Casa das Cegonhas
As I exhale with relief, my out-of-hours is on, and I'm strapped in, ready for takeoff. It's been a hot minute since I've spent a little time alone with one of my girlfriends. So, the excitement is there, and the idea is bliss. As we soar into the blue sky, leaving UK traffic control behind, I get some work done. What can I say? I can't help myself! Sorry, not sorry. No, but being real for a moment, there's a reason I'm not particularly eager to head off on a vacation when we have a print issue due, and that's because it needs my undivided attention 24 hours around the clock. Taking a week away is a little bold, two weeks before our final edit is due. But as I try and programme my brain into some form of holiday mode, I'm excited for our mini break, three nights in the Portuguese countryside with Casa Das Cegonhas and another 2 in Portugal's charming capital city, Lisbon.
The flight is straightforward: an 8:30 a.m. take off and an 11 a.m. landing. Something I love about Portugal, and I stand by it, is if you're heading into Lisbon, the city itself, it's a dream. Albeit a little small, the airport, compared to other significant international cities airports, is charming and only a 10-minute drive into the capital. If you prefer to leave under 3 hours grace at the airport before your departure flight (it's not one for me), this is the city for you from the outset. As I change the scene from my usual full-duration stay in Lisbon alone, we collect things, luckily from the cabin, and move through customs to meet Marina, our incredible guide to the city and our mini break. Waiting at the front of the airport, we make our way towards what you'd call a personal chauffeur. For the next hour, as we travel to our destination, we have our very own guide, talking us through our stay with Casa Das Cegonhas – a hotel managed by Amazing Evolution –, the history of the local areas and every excursion we could think of as we pass through the Portuguese countryside.
Alcácer do Sal, and specially Comporta, we're told, is Lisbons equivalent to the Hamptons, bouje, luxurious and sought after in the high season, and it's not hard to see why. Surrounded by thousands upon thousands of cork trees, numbered by their harvest, the space is vast, dotted with properties from quaint local villas to luxury properties. The drive itself is easy to find. Something I'd feel more than comfortable attempting myself on future visits. After a short hour or so, we pull up onto a long sandy drive, weaving its way through cork trees, past the hotel's vineyards, a select few villas to Casa Das Cegonhas main house to meet our host Filipa, who will quickly become our holiday fairy godmother. The main house is slightly behind the main villas and comprises a central living space and dining room for those winter months, a kitchen and office, all set next to beautiful gardens and a pool. If a villa isn't for you, the hotel has several double rooms alongside the main house. The outside space has comfort in mind, with some lounging in the sun and under a wooden veranda with vines. In the summer months, it's here where you indulge over dinner, lunch and breakfast. Before we sit down to dine on a surprise lunch specially made for us, we continue our tour of the property before being introduced to our home for the next five days, a two-story villa.
It's interesting when you come to see the villas as their design makes them seem a more cosy affair on the outside. Think of Doctor Who's Tardis, when in reality, on the inside, they are vast and airy with more space than you'll know what to do with. Although the villa has ample space, the interior suggests a more intimate affair with soft furnishings, artwork, and local furniture. The rooms are incredibly trendy, with a modern take on the space, which is well balanced with the more traditional touches. What I love about the space is its practicalness alongside the more visual materialistic elements. The hotel caters to its guests for all meal times if needed. Still, the villas offer something more personal with a fully equipped kitchen and accessories where I'll take the opportunity to make more espressos than you'll ever know. As we move our bags to our rooms from where they were initially dropped off in the kitchen, both bedrooms feature doubles and personal bathrooms, with an extra space in the ground floor bedroom that parades more as a walk-in wardrobe/dresser space than a standard bathroom. But the pièce de résistance is your private pool next to an outside dining area and shower. Turns out, as you'd imagine, the perfect place to relax and unwind.
