Checking into Convento do Espinheiro just outside of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Évora, is a bit like experiencing the life of the historic Portuguese royalty.
Indeed, the 15th century Convento do Espinheiro used to be the home of the Portuguese royal family when they visited Évora.
Today the complex is a national monument turned five-star luxury hotel.
If you are following my blog, you will have noticed I recently visited the stunning Alentejo in Portugal, zigzagging through the area and staying at a number of different small winery boutique hotels. Now this is exactly the type of accommodation that I am longing to experience when travelling; and as you will notice, Convento do Espinheiro clearly does not fall right into this category.
With 92 rooms, it is one of the larger hotels in Alentejo and already within the first few minutes after arriving we bumped into more guests than each of the other hotels we stayed would actually be capable to host.
The reason I decided to include Convento do Espinheiro to our itinerary nevertheless was its proximity to Évora, the capital city of the Alentejo and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and I found some intriguing images of the complex online. Thus I booked a night at the hotel, and as it turned out it was the perfect choice.
Another reason that always works well attracting me to a place is when it either looks back at an interesting history or otherwise tells a fascinating story.
Convento do Espinheiro ticks both boxes. As I mentioned before, it was a favourite spot of the Portuguese kings and in 1490 Princess Isabel, the oldest daughter of the Spanish king, spend the night before her wedding to Crown Prince Afonso of Portugal at the convent.
Legend has it the two actually spend the night together there before getting officially married the next day! Unfortunately, the story of the two did not unfold happily. Indeed, in the night before the wedding, a storm raged over the area and destroyed part of the church. This was seen as a bad sign for the future of the couple; and unfortunately turned out to be right. Afonso was killed in a horse-riding accident only a few months later.
Today the hotel has become a favourite spot for weddings but they will not allow any bride to stay in the room were Isabel and Afonso secretly met that night in 1490.
Huge efforts have been made to conserve and restore the historic parts of Convento do Espinheiro.
Old furnishings, oil paintings on the walls, statues and plush chairs and sofas add to a sense of history that will engulf you as soon as you set foot into the hotel.
The gilded chapel is a real gem with beautiful paintings and the famous Portuguese tiles.
Rooms are located either in the historic building or in a more recent modern addition to the ancient convent. All are overlooking either the gardens, interior gardens or the pool area.
Rooms in the historic part are aptly called the ‘heritage rooms’ and spot a traditional design with parquet floors, wood furnishings and oil paintings on the walls.
The ‘design rooms’ located in the modern part are styled in a contemporary design with some retro touches like large leather chairs, shiny Philippe Starck lamps and quirky art on the walls.
The spacious bathrooms are entirely clad in marble from nearby Estremoz, well stocked with toiletries from Bulgari and feature a walk-in rain shower and Jacuzzi.
There is a large Spa area – which we did not use since we only stayed for a day – including an indoor salt-water pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and steam-bath.
The buildings are surrounded by 8 hectares of beautiful gardens including some old remnants.
The large outside pool area is surrounded by olive groves and looked like the perfect place for the hot Alentejo summer days in. Included here are a small children pool, a children playground area and a small poolside bar.
There is a daily guided tour through the convent open to all hotel guests where if you want will get some more details about the history of the building.
The approximately one hour tour is followed by a daily free wine tasting in the stunning Cisterna wine cellar (which you can also join without having been part of the guided tour). As the name suggests, the wine bar is located in the convent’s old water deposit and the vaulted room is beyond gorgeous.
The tasting includes three different wines from the Alentejo, typically one white, one red and either a rosé or a sparkling wine.
The free tasting is open to all hotel guests and you can expect a good number of people attending. If you want a more intimidate tasting, including more wine options, a private tasting can be arranged upon request.
The Convento actually has a small vineyard in their gardens, but only bottle about 50 litres each year. So while you will see some bottles labelled with Convento do Espinheiro, the vast majority of wines stocked in the cellar are from wineries across Portugal.
We had dinner was at the hotel’s own Divinus Restaurant, located in the historic wine cellar of the Convento. The menu is focused on traditional Alentejo cuisine pepped with some international twists.
Other dining options are Olive Italian Restaurant or the small wine bar, where a light menu is served all day.
In the morning, breakfast is served at the Divinus Restaurant. It’s buffet only, and there is everything on offer from fresh pastries, cereals, local hams and cheese, a large selection of fresh fruits and a warm section including a cooking station.
Personally, I found it a bit crowed, which had nothing to do with Convento do Espinheiro in particular but just reflects the style of breakfast and size of the hotel.
Would I recommend staying at Convento do Espinheiro? I definitely would. It’s a great place to get transported into the history of the region, let yourself be pampered in the Spa or simply enjoy some downtime around the large outdoor pool.
Convento do Espinheiro