Above: The exterior of Casa Palmela

A Rural Retreat in the Setúbal Wine Country

The most popular excursion from Lisbon is to Sintra, 18 miles to the west, remarkable for its several fairy-tale palaces and castles. But wine lovers should seriously consider a visit to the Setúbal Peninsula, just over the Golden Gate-like 25 de Abril Bridge. The Lisbon suburbs eventually give way to the Parque Natural da Arrábida, home to several important wineries, gently rolling vineyards and a dramatic coastline fringed with beaches. We spent two memorable days sightseeing – don’t miss the viewpoint overlooking the cliffside Convento de Nossa Senhora da Arrábida or the panoramas from the hilltop Castelo de Palmela – and wine tasting. José Maria da Fonseca is perhaps the most famous winery, making superb still and fortified wines. But I also recommend visiting Quinta da Bacalhôa, which has not only a fine winery but a 15th-century palace filled with art from the world-class Berardo Collection, and Quinta de Alcube, an excellent small producer of both wine and cheese.

The peninsula had no accommodations of note until just a few months ago, when a local family reopened its 17th-century estate house as a 20-room hotel: the Hotel Casa Palmela. Renovating the property was indeed a family affair – one cousin handled the landscaping, another the interior décor. The result, while not problem-free, is a compelling hideaway amid idyllic scenery less than an hour’s drive from central Lisbon.

We drove down the unfinished driveway to the formal entrance of the hotel, the vestibule of which is flanked by a blue-and-white azulejo mural and a life-size Greco-Roman bronze figure. Azulejos, whether as wainscoting or more elaborate compositions, decorate the entire original mansion, and public spaces contain a mix of antiques and contemporary pieces. We liked to relax in the lounge on the ground floor, with sofas and armchairs facing a cozy fireplace. Had we visited in summer, we would have taken advantage of the panoramic terrace, overlooking a landscape of vineyards and cork trees. Unfortunately, an immovable power line runs past the hotel, marring the view somewhat. Guests can also take advantage of an outdoor pool and an inviting picnic area in the vineyards shaded by an old cork oak.

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