My Birthday was celebrated in a lovely city named Belmonte in Portugal, which is well-known for the explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral as he discovered South America and Belmonte was his birthplace. The town is also the center of the largest Jewish population in Portugal, full of their history, a museum and synagogue. A very small village with narrow winding streets on top of a hill and just outside the village heading higher on the hill is a convent that has been turned into a hotel. The historic architecture has been preserved beautifully and their dining is even better. We enjoyed seasonal mushroom dishes and excellent red sparkling wine from the vineyards below. There is also abundant hiking from the convent around the hilltop, and since the sun was out we enjoyed a long hike with outstanding views of the valley. Wine and small trees (probably figs?) as far as you could see, and it reminded me of an older version of Napa. As we sipped Portuguese Brandy after dinner and laughed at videos I’d taken on my iPhone, it was the first birthday in a very long time that I felt happy and relaxed.
The next day we explored the city of Covilhã just 10 minutes down the road. It’s a much larger city on the side of the Serra de Estrela mountains winding its way up the mountain with a vengeance. We continued up the winding hillside beyond the city and found ourselves in a strange landscape of black rocks and quickly above the treeline. Eventually after passing many mountain lakes and vistas, we ended up at the top where a nice high-speed quad ski lift met us from the back side of the mountain as well as two large golden domes (leftover radar towers probably from war-time). Great panoramic views of Portugal and you could see almost to the Ocean.
We meandered our way back down, beyond the city and then back up towards a smaller village called Unhais da Serra where the H2otel is located. A grand new hotel that backs against the mountain and boasts incredible thermal waters and an aquadome of pools, steam rooms, saunas, and full relaxation. The kicker is you can’t get into the thermal water without a medical doctor’s prescription! So we enjoyed the regular chlorinated pools, the Turkish steam room, the saunas, the cave that you walk through and are submerged with jets and rain showers of different temperatures, even a lazy river with jets to massage every part of your body. We were allowed to have a 15 minute Vichy shower massage with thermal water, which felt incredible and I always love the therapeutic capabilities of mineral water. We’ve been enjoying ourselves so much we decided to stay one additional night to relax more at the pools, work out at the gym, and get situated before hitting the road again. As this is a medical spa hotel, there are plenty of great food options and an overall attitude of wellness (people were at breakfast in their robes!). Tomorrow, we head to the south of Portugal to the Algarve district and seaside Faro. It’s about 4 hours driving and we plan on relaxing for two nights in the sunny 70 degree warmth!