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Showing posts from 2010

Tom Tom - or the navigator blues

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For a few years I was very fortunate to have the task of driving my husband's 100-year+ old grandma through Sintra; from her place to ours and back. She always wanted me to go very slowly, as she rarely traveled in the car, so she could see all the places she used to walk by, live in and work at. She would tell me stories about how Sintra used to be, what it looked like, and of course how it has changed. One of her favorite topics was the traffic. She said she remembered when there was only 1 car in Sintra, when taxis were horse-drawn carriages, when the tram was the major transportation in to the Historical Center (now it no longer comes this far), then called just 'Vila'. She told me how you had to have a license to get into Vila by any form of transportation: there was an area in the entrance to the town, in Lourel, where people had to place their goods in public or hired horse-drawn trucks to bring them into town. Interesting! It still would be nice.

A few years…

SPOIL YOURSELF from head to toe

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While our site is being translated into one more language, it is experiencing some growing pains - sorry for that. It seems my browser (Netscape) is tougher to get it right than the more common ones. Anyway, while the web-guys are working on that, a new special package has been created. It seems especially appropriate now to get ready for the busy holiday season - and maybe even after it to unwind. It is called: SPOIL YOURSELF from head to toe!

The feet and the head are places that when massaged can relax the whole body. That is the idea. The package has two different massages combined, one to the head, the other to the feet, totaling about an hour of bliss. The massage on the feet is reflexology, a therapy that consists of massaging, stimulating and pressing points of our feet where our different organs have their counterpoints, producing not only a deep effect of relaxation but also a relief of symptoms of an illness.
This massage can be either combined with a facial massage,…

Motorways

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The other day I accompanied my husband to a meeting 385 kms away from Sintra, to Trancoso in the 'Beira Interior'. We left at 6 am, I spent an hour in town while he was in the meeting, we drove back and stopped in another town on the way where he had another meeting, we stopped for lunch and were back in Sintra by 4 pm. These 800+ kms were leisurely passed with all the stopping in 10 hours. Yes, the motorways in Portugal are great!

There is a crisis in Portugal, but I have full faith that all will turn out well. All of these motorways going through remote areas have guaranteed something: businesses are all over our country, not only in the big cities (and this includes tourism!). The roads enable good and efficient transportation of raw materials as well as ready products, linking the interior to the coast, North to South - and of course to Center, our region.

As we were driving, I was marveled by the green - the vast forests (even after the fires of the last years); th…

Bed and Breakfast.com Award

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Two days ago I received a mail from the BedandBreakfast.com offices to inform us that Casa do Valle had been awarded the Best of Portugal Award! We had been selected based upon 'excellent reviews posted by your guests during the past year'. The BedandBreakfast.com Awards are based on both qualitative and quantitative analysis. So I thank You - all of you who have written a review for us! And please, keep writing!

The same day I noticed that we had jumped to 1st place again on TripAdvisor in the category of Bed and Breakfasts of Sintra. Seen that we are still quite young in the business, that was extremely good news!

Here at Casa do Valle we read carefully all the reviews we get. We take them seriously and anything that we catch as an 'iffy' we try to correct. We have learned a lot reading through those comments, changed things, continued others. We especially love it when guests who are still here come to us and tell us they would like something different (pil…

Morning and other walks in Sintra

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This was the first morning this autumn that when I left for my morning walk with Pandora, I put a reflector on both of my legs under the knee. Pandora's pink bandana was also changed to a reflecting collar, to be on the safe side. It wasn't dark at 7:15, but the light was not strong anymore. No socks were necessary but I wore a long-sleeved t-shirt to keep off the cool, humid morning air of my chest.

I have gotten addicted to these morning walks. As I write this, Pandora is a 7 month-old Great Dane full of energy. Initially I thought that these walks would ware her out and she would stay calmer for a longer period. But who wore out was I. Then I got into a better shape, and I told myself that I would waste her energy and it would magically transfer to me, as I felt energized after the walks. Wrong again. Yes, I get energized but so does she. Now both of us look forward to our walks with equal eagerness, which is easy enough to comprehend. Sintra is magical, ESPECIALLY in the mo…

Riding a bike up the mountain...

