Bushfires are Portugal’s biggest seasonal concern, as each passing year a bit more of our country’s green lungs is reduced to ashes by the end of Summer. This year was no exception: dark smoke took up the blue sky over particular regions spread throughout the country. On my way to Vidago, as I was passing by one of this sad spectacles of nature (today I woke up like this, quite keen on trusting humans’ good will…), I could not help but feel powerless and depressed. Fire fighters were in action, but the flames seemed stubborn.
Vidago Palace Hotel
Apart from that incident, the 4-hour drive from Lisbon to the uppermost region on Portugal’s map went smoothly. Arriving at Vidago Palace Hotel is a picturesque scene that remains in the memory of even the most distracted. Winner of many awards and considered one of the best Luxury Spa Hotels in the World, the imposing facade of this century-old building immediately makes you travel back in time.
I could say I felt like a princess in a palace, but since my graceful posture and manners are at the level of a clumsy elephant attempting to walk in heels, I guess I must focus my thoughts on the peaceful quietude that the place offered to its guests. The large wooden steps of the main stairway tell enchanted stories on their own. I could almost hear the cracking sound of each step under a true princess’ feet as they walked distracted towards the library for an afternoon of reading. The distant ceilings that echoed their noble gossiping and their uttermost secrets. The spacious rooms get unusually cozy thanks to the natural light that crosses the glass of the uncountable windows of that magical pink building. Oh well, it was not hard to get used to the place… even for an anti-princess like myself.
My room offered an incredible mountain view, that I appreciated each morning with the same curiosity, while laying on one of the sunbeds of the huge balcony that extended my room indefinitely past the large window that faced my bed. The many books I took with me were not enough, as I was not expecting to have so many relaxing moments to read them. I spent my days reading by the pool or on the balcony, immersed in that belle-epoque atmosphere while cortisol levels in my blood kept steadily dropping.
With origins in the Roman city Aquae Flaviae, Chaves is full of historic remnants of its past as a military centre, with fortified walls protecting its population, an iconic bridge crossing the Tâmega river and the thermal baths with medicinal bubbling waters.
A shoutout must be given to the hospitality of the locals, that served delicious food in overloaded trays with a genuine smile on their faces. Every night after dinner we would leave the restaurant in direction to the open-air fountain, “Fonte do Povo”, with a warm feeling in our hearts and a heavy stomach that would only be soothed by a few sips of the alkaline waters that emerged to the surface at 73ºC. These magical waters are used in the healing of cardiovascular disorders, diseases of the digestive and respiratory tracts, as well as in the management of stress, fatigue and anxiety. Needless to say, I drunk huge glasses of this concentrated magic potion during my entire stay, in hopes of it washing away all the stress that had accumulated in my body over the years of existence.
Next to the open-air fountain, a pavilion with beautiful glazed tiles and a modern thermal complex hosts the most famous Spa in the region. Unmissable as it sounded, we decided to give it a try, and there we were the next morning, ready for a relaxing massage in a quiet and zen atmosphere.
This was the first time I walked into a Spa since this whole Covid situation has started, and so I was not psychologically ready for how much things have changed. All relaxing vibes were infected and killed by the virus, leaving behind a cold empty building with a dry pool, disinfecting zones separated by transparent plastic walls, shoe protections, face masks and a minimum distance of 1.5 metres between each pair of humans. Was I supposed to feel light in my shoe protections? Relaxed as I suffocated behind my mask while some ET-dressed masseuse fully equipped with a mask and blue scrubs was rubbing my back?! My mind was racing. Every muscle in my body was tense. It was definitely not a good experience and I guess I will have to come back when the world returns to normal.
Thanks to my new favourite spot in Chaves, the D’el Rei rooftop, the stressful situation at the Spa was soon forgotten with the help of some jars of delicious sangria with a privileged view of the old city centre. Enjoying good music and a delightful company, I ended up staying late while finally getting to know someone that has been in my life since I was a kid but that I unfortunately never had the time to dig into their personality and good friendship. Funny how one night was enough to bluntly show me the good friend I was missing in my life. We had so much in common that the conversation flowed smoothly into the night and our laughs invaded the air.
After a week of noble resting, time traveling, stressful relaxing massages, gourmet food followed by cups of digestive alkaline waters and late night talks accompanied by cheap alcohol, I gotta say I feel lucky to have been born a Portuguese (a condition that makes me inherently proud of the immense diversity of wonders my country has for me to discover, North to South, East to West).
Wishing everyone safe travels (even without crossing borders),