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Living in a Portuguese Manor House

At the foot of the Serra do Estrela mountains in Portugal, the little village of Aldeia Nova do Cabo stretches along a hillside with views of the mountains and the setting sun. Both of these are visible as I look out my window from the 16th-century manor house of Casa do Cimo.

Although its charming owners speak no English, and my Portuguese is severely limited, we feel immediately welcome as we are invited into the grand entry hall. From above the massive stone stairway, someoneís ancestors look down at me from their portraits as the aristocratic Sra. Vasconcelos and I determine that we can communicate best in French (I studied it for one year in college before giving up, so communications would be very limited). She shows us the beautiful manor house that she and her husband have recently fitted with the modern conveniences expected by guests.

These include lovely tiled bathrooms with deep tubs and cushy towels, each embroidered with the houseís manorial crest and name. Inside the large closet are enough thick wooden hangers for my entire wardrobe.

The late afternoon sun pours in through the large casement windows, each surrounded in stone, and I realize that the walls are nearly two feet thick. Although the windows are surrounded in gray granite and heavy swept-back draperies, the huge windows and white walls make the room bright and airy, a feel we notice in the rest of the house as well. Rooms downstairs are large Ė the dining room where we eat breakfast is almost intimidating in its grandeur. In addition to the sitting area in our room, we are invited to use the one just outside our room, overlooking the central entrance hall.

The terrace offers an even grander view than the one from our room, stretching across the mountains and around to the steep hill that rises from the end of the garden. Below are olive trees, and a newly planted orchard of peach trees grows beside the stone terrace.

The manor house sits in the center of the village, which seems to begin where the previous village leaves off, and we backtrack to Aldeia de Joanes to see the Medieval stone church and to eat dinner at a cheery little restaurant we had passed on the way. Itís Saturday night and the restaurant is soon filled with groups of local people, who nod and wish us a good evening as they pass our table.

We order grilled robalo (sea bass) and a combination of shrimp and calamari en brochette. The former is perfectly cooked and the latter is dramatically served on a sword, suspended on a tall metal stand. Dinner is excellent, even though this modest little restaurant is the only act in town.

Aldeia Nova de Cabo is close to Fundao, and makes a good base for exploring the mountains we can see out our window. A spectacular dayís driving tour can include the trip over Torre, Portugalís highest mountain, at about 6000 feet. The road twists and climbs to a point just under its summit, where snow lasts well into April or early May. The views from the top seem to go on forever, with layer after layer of mountains stretching to the horizon.

Solares de Portugal, the association of manor house and rural lodgings, can help plan an itinerary of privately owned lodgings such as Casa do Cimo. These are located all over the northern part of Portugal, with a few in other regions as well.

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