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Stopping to buy ceramics on the way up from the beach
It has been a very busy season for us here at Casa do Valle - which is great! I took an afternoon off the other week with my friend when we went with a horse and carriage to Monserrate. Now my sister visited, and I took some more time off - this time doing something that I had been wanting to do for awhile, but not alone: I rented an electric bike.

I have always liked riding a bike, but somehow the idea of normal mountain biking on these mountain roads does not appeal to me - I vision a sweaty ride concentrating on each effort of pedaling to make it up the hill, a sweaty, curved back and hearing my heart beat so loud I cannot hear anything else. Which would be great for RPM or spinning. But I would like to envision myself pedaling upright, listening to the wind through the eucalyptus leaves, the birds chirping away; feeling the scent of the pine, eucalyptus and other trees - all this without being too tired to enjoy it all. An…

Right here in the middle of the Historical Center

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No need to take a bus or drive or walk long distances.... Sometimes another day in the car queues or crowded busses do not seem like an attracive choice of things to do. Here are some of my suggestions for a day spent in the town center, walking distance from Casa do Valle.
Once I already blogged about the Museum of Natural History, in town, worth seeing, and interesting to all ages.

Now - The National Palace is the center of Sintra! One of the most visited monuments in all of Portugal, it is easily forgotten by the tourists as it is so close! Its cone-shaped twin chimneys are an exlibris of Sintra - and its tiles (azulejos) are the largest national collection. A summer house of the Queen Mother Maria Pia until the end of the Monarchy (1910), it now belongs to the state and is a host to many concerts, state lunches and exhibitions. Closed on Wednesdays, free entries on Sunday mornings!


The Toy Museum -Started as a private collection of tin soldiers of João Arbués Moreira. It is a…

Running away from the heat

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This winter when it was cold and rainy I promised to myself that I would not complain about the heat if it ever came. The heat DID come, and it has stayed on and on. The normally cool nights of Sintra have been less cool than normal, and all of our clients have slept with their windows and doors open. My poor dog Ruben, who was recently operated on his knee, is suffering the most with the heat.

So what to do? It has been really busy, too, I have been blogging less, though I often think about things to blog about. I have now tried to escape the heat; my morning walks area earlier, and in the shade. And that is what gave me the idea: the shade. Sintra is FULL of tourists. I thank each and everyone for coming, but in this heat I wanted a short escapade from the crowds, and the heat - and that is just what I did; I took a horse and carriage ride to Monserrate gardens!

The trip was wonderful. It let the crowded center of town behind and we dove into the lush, green and cool mounta…

New Horizons!

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Most of the people who visit Sintra do not rent a car - and it really is not necessary. To those who are not used to narrow streets and mountainous terrain, driving in Sintra can be a nerve-racking experience. Most of the monuments and parks are easily reachable by foot from Casa do Valle - or at least by the local bus. Quinta da Regaleira is about a kilometer from here, Pena Palace and the Mourish castle are about 3 kms - and the local buses are quite good to visit the beaches, Cascais and Estoril, as well. I have mentioned in my previous entries that we have a 'Guest to Guest' book where guests who are leaving suggest places to eat and go visit to the new arriving guests. Recently a few places have started popping up, like The Convent of Capuchos (or the 'Cork Monastery'), Cabo de Roca, the higher points of the mountain, rarer beaches, small villages. All not-in-a-walking-distance, and difficultly or hardly not at all reachable by public transportation.

Recentl…

July is FULL of activity!

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The Medieval times are represented all through the month with the jousting we had last weekend (anounced on our facebook page) and now the FAIR! The familiar venue of the São Pedro Fair will be very lively, its main attraction being an exhibition of traditional objects and arts that will take the visitor back in time, making Sintra an attractive place, whilst contributing toward the preservation of traditions. The medieval market will be open on Friday (16th) from 5pm to 11h30pm and on Saturday (17th) and Sunday (18th), from 3pm to 11h30 pm. Admission is free. Take the bus 433 from from the Historical Center.