As the venue hosts us for lunch, we consider our plans for the rest of the day, concluding that we'll spend it by the pool. It's been a while since I've sat in or even by a pool in the sun. But as we take full advantage of the warm weather and, honestly, not a deluge of rain like it was predicted, swimming and relaxing. As dinner rolls around, our hosts cater to us and our timings, bringing dinner straight to our door. It's a welcome break, with more of a private and intimate setting, eating at the villa after a morning of travelling. No matter the journey, travelling always has an effect that leaves you drained. Although it's only a 3-hour flight, I'm exhausted once you add in the 3 a.m. wake-up call. I have to give it to the staff and kitchen, as over the next three days, they'll cater to my slightly more challenging dietary requirements, which can be difficult for me, let alone another who has yet to experience it. It can usually be quiet anxiety in case I become unwell from it, which often happens outside of me cooking at home. Seeing someone go out of their way to cater for said needs is incredible, way above and beyond compared to other trips I've recently taken. That fact alone blew me away, and that alone would have been enough. But alas, Casa Das Cegonhas had many more tricks up their sleeves. As the night drew in and we found more energy, we decided to head to the main pool and swim under the stars. I remember the last time I swam under the stars, and it could have been pre-covid. The perks of being out of the city include no air pollution with a night sky so clear and lit up with stars that I realised I'd forgotten how beautiful it is away from London city.
I'm up early on Tuesday morning, coffee in hand, feet in the pool and a book to hand. The weather once again, thank god, is not raining and warm. Although my intentions for the trip remain the same: relaxation, today I have a little less relaxing in mind (or at least it would be for some). We head to breakfast first, which flexibly runs throughout the morning, including cereals, croissants, and homemade Pastéis de Nata. Once again, the staff are at your disposal, checking how they can help on every occasion. Having spotted their electric bikes, we saddle up with the aim of exploration and ice cream at the forefront of our minds. Cycling is a long-lost love growing up in the UK countryside, where the only way to get anywhere is by car or bike. On the other hand, Kirsty (my friend) grew up with London transpiration, bikes not so much at the forefront for her. We start slowly, Kirsty finding her balance before making a ten-mile round trip with a quick stock for snacks at a petrol station (maybe not so glamorous). Our cycle trip was a success, with only one incident where I thought Kirsty might die on the bike. As Kirsty takes a siesta, I secretly open my laptop and get some all-important work done. I don't know what will happen if sitting in the sun with a drink doesn't make it better. As another evening draws, we dress up for dinner (even if it is us alone), having been in the pool late afternoon and tuck into another delicious meal made just for us by the kitchen at Casa Das Cegonhas. And in the spirit of relaxation, we spend the last few hours watching a film before we go to bed.
I wake up to our last day with Casa Das Cegonhas with a few things on my mind. First, we must take advantage of the croquet court at the villa. Why wouldn't you? Two, a trip to the local city Alcácer do Sal to grab some groceries for one final dinner at the villa, this time cooked by me and the third, breakfast. After demolishing a series of Pastéis de Natas, we go back to the pool at the villa for a couple of hours before heading into Alcácer do Sal. To get to Alcácer, the hotel booked us a taxi for a relatively short 20-minute drive. The sleepy town of Alcácer do Sal sat on the river is quiet mid-day. We find a local store and collect all the ingredients needed for dinner before a short walk around a small part of the town. As our taxi driver returns to pick us up, we return to the villa for a final night in paradise. I cook a bolognese, and we sit outside for one last dinner. In the interim, we decided to take to the Croquet court, which sits at the side of Casa Das Cegonhas. We looked up the game rules, with neither of us having played before, only for us to give up quite quickly with our little friend Rosa, the hotel dog who took to us very early on, speeding around after the balls. Casa Das Cegonhas is special because of the staff and the unique amenities like croquet. Even if you're looking to relax on a short or longer break, there's so much to do at the hotel, little things that are fun entertainers in between dips in the pool.
As we settle in for the night, I feel a little sadness having to leave such a beautiful space. It felt like a home away from home where we were looked after at every turn. Unsurprisingly, we've discussed our return to the Casa Das Cegonhas the following year. The staff helped us organise the journey back to Lisbon the next day after breakfast, as our driver packed up our belongings to head back into the city.
It's not hard for us to start planning our next visit to the villa, with some of the most attentive staff I've ever experienced, beautifully home-cooked food (Filipa is one hell of a chef), activities for days and starry nights in the pool. It's that beautiful rendition of relaxation mixed in with stimulating activities that can be exciting and low-key. As for the aesthetics, from modernised stylish villas to a cosy, intimate setting within the main house. It's the perfect balance between private living and being looked after. Frankly, it's the ideal vacation, as I leave refreshed but with a twinkle in my eye at the idea of returning.
As our stay at Casa Das Cegonhas draws to a very sad close, we wait to be picked up to head back into the city. I love Lisbon. It's charming, quaint, dainty and full of life. But I'm slightly sad to leave, reminding myself I will, without a doubt, return to Casa Das Cegonhas.