Relaxing in Central Portugal

by Debbie Phelan    (A runner-up entry in the Inaugural Travel Writing Competition)

The luscious lemons were yellow like the sun, the oranges juicy and ripe for picking. I’d never before picked fruit straight from a tree to eat, but our holiday in Portugal was an absolute delight which brought us closer to nature. That can be a really good thing when you get past the age of needing night clubs, visiting noisy bars and wanting 18-30 type holidays.

Central Portugal - Tomar Castle
Tomar Castle

We booked our flights without accommodation, which was just as well. What a jewel we stumbled upon while travelling along the meandering country roads in central Portugal. We stopped at a cafe in the small rural community of Pereiro. The village was so small it wasn’t even on our map.

The cafe was small too but very friendly. It seemed to be frequented mainly by local Portuguese. However, as our Portuguese is not up to scratch for making conversation we were happy when we got talking to a local English speaking couple who were finishing their meal. We joined them at a table outside and shared a carafe of locally produced red wine, while basking in the glorious spring sunshine. It transpired they had a room to let, so we opted to take our chances and stay there for the night rather than risk not finding somewhere suitable later on.

I had a mouth-watering meal of freshly cooked salmon and my husband opted for the mixed grill. The couple went off to prepare our room while we ate. We left the car there at the local cafe, opting to wander lazily to the house that they had pointed out to us earlier. It was a cute Portuguese style house which was a mix of modern and traditional decor. The garden was surrounded by a delightful trellis fence with oleanders in bloom all the way up the driveway. Olive and fruit trees were in abundance there too.

We were shown to our room and were pleasantly surprised to find it had an en-suite bathroom with a self-contained kitchen/diner. We were more than happy with the accommodation on offer and with our hosts, so we ended up spending a whole week there. Each day we would head off in our hire car to explore all the historical treasures that were on the door step. The couple were very friendly and loaned us some local maps and recommended places for us to visit.

Shrine of Our Lady, Fatima
Shrine of Our Lady, Fátima

We spent lazy days visiting places like Fátima, where in 1917 it is reported 3 shepherd children experienced apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, and also Tomar, with the architectural delight of the Knights Templar castle dating back to the 12th century. Afterwards we would sit outside, where our hosts had created a beautiful Japanese style garden. They explained that they had created it for themselves so they could relax and meditate in natural surroundings.

However it wasn’t only for meditating. We would sit there most evenings sipping a jug of sangria watching the sun set behind an orange tree heavily laden with fruit which we would later pick and squeeze for breakfast. Some evenings we’d sit alone and other evenings our hosts would join us and we’d tell them all about our day’s adventure.

On the evenings we didn’t use the self-catering facilities, they would cook us mouth-watering meals that satisfied our hungering bellies. We’d just let them know the day before that we would like them to provide us with a meal and hey presto they would get cooking in their homely kitchen.

There were lovely local walks close by and as the weather was perfect for a stroll we tested some of them out. The aroma of pine and eucalyptus lingered in the air as we walked through the tree lined hillsides. Nature at its finest. We met farmers herding their goats and tending to their crops as we wandered leisurely along. They were all very friendly especially now that we had mastered ‘good morning’ and ‘good afternoon’ in the local lingo, having browsed through a guide book that we found in our room.

Tomar at dusk
Tomar at dusk

We returned home to London feeling really relaxed. Perhaps it was a mixture of the cultural experience, spending heaps of time close to nature, as well as the sangria, coupled with the wonderful Reiki treatments provided by our hosts that did the trick.

We didn’t go on holiday knowing we would be bumping into a Reiki practitioner, where we would relax to soothing music while we had our energies balanced. But I had heard about the treatment before and thought I would take the opportunity to give it a try. My husband saw how I seemed to enjoy it and decided to have a treatment himself even though it’s not something he’d usually do.

We both came away feeling so calm and relaxed. We would definitely go again. We still keep in touch with the couple as they were so nice to us. But next time we will make sure that we don’t leave without the secret recipe for the sangria.

(Photographs were taken by the author and supplied after the competition had been judged.)

For an article on a touring holiday between Porto and Lisbon, see: Portugal – Palaces, pousadas and port wine.