AND from July 30 until August 1st in the Square in front of the Queluz National Palace there is the 18th Century Fair, the golden era of the Palace. With this historical recreation of Queen Maria 1st's reign, you can make a real 'journey in time', during which several craftsmen and shopkeepers will demonstrate crafts and trades of the period. There will be tableau vi…

Abandoned houses

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When you walk around Sintra and Lisbon you cannot but notice and wonder about some beautiful old buildings that look like they are abandoned and/or falling apart. It saddens many to see the potential of these houses going to waste just sitting there with broken or boarded up windows, roof half falling and the garden overgrown. Right across the street from us there is one such building and a few times a week I tell people the story of it.

As the high fencing and basketball hoop lets you guess, it was 'Escola Academica' still about 20 years ago when we were building and moved here; a small private school. Once a beautiful building, full of life, the school mistress retired, the school lost its license, and for awhile after the death of the old school mistress, a family lived there with no rights to rental. When they were successfully evicted, we thought the house would be soon sold and were looking forward to new neighbors - with no luck until today. Many people wanted to…

Why I ask for your arrival time and contact information

A few separate incidents.

A Dutch couple came in in the middle of the afternoon, brought in their luggage and was shown around the house: the pool, the garden and the internet house. They got the WiFi code for their laptop, they ordered breakfast and started undoing their bags. It was only then that they noticed that the laptop and other electric/electronic items were missing from the suitcase. Followed a trip to the police station, canceling cards and changing email passwords, but in the end nothing was recouped.

An American family arrived at 930am straight from their international flight. Their luggage was stored here, they had breakfast by the pool, and then took a nap (on the chill-out-sofa, in the hammock) before they took the keys of their would-be room and went to town to start their exploration of Sintra. Two days later when they left, we kept their luggage for several hours after check-out time as they still went sight-seeing before their night flight.

A family driving in …

Great views and food at Crôa!

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The Portuguese love a good meal. And they love their families. SO - you often get the whole families in restaurants: the grandparents, the uncles, the children, the cousins... Sometimes if you just want to go for a relaxing lunch as a couple having other people's children running around is tiresome. And other times it's your own children that are impatiently awaiting to go home while you would still like to continue your meal in peace (as the Portuguese meals tend to take a long time).

One of the restaurants that recently has become popular amongst our clients is Crôaon Praia Grande. Literally ON Praia Grande, high up on top, overlooking the beach, facing the sea. Beautiful place for sunsets! Crôa is one of these family owned and run restaurants that has lasted and lasted, always knowing what needs to be changed and kept to stay popular. It is also wonderful for family lunches as it has a fabulous fenced-in play-park between the terrace and the parking. A wonderful idea,…

Moving about

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Our clients frequently ask how to get to Sintra from the airport and if they need a car here to move around. This blog tries to answer these questions.

There are various railroad lines in the Greater Lisbon area. One goes from the Cais de Sodré station to Cascais (passing Estoril), another goes from the Rossio station to Sintra. Neither passes by the airport. There are between 3 and 6 trains per hour between Lisbon and Sintra and the oneway ticket per person is about 2 euros. There are several normal buses that pass by the airport that you can take to Lisbon center without luggage - and special ones that go to town that are easy enough with luggage. There are also hourly buses that go to Cascais/Estoril directly from the airport - but none directly to Sintra. Check out this site regarding getting to downtown Lisbon: http://www.golisbon.com/transport/airport.html.

So to get to Sintra, you either have to take a bus/taxi downtown Lisbon, change into a train and once in Sintra, g…

'Uma meia de leite da máquina, sff!'

Recently coffee has been in the news in Portugal: it seems that each Portuguese consumes a little over 4 kgs of coffee a year. This is an equivalent of 1-2 coffees per person per day, well below the 6kg per person European average (and much below the Finnish 10kgs/person/year average). This surprised me, as it seems that there is a coffee shop in every street corner and they do have a lot of custom! The Portuguese may not drink as much coffee as you would imagine, but boy have they made it a wonderful habit!

