Convento do Espinheiro
Fascinating for its history, authentic for its charm and only one hour away from Lisbon, the Hotel Convento do Espinheiro, Historic Hotel & Spa has given life to a 15th century convent, considered a national monument, where important nobles have outlined the history of Portugal. Convento do Espinheiro is tucked away in the scenic Portuguese countryside, in a centuries-old convent, where history, art and a dedicated staff open their doors and arms to visitors which is the ideal introduction to Portugal’s Alentejo region. Set on 23 acres of stress-meltingly beautiful countryside at the edge of Évora, the region’s tiny, frozen-in-time capital city, the hotel is like a synthesis of everything that makes Alentejo so irresistible, a bucolic setting, incredible food, layer upon layer of history and a contagious local mellowness that seems to just saturate everything. It’s all been given new life as a result of the region’s rediscovery by the world’s most tuned-in travelers, and so you find Convento do Espinheiro, a gorgeous old convent from Portugal’s 15th-century golden age, looking as fresh as ever after the three-year renovation that turned it into a hotel. The Convento do Espinheiro Hotel & Spa is located in the building of a fifteenth-century convent and this building has been beautifully restored to a level fitting of this UNESCO World Heritage destination, it is considered a national monument and offers guests the perfect base from which to explore the city.
Over the last ten years the Alentejo has welcomed a series of smart hotel openings that have been attracting luxury travelers and health tourism. The Palacio do Convento do Espinheiro Hotel and Spa has been leading the way since 2005, when it opened its doors to the renovated grounds of a historical monastery near the city of Evora. It manages to perfect a hard balancing act, marrying relaxation and the cultural break, an ideal destination for anyone looking to recharge without needing a full-immersion retreat, the curious explorer’s energy booster. The hotel has taken full advantage of its heritage, with a careful renovation that preserved architectural details, artifacts and the extensive gardens in a smart adaption, reinventing tradition to cater to the comfort of guests.
The Convento do Espinheiro Hotel & Spa offers a total of 92 rooms with 6 different categories of room, including 6 large suites, decorated in a variety of styles to suit your preference. The standard Heritage rooms, as well as the Deluxe Suites and the Royal Suite are in the original 15th century convent, and feature classic styling and period detailing. The contemporary Design and Grand Deluxe guest rooms are in the striking new wings. All offer comfort and luxury as a matter of course, combined with eclectic styles dating anywhere from the fifteenth-century origins of the convent itself through to the quirky styles of 1950s’ interior décor. Each visitor to this 98-room hotel is treated like a family guest. Elegant linens, fine furnishings and world-class service are characteristic of each guest room and suite at Convento do Espinheiro. If you really want to push the boat out, opt for a Deluxe suite with fine Bulgari touches or the Royal Suite, named after King John II of Portugal and occupying an impressive 110 square metres with sweeping views from the private terrace right out over the city of Évora.
It houses one amazing restaurant, the Divinus Restaurant, which is located the convent’s ancient wine-cellar converted into the Wine-Bar. It is an exclusive location, entirely dedicated to wine-tasting and the enjoyment of the excellent Alentejo regional produce. The Pulpitus Bar is situated in the ancient kitchen where the monks prepared the food for large banquets and it serves refreshments, cocktails and snacks. The hotel has a wine bar located in what was a gothic water deposit during the 15th Century. The wine bar has many exquisite wines on offer and provides wine tasting.
The hotel also has two pools, one indoor and one outdor and in this latter there’s a delicious bar that provides great summer heat relaxation. As facilities it also offers tennis and paddle courts with complimentary equipment and bike tours throughout the grounds and local area. The Spa has many relaxing or enervating treatments available that have been derived from different ancient cultures, brought to you in a meditative, beautiful and peaceful environment. The Convento do Espinheiro Hotel & Spa occupies one of the largest leisure spaces of any hotel in this area of Portugal. There is a children’s playground and mini club to entertain the little ones throughout the day and a gymnasium combines to Spa is perfect for the health-conscious.
A straightforward drive from Lisbon took just over an hour, the Convento is situated in a wide expanse of fields about ten minutes from the UNESCO World Heritage town centre of Evora, in the southern inland area of Alentejo. The location feels deceivingly secluded, the approach in itself speaking to the history of religious contemplation. White-washed walls and a prominent 15th century church are visible from the driveway adding to the feeling of a retreat, yet one only has to enter through to the first courtyard to realise that this property is much less about contemplation than it is about some serious pampering. Portugal is a lively country, offering rich culture and beautiful countryside to travelers. It is known for its wines, and more recently, for its excellent world-class golf courses. Évora has been named as a UNESCO as a World Heritage City and can be reached by car within 90 minutes from the Lisbon International Airport.
