In addition to traveling back to the US during my December break, Paul and I also made plans to spend Christmas in the Algarve. We chose a former convent in Tavira which has been repurposed into a pousada. Our friends Sameer and Michele joined us for a 4-night stay. This was our first ‘road trip’ in our new car!
What’s a Pousada?
In Portugal, a pousada is a type of inn, hotel, or guesthouse that is often located in a historic or picturesque setting. Pousadas are known for their charming and rustic atmosphere, and many are located in converted castles, monasteries, or other historical buildings. They typically offer comfortable accommodations, with a range of amenities such as ensuite bathrooms, televisions, and Wi-Fi. Pousadas are a popular choice for travelers who are seeking a unique and authentic experience when visiting Portugal.
In the past, pousadas were run by the Portuguese State but in the early 2000’s, the Pestana Group won a public bid for a 40-year running concession. The Pestana Hotel Group is a Portuguese hotel chain founded in 1972 by Manuel Pestana. With over 90 hotels in 14 countries, Pestana is the largest hotel group in Portugal and one of the largest in Europe.
History: The Pousada do Convento da Graça.
Located in Tavira, the Graça Convent was founded by King D. Sebastião sometime in the mid to late 1500’s and was home to the Cloistered Augustinian Nuns. The structure stands on the hill near the Tavira Castle. The building was constructed in the Baroque style and features stunning architecture, including a central staircase, large courtyard, and bell tower. The convent was also used as a refuge during times of conflict.
In the 19th century, the Convento da Graça was converted into a hotel. The building was extensively renovated, and the elegance of the pousada has been carefully preserved. During the renovation, traces of Islamic archaeology were discovered and are now visible through a window located in the pousada’s bar.
Our stay at the pousada.
After a 3+ hour drive from Lisbon to Tavira (pronounced tuh-vee-ruh), we drove down narrow cobbled streets with twists and turns and found the pousada. It’s a large, irregular-shaped building painted in bright yellow.
Across the street there’s a small park. A cobbled street takes you down to the town center. You can see Tavira Castle at the top of the hill. The pousada is well located for sightseeing on foot or bicycle.
If you’re a guest – either at the hotel or the restaurant - there is a private parking lot (complimentary) within the walls of the pousada accessible only by a gate that must be opened for you upon request at the front desk. Parking on the street near the pousada we were told would result in our car getting towed by the local police.
As we all walked in, we found ourselves in a small courtyard. To the left was what looked like a chapel. It was in fact, the convent church which has now been converted into a meeting or function space. It can also be converted into a wedding chapel. As we entered the main front doors, we were greeted by friendly staff who provided us with a personalized brochure with all the amenities of the pousada as well as a map of the local attractions.
Since this was the Christmas holiday season, we were unsure if restaurants in the town would be open on the 24th and 25th of December, so we confirmed our dinner reservations at the hotel restaurant, Mouraria, for their Christmas Eve fixed price dinner and dinner off the regular menu on Christmas Day night.
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The rooms and the space.
Rooms - The Pousada do Convento da Graça has 36 rooms including a handful of suites. We reserved a standard double room for the four nights. Our room was very clean and fairly spacious. We had a comfortable king bed, a large closet, a small refrigerator, a desk, a comfortable chair, flat screen television, and a good-sized bath with walk-in shower, a sink with a counter that provided ample room for toiletries, and a separate water closet. Our room had a small balcony (just to look out and not to sit) with a distant view of Tavira, and the patio next to the inground pool. Our room was located on the first floor (which is actually the second floor) and was accessible by elevator or stairs. Sameer and Michele had a similar room on the second floor.
The space - When you walk along the hallways to your rooms, you get the sense of history all around you. I could almost feel the presence of the cloistered nuns walking silently along the same corridors while in prayer or heading to their rooms (the spaces that hotel guests now occupy) for the night. The ceilings are high, the corridors are wide, the archways remind me of ancient monasteries and churches I’ve walked through.
Around the corner from our room was the ‘living room’ which is a common space with a wood burning fireplace, and comfortable seats, sofas, and tables perfect for a conversation with friends over a drink.
The central staircase, which takes you to all floors, is made of heavy stone. Some places on the stairs and railings are worn as a testament to the age and the history of the convent.
The outer windows face the inviting center courtyard. Comfortable tables and chairs line its perimeter where you can have breakfast or coffee - or quiet reflection – or read a book. A large pine tree grows in the center and there’s a bronze sculpture sitting atop a reflecting pool. Archeological artifacts such as pieces of stone pillars are displayed along the walls of the courtyard. Ancient holy water fonts dot the walls. There are two small narrow alcoves along one wall that are believed to have been confessionals.
