:”A backpacker in a 4 star hotel”, that would be an alternative title for this article. My way of traveling usually doesn’t include any kind of luxury, since I am always on a (low) budget. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a bit of luxury. On the contrary, I probably even appreciate it even more than people that are used to it. Through the lovely staff of “travel by interest” website Destsetters I was able to visit Hotel Minho, a Scandinavian-style hotel in the very north of Portugal. The Alto Minho area where this hotel is located is known for their top-class gastronomy and their ‘Vino Verde’ wines such as Alvarinho and Loureiro. I won’t pretend that I know much about wines, but the ones I was able to try were quite spectacular.
My first impression of Hotel Minho
With our carry-on weekend bags in hand I step into the wooden, glass and white marble entrance. A friendly woman introduces herself as the receptionist, and asks us kindly to fill out our details. I got a good vibe about the place and the staff, and that didn’t change throughout my stay.
A card swipe later Claire and I are in our room. Two heaps of cotton on the bed catch my eye. Robes! I love wearing a robe (life’s just better that way) but before I change into it the bed needs to be tested. Will it stand against the extremely critical and world-acclaimed Simon Cowell of bed testers?
It passed with flying colors. Not too hard, not too soft, just a gentle bounce. The sheets smelled nice too.
The bathroom has a nice walk-in shower and all the little tubes of creams and gels you will need. The balcony provides a grand view of the nearby forest which is even more amazing when the sun sets. Looking out I also see the hotel’s lovely outdoor pool and tennis field.
The morning after: breakfast
Heavy-headed (ugh, mornings) we walk into the breakfast space, which is nicely lit by the sunlight coming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. A great selection of fresh bread rolls, fruit, baked goods and slices of local cheeses and hams await us. A rather hidden note says that scrambled eggs and bacon are to be prepared on request. Guess what I’m having for breakfast 🙂 Two cups of decent coffee and we are ready to head out and explore the Alto Minho area on our hired bicycles.
The Big Chill: getting my wellness on
Sometimes it’s good for a man to get over himself and get pampered. Still wearing a robe and hotel slippers, I take the elevator down to the floor where the spa, sauna and massage rooms are located. I’m greeted by a friendly girl, who gives us a short explanation and provides us with robes and towels (which I guess we weren’t supposed to bring from the room, oops).
Since we’re the only people there, we are fully able to take in the tranquility of the setting. As in the breakfast area, the big windows provide ample sunlight and a lovely view. We take a dive and make sure to try the water jets on our shoulders and the bubbly jacuzzi on the rest of our muscles. If you want to be refreshed, try the ‘shower sensation’, which is a series of showers gradually progressing from hot to cold and back to hot.
Whilst thoroughly reclined and reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning” Claire and I are summoned: it’s time for our massage. We are being led to the couples suite, where we are asked (in the most respectful way possible) to change into what I can only describe as a Tarzan outfit. And no, there are no pictures (thank god).
The next hour or so (I lost the track of time pretty soon) every single one of my muscles was located and gently kneaded using lukewarm and pleasantly scented oil. Meditative music was playing in the background and no words were spoken apart from “please turn around” somewhere in the middle of the treatment. Aaaaahhhhh. I drag my fudge pudding self to the relax room (as if the message wasn’t relaxing enough) where I receive tea and I’m able to sit and reflect on my life for a bit, which at that moment couldn’t be any better.
A dinner even the Michelin Man enjoyed
As the hotel doesn’t have a dining area, the guests are invited to have dinner in the neighboring, independently run restaurant called Braseirão do Minho. The restaurant is mentioned in the Michelin guide, and not without reason. Pictures say a thousand words, so I’ll let the pictures of a typical dinner do the talking. Hungry for more? Why not try gastronomy travel?
Bruno’s wine & cheese pairings
Hotel Minho‘s wine bar provides an excellent way to spend an evening. Modest but knowledgable Bruno presents us with a selection of local Alvarinho wines and matching cheeses. We start with a fresh and easy wine (and cheese) and progress to more complex tastes. Although my taste buds aren’t as refined as the pros’, I do taste (and appreciate) the subtle differences between the wines.
First we try the Pássaros, with grape varieties Alvarinho and Trajadura from Monçao and Melcaço. I wish I had remembered the names of the matching cheeses too, since they were delicious. The second wine we try is the Muros de Melgaço Alvarinho, which tastes a lot more complex than the first one.
Give a Dutchman a bike and he will cycle to Spain
I was presented with a bicycle on the last day of my trip and as we all know, Dutch people love their bikes. My British-but-now-living-in-Amsterdam girlfriend has become Dutch enough to fully appreciate them too. One thing we’re not used to is wearing bike helmets, but hey, we won’t be cycling in our hometown. We head out and cycle a little north to meet the Ecovia de Alto Minho, also referred to as Ecopista do Rio Minho.
The smooth red tarmac road stretches all the way from Vila Nova de Cerveira to Monçao and follows the Minho river. It takes us through green patches, along tiny villages and up and down hills. We end up at the international bridge, which we cross. We get in our low gears to climb to the city center of Galician Tui and we sit down to have a beer and Tapas. Cheers!