Most Portuguese drink the strong expresso type coffee and mostly not at home. A morning coffee on the way to work, another after lunch, and a third one after dinner, especially if the dinner has been in a restaurant. This is the typical scene and can continue to be so as long as coffee continues as reasonable as it is. When you visit a Portuguese house, however, contrary to the Northern European habit that I am used to, you will not be offered a coffee, but a glass of wine, a beer,…

The ash cloud over Europe

This week the airports have been in full chaos all over Europe. As flights are canceled, tourists are stuck all over the world unable to arrive home, forced to extend their holidays. As this situation is considered 'force major' most of the airlines are not returning the money of the tickets, let alone providing the clients with a hotel to stay during their wait of sometimes days. The extension of the holidays is not necessarily a welcomed thing: it exhausts the finances of those who are suddenly paying extra hotel-nights and causes worry about things left undone at home. There are talks about forced holidays for airline employees if the situation does not improve.

The situation is as frustrating for the would-be tourists who have booked their holidays a long time in advance ready to go for the much-needed holidays and now not knowing if they will go later or at all. The situation is also bad at this end when tourists cancel their reservations at the last moment. It com…

Glicinia time!

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Every spring there is a purple tint to Sintra. The glicínias bloom, their flowers cascading down from the vine, for two to three weeks. They frame gates and pathways, covering arches, giving shade from the first warm sun. They grow wild on abandoned properties and in the middle of forest climbing to the highest point of the trees or electric poles. And then, the flowers fall and leaves are formed. But the weeks of flowers are magical! They give a special fairy-tale look to the places they surround, and transform the abandoned properties, giving an attractive look to the gray of the walls and rust of the gates. At the same time as this is a beautiful time, it is also a time with lots of allergies: there is pollen all around. Normally, the plants on the Casa do Valle property are not high-allergenic but up in the mountain and parks there are a few plants that some people do feel in their eyes and noses. (All of the following pictures were taken within a walking distance of Casa…

Easter Friday

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Good Friday was the hardest day of my life as far as customer service. I know that no matter what, you are to be cheerful and efficient. You are to put your personal affairs and emotions to the background and be all you should be to provide the best service to your clients, to make them feel at home and cared for. But it was really difficult, and I am afraid I failed: I burst into tears when a young Brazilian couple wanted to settle their bill and cut a Swedish couple short when they asked me how the Portuguese celebrate Easter. For this I apologize now publically.

Good Friday was one of the hardest days of my life in general - it was the day I held Zoe's head on my lap while she slept away to her eternal sleep as her kidneys stopped working due to the leishmanhose disease that had bothered her for 2 years.

Many of our guests remember Zoe - the gentle porcelain Great Dane of 4. She loved attention and company. She loved walks on the beach and playing with Ruben and Viiri. She…

The lovely trees we couldn't live without!

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In one of my early blogs I mentioned that when we bought these grounds, they were an abandoned wine-yard. In fact, around 1890 a family of army officials built a house across the street and our ground were the 'quinta', the farm, they had. On these grounds a wonderful wine was grown; it is said that the wine from here won several international prices, even.

A hundred years after the building of the original house, another house, our house, was built in the quinta. There was nothing here, really: a broken down pig-dwelling, a broken down ruin of a greenhouse. And the patio. The patio was, and still is, under huge trees, Cassias and Pittosporums, in the middle of the grounds. Perfectly placed so you see the palaces up on top of the mountain, get the afternoon sun in the winter and the afternoon shade in the summer. There was a type of iron structure to train the branches of the trees to form a sort of a gazebo, a protection and a shelter. During the years, however, the gr…

Beware of the taxis!

This is one of those blogs that I already don't like and I am only writing the first sentence! But please keep reading on, it is quite important.

This last weekend two different sets of clients arrived to our house from the airport with a taxi. In both cases the driver tried to ask for nearly twice the amount that is normal rate. Please be aware that the fare you should pay is 30-35 euros (depending on amount of luggage and time of day).

Here is some information you should be aware of:
The distance between the airport and Casa do Valle is 28 kms. The straightest road for this trip is using the road IC19. During the day, it takes about 3o minutes to drive that - in the peak hours up to 1 hour. There are no tolls to pay on IC19. The driver has the tariff '1' on until the end of 2nd circular road where he switches on tariff '3' = about 7 kms from the airport.