Walking out through another set of doors brings you to the rear of the pousada where there’s a large inground pool surrounded by tall stone walls and what remains of the bell tower. There is an inviting patio with chairs and tables. In the distance you can see views of the city, hear a nearby train, and listen to roosters crowing.
The restaurant and bar.
The 55-seat Mouraria is in what was once the convent cafeteria. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served here. In the main dining room, there are windows on either side of the restaurant providing soothing garden views. The angled ceiling in the restaurant is made entirely from wood.
The bar, which is adjacent to the restaurant, offers comfortable seating with tables, upholstered chairs, and sofas. From the bar, a large window provides a view of the Islamic architectural ruins uncovered and preserved during the renovation.
For Christmas Eve, we had dinner at the hotel’s Mouraria restaurant, and it did not disappoint! The fixed price dinner 90€ per person, included:
Smoked mackerel rolls with almonds
Manioc cream soup with prawns
Bittersweet strawberry bruschetta with mint
Confit Cod fish with Port wine, sweet potato, sauteed savoy cabbage and regional onion stew (a full entrée)
Turkey stuffed with regional sausages, served with creamy potato and broccoli, and drizzled with pomegranate sauce (a full entrée)
Regarding the entrées, we were served both; not a choice of one (very filling!)
A buffet of traditional Portuguese Christmas desserts, cheese, and fruits
Also included: Portuguese house red or white wine (not just one glass), water, soft drinks, and coffee.
When we returned to our rooms after this delightful 3-hour dinner, we were pleasantly surprised by a gift from the pousada staff of the traditional Portuguese pastry, azevias, and a small bottle of Port wine.
What to see in Tavira.
Of course, since it was the Christmas holiday weekend, we did not expect a lot of places to be open, so we simply strolled the streets, stopping in interesting shops and tapas bars for a light snack and some wine. We walked across the Roman Bridge to the other side of the town; we climbed the steep steps of the Castle of Tavira to get a bird’s eye view of the area.
We also took some side trips to Santa Luzia (famous for Octopus) and drove 30 minutes from Tavira to check out Vila Real de Santo Antonio where our friends Nancy and Denise live. (Nancy, Denise, and two of their friends stopped by the pousada one evening for drinks. We hadn’t seen them in a while, so it was fun to meet and catch up).
On the way back to Lisbon, we stopped in Loulé for lunch and a quick peek at the town – another place we’d like to explore further.
We’ll be back.
Our first road trip was great! We enjoyed interesting scenery, good food, pleasant accommodations, new experiences, and spending time with good friends. The Algarve seems to be casual and has a different vibe and feel than the central coast of Portugal where we currently live and I can see why many people choose to live in this southern part of the country. We knew this trip would be just a tiny taste of what the Algarve has to offer, so Paul and I will be back on another longer road trip soon (before the hot weather and summer tourists arrive) to do more exploring. Stay tuned…
Want to see some of the sights and sounds we experienced when we visited Tavira? Check out my YouTube video.
Discounts: We joined the Pestana Guest Club last year before we traveled to Porto. As a Guest Club member, you’re entitled to a room discount when you reserve on their website. You also get a discount on purchases at the bar. (This is not an endorsement and I don’t get paid for promoting this).
Small pets are allowed – check the hotel website for details.
Major credit cards accepted at the hotel.
Hotel staff speak multiple languages.
Private, complimentary parking.
Road Tolls: Road tolls on the A2 – the main highway from Lisbon to the Algarve - are high. Tolls depend on the type of vehicle you’re driving. Our tolls were nearly 23 euros each way. If you have the Via Verde transponder, you can drive through the designated lanes without stopping to pay the tolls and they’ll bill you later.
Rest Areas: The rest areas along the highway are clean, modern and have everything from food and drinks, to restrooms, and souvenirs (with tolls this high what else would you expect?). There are several gas stations along the highway.
Money: Tavira has several Multibanco ATMs if you need cash. Most restaurants accept Visa and Mastercard, but some of the smaller establishments only take cash.
PS: Muito obrigada (many thanks) to Sean, Susan K. and Maria A. for supporting Our Portugal Journey through Buy Me a Coffee. Your generosity and interest help to keep this publication free to subscribers.
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Until next time…
Thanks Carol (& Paul) for letting us tag along to charming Tavira and making it into a memorable trip. Your description of this amazing pousada is vivid and spot on. Paul did a great job with the photos, which helped further illustrate the story. The Tavira pousada was one the best places Michele and I have stayed at.
Excellent coverage, writing, and photos ... as usual, Carol!