penhas Douradas
Upon arrival, guests are greeted with a cool or hot drink, depending on the season. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available to guests (additional charge for lunch and dinner) with an afternoon snack offered complimentary. Dinner includes soup, main course, cheeses, dessert, fresh fruit, coffee and liquors. Gourmet picnics are available upon request.
Design hotel features Burel wool
While Isabel Costa loves Casa das Penhas Douradas, it is wool from the local sheep that captures her attention and imagination. Costa has embraced and employed many of the local people and their passion for sheep. Afterall, this land and the nearby village of Manteigas was once filled with shepherds and multiple wool factories. With factories closed down and production jobs moved to China, Costa has since bought many of the wool factory machines and recently opened a Burel Factory in the neighboring village.
Hotel guests will notice the Burel wool upholstery on furniture, carpets and blankets throughout the Portuguese design hotel. Wool items such as backpacks, blankets and scarves are available for purchase by the hotel reception area, as well as the Lisbon, Portugal Burel store.
Need to know
Casa das Penhas Douradas offers a free DVD lending library, complimentary wifi, free mountain bikes to ride and miles of marked walking paths with varying degree of difficulty. Kayaks are available, free of charge, for hotel guests at the nearby lake and snowshoes are available in the winter.
Breakfast, included in the price, is served from 8:30 – 11:00 a.m.
Check in time: 3:00 p.m.
Check out time: 12:00 p.m.
A visit to Isabel Costa’s pet project, the Burel Factory in Manteigas village is worth a trip.
For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter and Central Portugal @AboutCentro on Twitter.
If You Go:
Casa das Penhas Douradas Design Hotel & Spa 351 275 981 045