The Alentejo is an extensive region covering almost a third of Portugal. The boundary to the north is the River Tagus (Tejo) and to the south the hills of the Algarve. In the east, it shares a frontier with Spain and in the west it opens on to the Atlantic Ocean. Essentially rural and sparsely populated, it offers a landscape that is uncommonly well conserved. Its scenic beauty and the abundance and quality of the heritage found in its archaeology, its monuments, its architecture and its gastronomy make it an exceptional place for the kind if discovery provided by nature and cultural tourism. The character of the Alentejo requires you to leave the highways and favour secondary roads which offer the best means of enjoying a landscape made up of cork oak woodland, wheat fields, vineyards and olive grooves and to make contact with a people that are friendly and hospitable by nature.
Guided Tour of the Convent Wine Tasting
The Concierge invites each guest to participate in a journey into the secrets of this beautiful monument. Convento do Espinheiro was frequently visited by kings and other nobles who chose the convent as a haven for contemplation. Amongst these ancient walls you will find history and legends that are part of the heritage left by the Hieronymite monks who lived here in the past.
The guided tour will pass tough every corner of this extraordinary building and its beautiful surrounding gardens tells us a story, such as the 1098 year old olive tree, which, despite its old age, still produces olives from which we extract an exceptional extra-virgin olive-oil.
The guided tour couldn’t end in a better way, the Sommelier invites the guests to embrace the exquisite local wines at the wine cellar, originally a gothic water reservoir dating back to the 15th century.
Value for Money
Doubles from Euro 165,00 per night in low season; and from Euro 195,00 per night in high season. Breakfast is included. Free Wi-Fi. Also included is a daily wine tasting session with the sommelier.
Access for guests with disabilities?
Yes, two rooms.
Yes, very with kids’ menus, playgrounds and dedicated swimming pools.
The history of Convento do Espinheiro:
The origins of the Convento do Espinheiro are connected to a legend that tells of an apparition of the Virgin Mary above a thorn-bush (= espinheiro) around the year 1400. In 1412, an oratory was built in honour of Our Lady and finally in 1458, during the reign of King Afonso V, and due to increasing pilgrimage, a church and convent were built and settled by monks of the Order of St. Jerónimo, who stayed here until 1835. During the 15th and 16th century, this convent was frequently visited by the Portuguese monarchs such as King John II (who held court here in 1481), King Manuel I, King Afonso V and King Sebastião, who, when in Évora, stayed at the convent, invited by the monks. In 1999, the firm SPPTH, Ltd, owned by the Camacho family, bought the Convento do Espinheiro, with the intention of creating the first 5-star hotel in a region with enormous touristic potential.
On June 3rd, 2005, after 2 years of reconstruction, the Convento do Espinheiro, Heritage Hotel & Spa, was inaugurated in all its splendour. Just 0,8 miles away from the city of Évora, the hotel is surrounded by 8 hectares of beautiful gardens and its interior has been luxuriously decorated, maintaining the character of old times.
In September 2008, 33 new rooms were inaugurated, thus totalizing 92 rooms. Perfectly combining the old and the new, the hotel offers a Gastronomic Restaurant located in the former wine-cellar and a Piano Bar in what used to be the old kitchen used by the monks. An area for wine tasting and the savouring of regional dishes has been created in the old gothic water deposit and numerous meeting and event facilities are perfect for the celebration of different types of business meetings or celebrations.
The church, with its valuable golden engravings and ancient hand painted Portuguese tiles has been carefully restored. Here, mass is celebrated once a month and weddings and christenings may be held. Immersed in history, the Convento do Espinheiro offers a peaceful and inspiring atmosphere, ideal for a relaxed stay.
Our Special Readings
Tips to enjoy the Alentejo
In the south of Portugal there is a region that for many is unknown. The Alentejo, literally beyond the Tagus, is located just below Lisbon, on the other side of the Tejo. It is a region full of white and blue villages swept by the wind of the ocean, castles on the hills, olive groves and sunflower fields. The Higher Alentejo is made up of plains and marshes. Further south there is extreme heat while to the east a land that looks more like Extremadura and Andalucia (with which it borders) with closed villages in the fortresses and the plain interrupted by huge round stones that seem to be supported by a giant. The architecture is influenced by the Arabs with the gardens enclosed in the white courtyards, while the Roman aqueducts and the amphitheaters emerge from a really far and rich past.
