Situated between a magical hilltop castle, olive orchards, and Portugal’s largest lake, Horta da Moura’s intriguing name translates to “Orchard of the Moorish Maiden” and supposedly the Moura is quite a temptress. This gorgeous country inn might tempt you to stay longer than you’d plan, kicking back in a pool overlooking the orchards or strolling the ancient—and surprisingly low on tourists—streets of Monsaraz.
The Alentejo region of Portugal is filled with gorgeous hotels that are great values. I stayed at a few of them when I biked through the countryside earlier this year, like Mar de Ar in Evora, Pousada D. Joao IV in Vila Viçosa, and Rainha Santa Isabel castle hotel in Estremoz. This one opened in 1992, but it feels like it’s been here for centuries.
With a grand arch entryway, cobblestone streets, and solid buildings fronted by flowers, the first impression here is a hotel that’s going to make you feel like you need to own a hacienda yourself to stay here. But this being Portugal, rates start at just 60€ a night in low season and max out at 140€ for the largest suite in high season. Package deals that revolve around cooking classes, winery visits, or nature don’t bump up the price much either.
As in much of Alentejo, meals are a highlight at Horta da Moura. This is a rather unheralded win region of Europe, so despite consistently high quality, the wine prices are an even better bargain than the hotels. Where grapes aren’t planted you see olive groves. Sheeps milk cheese, acorn-fed pork, and bountiful vegetables are plentiful and delicious. Save plent of room for dinner at the Feitiço da Moura restaurant, where hearty stews, homemade bread, olive oil, salad, and cheese are just the opening round. At lunch there’s a view of the countryside. At night romantic candlelight.
When it gets hot in this region in the summer, it gets really hot, so the large infinity pool (big enough for laps) becomes popular. It overlooks the orchard and hilly countryside, without much noise to destroy the tranquility. There’s ample deck space and lounge chairs, plus a bar is a few steps away.
That bar is a clubby space with a billiard table, arched brick ceilings, and leather chairs to sink into. Sofas outside on the verandah have the same panoramic view as the pool and hot tub.
The 25 rooms are scattered around several buildings and feature flat-screen TVs, complimentary Wi-Fi, minibars, fireplaces, and plush bathrobes. Each has a furnished terrace. The suites have an extra sitting room, more space, and a larger bath. They’re very quiet and have comfortable beds, so this is a good place to unwind.
Staffers can set up as few or as many activities as you’d like, but if you know in advance what you want to do it’s best to arrange a horseback riding package or winery visits package in advance to be safe and to get a better deal. With a large lake nearby, it’s possible to arrange boating or fishing trips. Without a lot of people living in this area, the hotel is a good place for stargazing when there are no clouds.
Monsaraz Castle blew away this jaded traveler and made me wish I was wandering with no set schedule like I was doing in the old days. We had some wine, cheese, and olives in a cafe after exploring the old city for a while, but there are lots of nooks and crannies to explore in this ancient fortified town on a mountaintop. (And yes, if you’re arriving by bike, it’s a serious workout.)
Editor Tim Leffel stayed at Horta da Moura while on a cycling tour of Portugal hosted by Bike Tours Direct and Turaventur. See his narrative story on the trip here: Wildflowers and Wine: Biking Through Castle Country in Rural Portugal.