The convent itself dates back to the late 17th century but fell into ruin in 1834. It was classified as a national monument in 1910. In 1969 the project of adaptation of the convent of the Order of Santiago to a hotel was approved, designed by the architect Luis dos Santos Castro and Lobo.
Why is any of this relevant? Because you can stay there and enjoy this remarkable historic building, and it is special. The 23 rooms and 5 suites, spread over two floors, offer views of the sea, the town of Palmela or the Castle, depending on weather conditions and orientation of your room.
Staffing levels seem to be low, yet they are outstandingly good. Once you have met the receptionist, you have also met the barman and the person who will take your bags to your room. It’s a level of service which is rare to find these days as many large hotels become ‘bed factories’, and lack personality and personal service.
The modernisation is very sensitive, so you get modern amenities without spoiling the character of the building. Rooms are traditional and large; the bathrooms are modern and well equipped.
All the bedrooms have air conditioning and heating, flat screen cable TV and small but high-quality windows. There are no tea or coffee-making facilities in the room. Apart from that, no expense has been spared.
The restaurant is located in the old friars’ refectory, with walls one and a half metres thick, and features some interesting art. A large mural depicting a battle of the day fills one wall and is flanked by two excellent works of modern art on the two side walls. One could almost describe the restaurant as being at a 5-star level. However, the dishes vary in quality. We chose à la carte rather than the fixed menu of the day. Perhaps that was not a wise choice. The quality of the meat and other ingredients of the dishes were high and some dishes were presented very well, others not so much. Serving a very tender steak with potato crisps was not the best decision the kitchen made, but the maître d’ quickly resolved this by requesting the kitchen to prepare sautéed potatoes, which they did very quickly. They were both piping hot and delicious.
With such a superb dining room displaying so much character, and staff to match, we felt the kitchen let down what could be an outstanding and unique dining experience. The clue was in only six tables being occupied that evening, a situation which would preclude the presence of a Chef. Having said that, we will certainly go back again.
The pousada stocks some very good local wines and spirits and you can trust the recommendations your waiter will make, for they know their wines well and are happy to guide you.
Breakfast is served in the cloisters; the arches have been enclosed with glass but that doesn’t spoil the view of the very large, traditional cloisters. There was a good selection of hot and cold dishes, and the merest mention of not being very impressed with the automatic coffee machine was resolved by the waiter, who disappeared into the back rooms and re- appeared with a proper expresso coffee. The staff really can’t do enough to give you a very pleasant and rather unique experience.
Disabled access may be an issue, better check at the time of booking. We didn’t spot a ramp at the entrance and there were quite a few steps down to the main door. The lift may not be large enough for a wheelchair, but again check as they seem to be able to deal with most issues.
We highly recommend a weekend away at this unique pousada which has to be a must for lovers of both history and art. There is a profusion of art, ancient and modern, throughout the convent and it’s quite a thrill to touch the iconic pieces which have fallen from the convent in days of old and can now be found dotted around the pousada.
For more information and to book direct call 21 235 1226 or book through an online site.