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Casa do Adro (Vila Nova de Milfontes, Portugal)

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Address: Rua Diario de Noticias 10 / Vila Nova de Milfontes 7645-257 / Portugal

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      20.07.2011 19:37
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      A lovely place to stay in South-Western Portugal

      Adália, the owner, greeted us warmly but apologetically when we knocked on the door of the Casa do Adro. She had been out in the afternoon, it appeared, and the room that she had ear-marked for us had been inadvertently allotted to another couple. We had requested either a king-size bed or, failing that, twin beds, since we sometimes find it hard to sleep in a hot climate if the bed is too narrow.

      In the event, the bed in the substitute room to which she showed us, if not quite king-size, was easily large enough and very comfortable. There was really nothing for which she need to apologise, but her concern was for our comfort, and, I'm sure, sincere. Indeed, everything about the room was very comfortable. It was spacious, but nevertheless cosy, and well-equipped. The en suite bathroom was clean and tastefully-appointed, with everything working. To greet us a maid brought up glasses of freshly-squeezed orange juice, and two slices of delicious chocolate cake. There were already slices of tasty-looking cake laid out in the room, but the replacements had come straight from the oven and would therefore, it was said, be better. We were encouraged, if we wanted, to try both, but even my appetite would have found this a challenge. With the cake came a thermos of newly boiled water in case we wanted a hot drink as well. Teabags and herbal infusions were at the ready for us to select.

      We drank the juice while we settled ourselves into the room. As with the rest of the house, a modernist intent on uncluttered lines might regard the furnishings as fussy, displaying a penchant for floral prints and frilly edges, ornaments on every surface and pictures on every wall, but I rather like a bit of clutter and enjoyed the atmosphere. Fresh flowers stood in vases both on a bedside table and on the sideboard beside the television and the tea-making facilities. We made some tea and took it with the cake out onto the balcony.

      Here, chairs and a table in the shade of a spreading parasol overlooked a quiet backstreet of Vila Nova de Milfontes, the town in which the Casa do Adro is situated. A little church, clad in the white-and-blue stucco typical of the Alentejo, stands at its end. We watched the house martins flit up and down the street within a few feet of us, on their way to feed their fledglings in the nests under the eaves of the houses opposite. The tea finished, we felt no urge to move from our vantage point. I drank a beer and my wife another juice, from the "help yourselves" fridge in the kitchen we had been shown earlier, while we discussed where we might go out to dine from among the restaurants that Adália had recommended; the Casa do Adro is bed and breakfast only, with no evening meals. My wife being footsore and weary, and not feeling very well, didn't really fancy going out at all; so before the shops closed, I went to buy some bread, cheese, fruit and wine to have as a picnic on the balcony. There was ample food available in the fridge, from which Adália had encouraged us to take whatever we wanted, but to have taken a full meal's worth would have felt exploitative to us, even though I truly don't believe she would have minded had we done so. She had also pointed out a table laden with bottles of spirits and liqueurs in the lounge, again encouraging us to help ourselves, and assuring us that it was all included in the price.

      This lounge, in which I regret to say we never found the time to lounge, is furnished with the same loving care as are the bedrooms, and with even more ornamentation. Plushy sofas are piled with cushions and trimmed with lacy antimacassars, all skilfully sewn by Adália personally, as were the blinds in our room; polished wood sideboards and mantelpieces are stacked with decorative plates and candelabra, stringed instruments, potted plants. The brick fireplace is inlaid with pictorial blue azulejo tiles. Coffee table books, family photo albums and board games abound. The atmosphere, though, is neither dark nor fusty. The colours are light and bright, and illuminated by the sunlight streaming in through the wide windows. The whole melange, though eclectic, is tasteful. Charming too, because it is so patently personal to the owners of the place.

