These Historic Portuguese Palaces Can Be Rented for a Regal Vacation
So when you travel, you like to sleep in royal style. You’ve done the châteaus in France, the villas in Tuscany, and maybe even a manor in Ireland. What's next on your list for an extraordinary and historic stay?
The palaces of Portugal.
Because the country had a recognized nobility from its founding as a kingdom in 1139 until 1910—when Portugal finally became a republic—extravagant palacios or paços owned by noblemen can be found all over. And lucky for you, some have been transformed into bookable accommodations that boast incredible architectural and decorative treasures, from Neoclassical, to Baroque, to Manueline (Portuguese Gothic featuring lots of maritime motifs) architecture styles, original frescoes, walls and walls of azulejo tiles, and age-old antique furniture. These properties might not have a gym, but most sit on large plots of land where you can run through fragrant gardens or do laps on outdoor pools with stunning views.
The villa rental concept is still quite new in Portugal, meaning figuring out how to book your own palace is not always intuitive, especially because there isn’t a website dedicated to the category (although Center specializes on unique, countryside accommodations in Portugal). So we did the legwork to showcase our five favorite palaces to book in Portugal now. A lot of these properties still operate as typical hotels instead of rentals, but if you can gather a big enough group, securing them for a private stay isn’t difficult to do.
But unlike booking a villa in Tuscany or a château in France, there is a lot of flexibility in renting a palace in Portugal. The owners rarely require a full week’s commitment—which means you can hop from royal abode to royal abode over the course of your vacation, sampling the best of the Portuguese countryside from its most glamorous residences.
Paço da Ega, Centro
A seven-bed palace is only the latest in a string of dramatic architectural structures that filled this 215,000-square-foot plot of land. It was a 12th-century Templar castle, which stood over an old Moorish fortress, and according to local lore, there are some Roman traces here, too. (Some say the Templar castle was built over Roman ruins.) Owing to the building’s rich heritage, the interiors are understandably swathed in historic, almost monastic style—brick walls decorated with coat-of-arms banners, oversize wood doors, spartan bedrooms with simple, four-poster beds, and stone fireplaces. You could spend a week roaming its olive groves and pine forests, taking bike rides through the leafy surroundings, and doing wine tastings. But Centro region’s fascinating sights—including the university town of Coimbra, the towering monastery of Tomar, or the surf swells of Nazaré—are typically within an hour’s drive. Closer, you can find Roman ruins in Conímbriga and roast lamb dinners in the Condeixa, which is only 10 minutes away. Bonus: The owners live on the property, ensuring exceptional service throughout your stay, from advising on your on-property meals to planning your excursions.
Rate: Roughly $4,000/night for 14 people.
Casa do Terreiro do Poço, Alentejo
The Alentejo, Portugal’s largest region, is known for its exceptional regional cuisine, historic monuments (including Roman ruins), and some of the country’s best vinho production. It’s where you’ll find the famous Porco à Alentejana (cured pork with clams) and the wines of Esporão, one of the country’s premier labels. If that all sounds enticing, book yourself into this charming property with 12 bedrooms in the marble-producing town of Borba—it’s actually made up of three stitched-together manor houses, the oldest of which is from the 17th century. When they restored these homes in 2012, Casa do Terreiro do Poço’s owners combined historic details (frescoes, four-poster beds, intricately carved wood door frames) with contemporary accents from around the world (graphic geometric-pattern tiles from Portugal, zebra-hide rugs from Africa). The net effect? Visually stunning interiors that cleverly nod to Portugal’s imperial past.
Rate: $25,300 for three nights for 24 people.
Casa das Torres de Oliveira, Douro Valley
Getting to this property from Porto, the nearest major city, requires a scenic 90-minute drive through the Douro Valley’s winding roads. When the red-tiled roofs of its two towers come into view, you’ll know you’ve arrived. The six rooms are sparsely decorated, keeping the focus on antique carved-wood beds, solemn-looking portraits, and elaborately patterned area rugs. The house dates to the 15th century, when King Alfonso V granted the house to a noble Galician lord, so there are lot of historic details to discover, including the Baroque chapel. The real wow factor, though, is just outside: The pool overlooks the region’s terraced vineyards (the owners make their own red and port wines), and the gardens are just perfect for cool evening strolls. When you’re ready to explore, ask owner and winemaker Antonio Girão to lead you through his port vineyards or request to have a Douro River boat ride organized for an unforgettable sunset cruise.
Rate: $5,700/night for 12 people.
Palacio de Seteais, Sintra
This 18th century neoclassical palace in the woods of Sintra, originally built for a Dutch consul and eventually the home of a marquis, is grand in every sense of the word. The property’s manicured lawns have rose gardens, hedge mazes, and roaming peacocks—and that’s before you even step in the front door. Inside, revel in the opulence of frescoed walls, gala-ready chandeliers, silk tapestries, and other over-the-top antiques, which fill seven sitting rooms and entertaining parlors. The 30 bedrooms—yes, 30—stylishly toe the line between old world and modern with a lovely combination of heavy tapestries, hardwood floors, and claw-foot bathtubs.
From the house’s high perch, you can survey the surrounding Sintra Mountains, dotted with the fairy-tale castles (previously homes of Portuguese royalty) for which the town is famous. This expansive palace is usually a fully functioning hotel, but if you can get the party together to book it out, the staff is ready to attend to every whim—whether it’s a simple horse carriage ride around the grounds or an elaborate themed dinner in which servers come dressed as though they’ve just stepped out of an 18th-century dressing room.
Rate: approximately $34,200/day for 60 people.
Palacio Belmonte, Lisbon
Renting out a Portuguese palace isn’t limited to the countryside. Located next to Lisbon’s famous St. George castle, this luxury hotel (which counts designer Christian Louboutin among its high-profile fans) only has 10 suites, which means privately booking the whole property is manageable for a big family or group of friends. You’ll get the full run of one of Portugal’s most spectacular hotels, including daily breakfasts on your suite’s balcony, cleaning and butler service, and chauffeured transportation for 12 hours a day. (The latter is an especially great perk if you want to take day trips.) But that’s if you can be bothered to leave the palace at all: Belmonte is a treasure trove of details to discover, including nearly 4,000 pieces of azulejo tiles, centuries-old period furniture, contemporary art made by a number of rising Portuguese talent (namely, Fernando Marante and Maria Pia Oliveira), and a pool that’s so serene, you can almost forget you’re in the middle of Europe’s trendiest tourist hub.
Rate: approximately $180,000/week for 26 people.