How to visit the Alentejo
The Aletentejo must be visited on the road. Start from Lisbon and crossing the Tejo to arrive at Setubal, which is already in Alentejo. Continue along the coast to Porto Côvo and then turn inland to discover Evora and the villages with enchanting castles on the low hills.
An alternative way to visit the Alentejo is by foot. In addition to walks in the whole region there is a special itinerary that allows you to travel from the Alentejo to the Algarve following the ancient path of the fishermen. The Rota Vicentina crosses the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano and arrives in the Algarve (at Cape San Vicente) passing by cliffs, beaches and villages. There is also a way that goes through the inland and crosses countryside, cork forests and towns.
Évora: a real city museum
Became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1986, it is considered a real city museum due to the presence of numerous architectural testimonies in the most varied styles. Second only to Lisbon for the amount of national monuments, its historic center is protected by imposing city walls, works dating back to different eras, the last of the seventeenth century. The best way to visit is on foot, along the picturesque cobbled streets, admiring the typical whitewashed houses and decorated with ocher lines, remained unchanged over the centuries, and stopping in the family run restaurants, where you can taste the best local products. Évora has been an important commercial and religious center and this is reflected in the numerous tourist sites located within the walls; numerous Roman ruins, among the most significant and best preserved in Portugal.
The liveliness of the city is not only due to its architectural heritage, in fact here it is home to one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Portugal, the Universidade do Espírito Santo, founded in 1559 by Cardinal D. Henrique as the College of the Company of Jesus, who since 1973 has set up the current headquarters. Today it welcomes approximately 10.000 students per year.
The heart of Évora, as well as the meeting place for young university students, is Praça do Giraldo, with its numerous cafés and clubs. Starting from the porticoes of the square you can reach the main points of interest: The Temple and the Roman Baths, the Igreja de Graça and the Igreja de São Francisco.
4 top reasons to enjoy Alentejo
An immense golden region of rolling plains, white lime washed houses and monuments that testify to the long presence of human life, the Alentejo is a land that must be discovered slowly. Here, there is always a landscape to be contemplated; a secret place to be visited; a new flavour to be discovered. In the plains, the wheat fields quiver in the wind and nestled amidst the olive groves are small villages, newly restored for rural tourism, where all visitors are welcomed with open arms.
The Alentejo (literally “land beyond the Tagus”) is a warm, dry, mostly gentle region north of the Algarve that has been ignored by all but a few. A long history of turbulence means many of its towns are on hilltops, not just Évora but the medieval village of Monsaraz on the Spanish border, the baroque Montemor-o-Novo above the main E90 from Lisbon, and the pantiled city of Beja in the south.
This big fertile region, a third of the country by area, is known as Portugal’s gastronomic soul. The food is neither peasant nor sophisticated, but rich with ingredients such as sheep’s cheese, black pork, salt cod, wild mushrooms and asparagus. Towns have their own specialities, such as peppery olive oils or egg-yolk based desserts. It’s this rich individuality that makes Alentejo special and the fact that it produces almost half of Portugal‘s wine.
The local gastronomic delights compete against one another: the cheeses of Serpa, Évora and Nisa, the local wines and bread, the typical regional dishes perfumed with the herbs and spices from the fields and the divine sweet dishes based on traditional monastic recipes, which are like pieces of heaven that one has been allowed to taste on earth.
Now the region is being touted as the new Tuscany, or the affordable Tuscany. Certainly it’s just as food-orientated, and entry-level wines are better value than in Chianti. Architecturally, the Alentejo also has an abundance of Roman remains: Évora has city walls, a huge aqueduct and a temple dedicated to Augustus.
4 day trips around Alentejo
Nestling with dignified repose in the heart of Portugal‘s sun-baked Alentejo province, Évora is one of the country’s oldest and most enchanting cities. Rising to prominence under the Romans, the town was also occupied for some 500 years by the Moors. Medieval Évora thrived as a center of learning and the arts, and was patronized by a succession of Portuguese kings. Its numerous churches and monasteries stand as testament to a devout and pious legacy. Even if you can discover more about Évora thanks to our other article about it, we hereby to propose 4 day trips from Évora to discover the amazing area which is located around this historical city of Portugal. Here are our trips to do in your next vacation there.
