Sleeping in a convent may not sound too enticing, but if that historic convent has been converted into a luxury hotel, well that’s a different story. At Pousada de D. João IV in Vila Viçosa, Portugal, you can rest in style while soaking up the history.
The first impression here is about as good as it gets. Whether you roll up in a bicycle like I did or in a Rolls-Royce, your jaw will probably drop as you approach. On your right is a palace that served a few centuries of rulers, with an expansive plaza in front. On your left is the convent, built in the 1500s and the last to close. It was originally built with a rather dubious purpose: to house the daughters from the fourth duke’s second marriage, since they would not be able to find noble husbands.
The hotel, part of the Pousadas de Portugal chain of historic hotels, now bears that duke of Bragança’s name.
You won’t feel like a nun here though, with comfy private rooms and a swimming pool out back. Overall it feels like a hotel from an old black and white movie, with an air of exclusivity and cachet, but with flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi.
The extensive grounds include an attractive pool, yes, but are worth strolling around in a leisurely manner to take it all in. There are orange trees either blooming or bearing fruit, quiet place to relax, and frog ponds with centuries-old statuary.
The inside mixes museum quality pieces with more modern furniture, with a couple grand lounges providing places for quiet conversation or group revelry. The bar has the usual cocktails plus a range of good wines from the Alentejo region Vila Viçosa is a part of.
Vila Viçosa is an important city in Portugal, a place where the ruling class spent much of their time over several centuries. When the last Duke saw the writing on the wall and left the country, he acted like a true noble and bequeathed the palace (on the same plaza as this hotel) to the new nation to use as a museum.
There are a few quirks at Pousada D. Joao IV, one of which you can see in the photo here: instead of a big bed for two you get two twins pushed together. Hey, you’re in Europe. Rooms have minibars, safes, and good toiletries, however, so your stay will be comfortable. The restaurant is priced a good 40% above anything else in town, but you can sample it at breakfast since that’s usually included in the rates.
Service was above and beyond good during my stay, to the point where a maintenance worker helped me replace a flat on my bicycle. I was sad to ride off to the next place and not spend more time here after just one night.
Rates at Pousada D. Joao IV in Vila Vicosa are a real bargain, starting at 128 euros regularly but dipping down below 100 for special promotions. Visit their listing at the Pousadas de Portugal site or check prices at Booking.com.
Review and photos by editor Tim Leffel, who stayed one night at Pousada Dom Joao IV as part of a hosted bike tour of the Alentejo region in Portugal.