Vizela, north of Porto
The town of Vizela, just north of Porto, with less than 24,000 inhabitants, is a pinhole on the map of Portugal. The city is small, rural and there is little to see. And that is precisely why it is such an excellent spot to recover from the daily rat race.
Relaxing here seems easy.
Rustic and quiet
For starters, I stay at this rustic hotel, formerly a wine cellar, built from granite. The young man at the reception speaks excellent Portuguese, and I don’t. No problem. I quickly realise the guy would like to see my passport. From which he then, in neat handwriting, pencils my data on a piece of paper. There is no computer at the counter. Supposedly there is Wi-Fi at the hotel. However, the solid walls ensure that the outside world remains outside.
In the morning, a couple of roosters wake me up. Looking outside my bedroom window, the blue of the swimming pool is tempting me. But after having lived in southern Spain for years, I will only dip my toes in, if the water is at least 30° C. Which it is not.
First things first, breakfast! That is sweet rolls, a pot of coffee and fresh pineapple before I go on to the thermal baths.
Wellness & spa in Portugal
In the spa, I smell rotten eggs. Sulfur appears to be the cause. Funny how quickly one gets used to such a poignant smell.
In a large pool, I try different forms of hydromassage. Neck, back and my old joints, which are annoyingly present even on a good day, protest against this treatment. Determined to silence them, if only for a moment, I decide to drown them in a 36° C sulfur bath. Soon, a soothing warmth drowns out the sounds of my dissident limbs. From my toes up, my body starts to unwind slowly but surely. If only for a short moment.
Although a mud bath and therapeutic massages are on the menu of the spa, they are unfortunately not on my program. There is so much to do and so little time.
A day at the Spa at Vizela costs 30 euros. The price includes mud bath, hydromassage and sulfur baths.
Holiday in Portugal: sun, light and tasty food
Next of my schedule is lunch, which means lots of wine, Bacalhau (cod), grilled meat and divine desserts. We are in Portugal, after all. The meal starts with melon, which tastes like sun and light. When I ask what kind of melon this is, the answer is “just ordinary melon”.
Whilst enjoying a display of puddings, dozens of veterans (Mozambique?) sit at a long table next to us, celebrating their companionship. Some former soldiers have brought their instruments. Soon they start to sing and play. Within a couple of minutes, the entire staff is singing along with the veterans. Other guests join the party and start dancing.
When the singers notice our presence, a group of ‘Spaniards’ (journalists and bloggers), they sing ‘Viva España‘, especially for us.
Wine tasting, Vinho Verde
Right, that is the body and soul cleansed and fed. Which means it must be time for a ‘Vinho Verde’ at Caves Casalinho. A Vinho Verde (green wine) from Northern Portugal is a light, fresh wine, made to drink young and cold. It tastes great in the summer with cheese, ham or bolinhol, the latter a local sweet delicacy.
A wine tasting at Caves Casalinho with snacks and tour costs 10 € per person.
Relaxing in Northern Portugal
Wine, large portions of meat, mashed potatoes, desserts made with eggs, honey, almonds and puff pastry. It’s all tasty, but disastrous for my ‘beach body’. Fortunately for me, a walk to San Bento das Peras (St. Benedict of the Pears) is on the program for tomorrow. A healthy way to burn some of those calories.
The park is on a hill overlooking Vizela. On the mountain are a restaurant, giant boulders and two catholic chapels. From the top, mountain bikers cycle down a steep path, at the risk of their own and others’ lives, back into the valley. But not before a little prayer to the ‘Virgin’ in one of the two chapels to ensure their safe journey.
Vizela, for the love of God
This lack of fear is something, I noticed before, a trait that these cyclists have in common with Portuguese motorists. As long as God is on their side, phones can be used, and text messages sent while driving. Fortunately, it seems that this divine protection extends to me, a hardcore atheist, while I am here.
When we make our way back to Vizela through the surrounding hills, we see the city at our feet and in the distance the Atlantic.
Once in the centre, we visit a park, through which the river Vizela runs. Next to the river are hot springs, which anyone can use (FOC). Just take off your shoes, sit back and relax.
Hotel Quinta Das Lavandeiras
In the afternoon, when I’m back at the hotel, the sun shines exuberantly. A hammock gently rocks in the wind. Birds chatter, an empty pool. I have the entire hotel to myself. Today is probably the last time of the year that I have a chance to swim outside. I might as well try the water.
The water is surprisingly warm. While swimming, I contemplate that this, recuperating in provincial Portugal, must be what is meant by ‘chicken soup for the soul’.
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I feel so lucky, this afternoon I had this stunning pool surrounded by beautiful countryside, all to myself. The pool belongs to a rural hotel that used to be a bodega. #vizela #segredosdeumvale #vizelasecretsofavalle #viewsoftheworld #kijkopdewereld #travelfreedom #samsung #galaxy #visitportugal #braga
Vizela has two hotels.
- I stayed at Hotel Quinta Das Lavandeiras, a rural hotel which has no restaurant. It is located a few kilometres outside the centre. When staying here, you probably need a car.
- Hotel Bienestar Termas De Vizela, a four-star hotel, is located in the centre, a short distance from the thermal baths.
- From the airport, in Porto, it is approximately 45 minutes by car.
- Vizela has a train station. A train ride to Porto takes an hour and costs € 3.50. You must validate the ticket before boarding at the station.
Vizela has a wide choice of restaurants; the food on offer is more or less the same everywhere. There are grilled meat and fish dishes served with mashed potatoes or fries. The day menu costs between 5 and 10 euros.
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