Cromeleque dos Almendres
About 15 kilometers west of Évora is the isolated megalithic Cromlech of Almendres, a mysterious oval made up of 95 lichen-encrusted granite stones that date back to between 4000 and 2000 BC. This mysterious piece of Neolithic real estate is believed to have been a temple dedicated to a solar cult. Indeed, some archaeologists maintain that the circle functioned as some kind of primitive astronomical observatory. As if to strengthen the enigma surrounding their purpose, a solitary two-and-a-half-meter-high stone, known as the Menhir of Almendres, is positioned one and a half kilometers away from the cromlech. The two sites are linked by a marked pedestrian trail that snakes through an olive grove, and while kids will appreciate the hide-and-seek opportunities provided by the stones, mature minds will no doubt be moved by this ancient and sacred destination.
The fortified village of Arraiolos is noted for the dramatic ruins of its 14th-century castle, the walls of which embrace the whitewashed Igreja do Salvador. The hilltop stronghold affords impressive views of the surrounding countryside, but what really crowns this picturesque hamlet is its reputation for needlecraft. Some of the best carpets in Portugal are woven here, hand-embroidered bright wool rugs stitched by nimble-fingered ladies following a tradition that has endured since the 13th century. The finest examples are the elaborate floral designs crafted over several months by teams of women who weave around the clock to produce beautiful and intricately designed tapestry. The rugs make unique souvenirs, either as wall hangings or floorcoverings, and are sold in the carpet shops found threaded along the main street.
4 Hidden Attractions of Evora
Evora is one of the few UNESCO medieval cities in Portugal. Historically, Evora has fell under Roman domination which has rewarded us with the Roman temple of Diana. In 1165 the Moors took over the city; La Mouraria and the now improved fortified walls were left behind. The kings of Portugal made this city famous and its beauty and friendly vibe speaks for itself. Nowadays this pretty historic Portuguese city is particularly festive in the run-up to Christmas, with roasted chestnuts, special cakes and Nativity scenes dotted around the streets.
Evora, in the Alentejo region of Portugal, comes into its own at this time of year, basking under ravishingly blue skies and brilliant sunshine. Within its old medieval walls, crisp cool air, enticing colours and flavours fill the historic centre, the chestnuts are roasted in the cobbled squares, while the leafy trees have turned a warm orange and excellent, unpretentious restaurants offer hearty dishes of local game, such as hare or wild boar, paired with rich regional red wines. During the Christmas Festivities, Evora is particularly lively with bakeries displaying their bejewelled bolo de rei cakes and brightly painted, life-sized Alentejano presépio (Alentejo Nativity scenes) dotted around the city.
Chapel of Bones
The Chapel of Bones in Evora, is part of the larger Royal Church of St. Francis, and was constructed by Franciscan monks in the late 16th century. The Chapel’s story is a familiar one. By the 16th century, there were as many as 43 cemeteries in and around Evora that were taking up valuable land. Not wanting to condemn the souls of the people buried there, the monks decided to build the Chapel and relocate the bones. However, rather than interring the bones behind closed doors, the monks, who were concerned about society’s values at the time, thought it best to put them on display. They thought this would provide Evora, a town noted for its wealth in the early 1600s, with a helpful place to meditate on the transience of material things in the undeniable presence of death. This is made clear by the thought-provoking message above the chapel door: “Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos,” or: “We bones, are here, waiting for yours.”
Special City Guide: Evora
The capital of Alto Alentejo, Évora, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a historical curio. Considering its size and location, it’s also something of an architectural phenomenon. Its builders freely adapted whatever styles they desired, from Mudéjar to Manueline to Roman to rococo. Évora, once enclosed behind medieval walls, lives up to its reputation as a living museum. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century houses, many with tile patios, fill nearly every street. Cobblestones, labyrinthine streets, arcades, squares with bubbling fountains, whitewashed houses, and a profuse display of Moorish-inspired arches characterize the town.
Many conquerors passed through Évora, and several left behind architectural remains. The Romans at the time of Julius Caesar knew the town as Liberalitas Julia. Its heyday was during the 16th-century reign of João III, when it became the Montmartre of Portugal; avant-garde artists, including the playwright Gil Vicente, congregated under the aegis of royalty.
Évora today is a sleepy provincial capital, perhaps rather self-consciously aware of its attractions. One local historian recommended to an American couple that they see at least 59 monuments. Rest assured that you could capture the essence of the town by seeing only a fraction of that. Évora is a popular day trip from Lisbon, but it’s a long trek, which doesn’t leave enough time to enjoy the town thoroughly. Most of the best shops in Évora are on Rua do 5 de Outubro, which leads from a point near the cathedral to the perimeter of the historic town. Beyond that, your best bet is wandering and window-shopping in the neighborhood around the cathedral.