FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Castle Hotels in Spain and Portugal

by Carley Wade

Dec 4, 2017

© Palacio Belmonte


Want to live like a king or queen but not ready for fairy tales in Florida? Living in the lap of luxury — surrounded by more culture than theme park — is easy in Portugal and Spain, where former palaces have been converted into boutique posada hotels. If Goya paintings and Fado music are more your family’s thing, here’s a way to enjoy three cities in nine nights, with innumerable discoveries!


Getting There: TAP Air Portugal’s free Stopover Program means you can stop for up to five days in both Porto or Lisbon for free on either end. En route to Spain’s capital, why not check out both?


Palacio Belmonte, Luxury Hotel in Alfama, Lisbon

Palacio Belmonte, Luxury Hotel in Alfama, Lisbon. Photo: Sivan Askayo


Lisbon: For those who thought Roman ruins were only in Italy, don’t be fooled —Palacio Belmonte is literally constructed on top of some dating back to 130 years B.C. But not to worry, an expert restoration has both paid homage to two millennia of construction history on the site (including Moorish towers and 17th-century Portuguese ceramic tiles) and put a modern spin on 10 suites with contemporary artistic touches. Thank art collector Frederic Coustols and his wife, artist Maria Mendonca, the owners who oversee their empire on top of the hill right next to São Jorge Castle in the capital’s oldest district of Alfama. It’s the perfect place to escape from all the tourist haunts, and little legs will be able to walk downhill. The magic doesn’t end there, however — Chapitô restaurant started as a circus training school in the early 1980s and today is still an ongoing project for development of the performing arts. So you may just see a clown or two while enjoying dinner on the terrace (more low-key) or an expansive view of the city with a higher-end dining experience upstairs.


Palacio Belmonte Bartolomeu de Gusmao livingroom view over the Alfama bairro and river

Palacio Belmonte Bartolomeu de Gusmao. Photo: Joe Condron


Madrid: Find yourself in the heart of the city — and within walking distance of the “arts triangle” — yet close to downright pastoral scenes at Buen Retiro Park when staying at Hotel Palacio Del Retiro. Originally a private mansion constructed in 1908, today it offers 50 recently renovated rooms and is protected by National Heritage status. Heavy wooden doors, magnificent wrought-ironwork, stained glass windows and a dazzling spiral staircase are all a feast for the eyes, but there’s plenty of tasting to be had outside the walls (and portions good for smaller stomachs) with tapas. A stroll through the La Latina includes one of the most famous sampling streets, Calle Cava Baja; almost any of these are good. There’s no shortage of free walking tours, either, that will introduce travelers to some of the city’s highlights and top restaurants, including a 24-hour restaurant for churros and thick drinkable sauce for dipping: Chocolatería San Ginés. A stroll with OgoTours will end right near the Royal Palace, for some extra regal fun watching the horses stand guard. Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” is a must-do here, as is the Prado Museum, but the free Thursdays are just as much a blessing as a curse; make sure to visit during siesta off-hours if you don’t want to stand in line for hours.


(Hint: Petit Palace Hotels offer up regal accommodations throughout Spain.)


Pestana Freixo 2

Pestana Freixo. Photo: Palacio Belmonte


Porto: Want to admire your tanned vacation profile in the gilded Grand Hall of mirrors, be served cappuccino in a frescoed breakfast room with local cheeses and pasteis de nata custard tarts, or relax in a Turkish bath? Eighteenth-century palace Pestana Palácio do Freixo offers all of that and more. Just a bit outside of the city for the ultimate in comfort and relaxing Douro River views from the panoramic indoor and outdoor pools, Palácio do Freixo offers free shuttle service into the heart of the city to take advantage of all of the action, too. Try a tuk-tuk tour, a fun auto rickshaw that zips along winding streets up to the top of hills so you don’t have to walk them. Most tours here will include a stop or at least a drive by Livraria Lello Bookshop, the inspiration for JK Rowling’s Hogwart’s library. Kids will also enjoy cruises up and down the Douro River in traditional rabelo boats, or the soaring Funicular dos Guindais.


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