      After a quiet, restful night, we rose at a leisurely pace before breakfasting on another first-floor terrace, shaded by more parasols and surrounded by exuberant pots of petunias. The table cloths, like the cushioned seat-covers, are prettily floral, laid with Provencal-patterned tableware. For breakfast: freshly-squeezed orange juice; an enormous platter of ripe fruit - citrus, melons, kiwi, pineapple, cherries, strawberries; perfectly-judged scrambled egg straight from the stove; a variety of tasty hams; crusty stone-baked bread and toast with home-made jam; and - a first at breakfast in my experience - a cheese trolley, bearing some most appetising cheeses. Adália, presiding over proceedings with her smiling grandson Duarte in her arms, is visibly disappointed that few guests are availing themselves of the cheese, but we try to console her by assuring her that our appetites are already more than sated by the plenty piled on our plates. More coffee, strong but not acrid, is brought to help us digest it all.

      Our picnics for lunch appear. Readers of my reviews of InnTravel and of the Costa Vicentina* will know that my wife and I were on a walking tour in southern Portugal, with the Casa do Adro one of the staging posts. Part of the deal is the provision of picnics to keep one going during the day's walk. Needless to say, those provided by the Casa do Adro were as vast as they were tasty: ham and cheese sandwiches, fish and vegetable rissóis - the local equivalent of rissoles - fruit and more of the delicious home-made cake. Greedy though I am, I barely ate half of mine during the course of the day.

      We do, though, have a problem slightly more serious than over-generous catering. My wife's legs are swollen and painful, and it seems unlikely she will manage the full day's trek. Could we arrange, we enquire, for her to go on with our luggage, which is due to be transported separately, while I do the walk alone? Adália and her husband António wouldn't hear of such a suggestion. They insisted they would drive her on personally, without waiting for the luggage, arrangements for the transfer of which were in the hands of the next hotelier and therefore out of their control. But first, couldn't they take her to a doctor or pharmacist? Somehow she managed to decline this kind offer, being not only confident that the problem would clear up of its own accord given time and rest, but also concerned not to take too much advantage of their kindness. In any case, she was in due course driven on separately and in style, with diversions from the direct route to show her such places on the walk as were accessible from the road, as well as other sites of note, scenic and social alike, such as the local infants' school in the management of which António was involved and in which he thought she might be interested (as indeed she was). Having, I hope, by now understood something of the nature of these people, you will not need to wonder whether or not they would accept any money to compensate them for the time and petrol spent. Of course they would not.

      Meanwhile, I walked on through the outskirts of Vila Nova de Milfontes to pick up the trail. It's an attractive town, with a fort, tiny harbour and beaches on a river estuary, well worth a visit in its own right, but especially so if you can arrange to stay at the Casa do Adro. You might imagine from the above, considering the time that Adália and António (and Duarte) spent looking after us, that we were the only people there, but this was not the case. On the contrary, all seven rooms were occupied, and all the occupants were being attended to with equal care and attention, whilst we saw other prospective occupants being politely turned away. The place is clearly in demand, and rightly so, especially as it is far from expensive. We, of course, booked indirectly and I do not know exactly what we paid, but I note the following 2010 prices from the website (n.b. www.casadoadro.com.pt, not www.casadoadra.pt, which is another place entirely), per room per night b&b: Euro65 Nov - March, Euro75, April-June + October, Euro85 July-August + Xmas. Can you negotiate a discount? For Adália and António's sake, I hope not, since to me these prices seem an absolute giveaway, especially with all the extras that are so freely included.

      If you dig deep enough though my reviews, you'll find a jaundiced comment on an American hotel that boasted as its slogan 'Aggressive hospitality makes the difference'; at that place, needless to say, apart from its aggression the hospitality was of a very ordinary order, of the impersonal, programmed kind. The hospitality at the Casa do Adro is at the very opposite, and very much more admirable, end of the spectrum; anything but aggressive, just personal, responsive, charming and overwhelmingly generous. I can't remember anywhere that I've been treated so much like a cherished house guest rather than just as a customer, which is why I can't recommend this place too highly.


      © Also published with photos under the name torr on Ciao UK, 2011

      * For relevant reviews, see:
      http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/destinations-international/alentejo-portugal/1570797/
      http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/travel-agents/inntravel/1314608/

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