I love to plan mini-breaks, it’s actually been proven how good they are for our general health. To be able to just drive somewhere with a few items of clothing in a bag and not many plans except lounging by the pool and venturing into small towns.
And that’s why I decided to take a warm September weekend to go to Alentejo and explore a little bit of this region, an undiscovered region for me and many other travellers. I chose Hotel Rural Santa Bárbara dos Mineiros in Lousal, a pyrite mining village part of the Grândola municipality. The reason? It was close to Lisbon yet felt isolated enough. Also, the price was great and the swimming pool seemed delicious.
The hotel’s decoration was inspired by the mining and rural traditions of the area, at the reception you can even find a cows’ bell, sitting there, waiting for you to ring it and alert the receptionist of visitors. As for the location, it was exactly what I expected, remote yet easy to access, with a few cafes, a restaurant and beautiful gardens surrounding the area. The swimming pool looked as appealing as in the pictures and next to it an outdoor bar with foosball, table games and a paintball machine. By the pool, there was also a gym with lots of aquatic accessories for children and adults. I really enjoyed a nap on the pool mattress, there were also badminton racquets and free bikes to explore the area (note: If you decide to take the bikes, be wary of the many dogs wandering outside the hotel, they were all nice to us but they did bark and follow us around). For those who want to stay in, the living room at the hotel has a DVD room and even more table games. As for the rooms, they were decorated with a simplicity that really reminded me of an old Alentejo house.
What to do?
- Friday evening
There are parties all year round in the little villages surrounding Lousal. You can ask at the front desk for information. In our case, since we went in September, we got to go to a very fun Medieval Fair, taking place in a village called Alvalade. The entrance cost was €3.50 and it was worth every single coin. There were actors re-enacting medieval times, walking around in horses, selling medieval food and drinks, traditional games, including shooting real arrows, and lots of handicraft articles on offer. We even joined in on a medieval banquet. Click here to see videos of previous years.
We started the day with an amazing breakfast, fresh orange juice, toasts with jam, Alentejo hams and homemade cakes. Feeling full and happy, we headed to the Badoca Safari Park, an animal park merely 40 minutes away. There were barely any signs pointing to the park so it was a bit tricky to find it but with the help of the GPS and with a lot of asking around we got there. This is a great adventure if you have kids, but even if you don’t it was so much fun. Doing a safari with a guide, we got to travel around the park, stopping by the animals and learning fun facts about them. Being close to giraffes, buffalos, lions, flamingos, gorillas and baboons was wonderful. But the highlight of the day was the trip down the rapids. For €2,5 extra you can “descend the river” on an African raft. We did it twice and ended up soaking wet which was very refreshing after a hard day in the sun. I wouldn’t recommend it in the winter though. Returning to the hotel we stopped for a quick bite in a bakery in Santo André and then back to the hotel for some swimming pool time and a Trivial Pursuit challenge. We ate at the hotel since we were tired and didn’t want to go too far. I would suggest this if you just want to enjoy a night in and don’t want to take the car.
We decided to go and explore the Centro de Ciência Viva. For €4,50 we got to see minerals and learn more about rocks and the mines, in times the epicentre of the region. The tour was great but I would recommend more for children. There are lots of interactive areas with things to test and play with, exactly my type of museum. We ended up not visiting the actual mines.
We had lunch at Armazém Central, right by our hotel, the restaurant had excellent reviews on Tripadvisor and was highly recommended by some friends. The best part of the whole experience was hearing the Cante Alentejano group singing as we ate. The funny thing was, the singers were by our side, eating lunch with their wives and they would get up every now and again to sing. Beautiful idea.
Summing it up, the weekend felt like a week’s holiday. We went back in time right into medieval times, we ate really well, slept late, pedalled away, running from dogs, discovered the science of mines and even went on a Safari. All in 2 and half days.
From Lisbon to Lousal 1h26m
Tolls and Gas: €50
Hotel: €96 with breakfast included
Badoca Safari Park: €17,90 per person + 2,5€ rapid descent
Centro Ciência Viva – Science Centre: 4,50€ per person
Lunch: Armazém Central – 32€ with drinks and one dessert