So what can go wrong:
The driver switches on tariff '3' too early or chooses another road, with t…

'The Wonderful Jazz Café just before the station on the right'

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Saudade, if you look it up from the dictionary, means Nostalgia in English.
In the Portuguese dictionary the word is explained as 'sadness caused by missing someone or something' AND as 'greetings'. The word includes both happiness and sadness, a longing for.

Saudade, the Life and Art of Portuguese People, is a coffee-place, a tea room, a place to gather to listen to music. For me, O Saudade is one of the only places where you can sit with your book, newspaper or laptop, enjoying a cup of coffee and a long conversation with your best friend and beautiful cakes, and not be harassed. It is what one of our clients described as 'The Wonderful Jazz Café just before the Station on the Right'.

O Saudade opened at the end of June 2009. The first week of July we already had two nice comments about in our Guest to Guest book. The truth is, it gained immediate popularity. Mary and João have lovingly turned one of the original 5 cheese cake factories of Sintra, Mathilde,…

What to do on a rainy day?

We have certainly had our share of rainy days. So what to do when your sister, niece and great niece are visiting and it just rains? Well, no worry. We spent an afternoon at the Modern Science Museum 'Centro de Ciência Viva de Sintra'- only 500 meters by foot down the hill from Casa do Valle. This interactive center is one of the 'new' museums of Sintra, opened just a few years ago. I confess, I had never been, though I had been in the large ones of Chicago and Helsinki. This one is a small one. You spend between an hour and 3, depending on your age and weather...

What do you see? Actually, what do you do? You can make a simulation of wave energy movement; make up your genetic DNA and find out how many people are out there with your combination of eye- and hair color, nose and jaw shape etc; test your short-term memory and reaction skills by part-taking in games that use sounds and colors; take a picture of your body to find out which parts of your body are war…

Weather Report

This winter has been extreme all over, in Europe and elsewhere in the world, too. It is rare to watch the news and NOT hear about a calamity somewhere in the world. Last weekend one hour of pouring rain (60 ml) did lots and lots of damage in the Portuguese island of Madeira, over 40 people were killed/missing and lots of villages are still in complete isolation as the roads were washed away.

The same weekend I spent Friday and Saturday mornings building sandcastles on the beach with friends' children - in wonderful sunny weather! Saturday night it rained hard here, too, though - and a part of our wall in the bottom of the property gave in to the weight of the wet ground (after a much higher than average rainfall). It rained a lot on and off all Sunday, making the Saturday morning beach outing feel like a distant dream. But then on Monday afternoon our 4-year old guest dipped into the 10º pool - the sun was so inviting again!

This February we have had night frost about 5 times. …

Pictures of Tulha's

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Tulha's Bar

Tulha's Bar is by far the #1 restaurant of our visitors. It is also one of the restaurants mentioned in many of the guide books. There are many reasons: the service is friendly, menu is typically Portuguese but varied, portions are large, price is accessible - these are a few. And it is also just 10 minutes by foot from Casa do Valle, right in the Historical Center, between the Church and the Tourism Office.

Tulha's is one of the restaurants that has been around 'forever'. In the last 20+ years that I have lived here, they have changed cooks only once and the owners and some of the staff have been here all this time. A converted, old grain warehouse, it is small, only 10 tables, and it is always busy. The service is fast and pleasant, there is always a smile and a free glass of Port waiting for you. For those who want to taste the Portuguese culinary specialties like Duck Rice or Cream-baked Cod, this is the place: everyday there is a different specialty on the m…

Winter beaches

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This morning once again I took the dogs to the beach as the morning was breaking. I am enclosing a picture of Praia Pequena 'waking up' - if you look closely, you will see the little black dots, that's the early surfers. The other picture is of Praia Grande. It is full moon now, and the time of the year of 'Marés Vivas' - the rough winter tides. You can see the stairs going down to the beach, with blue railing. Notice how the stairs seem to stop in the middle of the way. They don't. That's 'all the way to the beach' normally - just that the tides took away all the sand! In two weeks, with the new moon, the sand will be back again. An interesting phenomena on our winter beaches!