Head for the hills in northern Portugal… and a spa fit for a king: The Vidago Palace is famous for its ‘eternal life’ mineral water
At the turn of the 20th Century, the Vidago Palace was commissioned by Carlos I of Portugal to showcase the spring that yielded his favourite mineral water. ‘It opened on October 6, 1910,’ says the concierge Angelo as he sees us look up at the building, ‘just one day after Portugal abolished the monarchy.’The Vidago Palace may not have had the easiest start but it has a very serene present. This terracotta and white building, all ballrooms and sweeping marble staircases, is just over an hour’s drive from Porto in a traditional and green part of Portugal close to the Spanish border.Small glasses of the mineral water are still dispensed by a woman in a white coat in a special building in the hotel grounds. According to lore, and Angelo, near eternal life is assured to all who drink it, although this didn’t work for Carlos I, who was assassinated in 1908.
The Vidago Palace close to Porto in Portugal. It was commissioned by Carlos I to showcase the spring that yielded his favourite mineral water
Small glasses of the mineral water are still dispensed by a woman in a white coat in a special building in the hotel groundsA few sips of the water are possibly enough; it’s an acquired taste, strong on iron, slightly fizzy and not pleasing to the palate. It’s easier to take Vidago’s waters in a treatment in the hotel’s high-tech spa. Several gallons go on mine, in a sluice-style room as I lie on a bed pounded by jets.Outside, there’s a pool with minimalist loungers and a smaller hot pool with thalassotherapy jets to work on your muscles.
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Up in the mountains, the climate is fresher than the rest of Portugal and the hotel is surrounded by a golf course. Where there’s water in Portugal, there’s wine. As the Douro Valley sees record temperatures affect its harvest, more wine producers have started vineyards in the higher and cooler Tras-os-Montes area that surrounds the hotel.On my first night, as I dine in a restaurant in the hotel’s wine cellar, the other guests are a group of local wine producers. ‘We are Umbria to the Douro’s Tuscany,’ as one put it.
The Douro Valley, pictured, is home to Port producers, many of which have been founded by the English You can’t not visit the Douro Valley, though, with its vine-clad terraced hills. It’s home to Port producers, many founded by the English. After a hot year, the grapes have just been harvested but we look around the production area at Quinta do Bomfim and I pluck a few grapes from a vine that has been overlooked by the pickers. They’ve already shrivelled to raisins and are absurdly sweet. We eat at a restaurant on its own little dock on the river – poached eggs buried in something that looks like a patch of earth but is a delicious, nutty rice, followed by octopus and a pudding made of oranges. Afterwards, I have a question for the restaurant manager.‘Italy has prosecco, Spain has cava, does Portugal have its own sparkling wine?’‘Yes, we call it sparkling wine. Just like the British.’Which, with the sun beating down, felt just right. TRAVEL FACTS British Airways (ba.com) offers return flights from Gatwick to Porto from £71. Double rooms at the Vidago Palace, right, start from £180 per night. vidagopalace.com/en, 00 351 276 990 900.