NEW YORK -- Portugal offers unique accommodations virtually unknown
by U.S. travelers: Solares de Portugal.
Solares de Portugal is both the name given a collection of the
historical family homes -- manors, cottages and minipalaces -- and
the organization that markets them to travelers. According to the
rules of membership, each solares property must be at least 100
Most are located in rural Portugal, and some have been occupied
by the same family since the 12th century.
All have been renovated to provide modern comforts while
preserving the original structures. And each is shaped by the
character of the land, the family history and the personality of
the owners, who are required to live on the premises.
Many properties are located in the north, around the town of
Ponte de Lima, in the Minho region. It's here where the country's
roots and origins lie; nearby towns like Braga, Guimaraes and Viseu
offer 14th century churches, museums and good shopping.
Hikers and bikers also have national parks and country trails to
Solares are divided into categories: casas antigas, or manor
houses several hundred years old; quintas and herdades, country
estates and farms in rural settings; and casas rusticas, furnished
From Ponte de Lima, the road to the manor house Paco de
Calheiros (the term paco designates that a king stayed there) winds
past vineyard terraces punctuated by wildflowers and orange, gabled
The people here work the grape arbors today as they did hundreds
of years ago, and Francisco de Calheiros, owner of Paco de
Calheiros, explains how the grapes are cultivated, harvested and
transformed into the wine of the region.
The house has been in the Calheiros family since the 12th
century. Calheiros is president of Turihab, the association of 96
Solares members (93 in Portugal, three in the Azores islands) that
recently voted to market itself as Solares de Portugal, creating a
new travel product with new standards and new membership
Calheiros also is the force behind the brand's strategy to
garner the attention of the North American travel agent.
"We are virtually unknown in North America and get maybe 6% of
our bookings from U.S. travel agents and tour operators," said
Maria do Sa Lima, group marketing director. "But we are working
hard to change this by reviewing our commission structure and
finding ways to create incentives for the agency community in the
To that end, Solares de Portugal pays retailers 10% commission,
and many tour operators selling the product pay from 15% to 20%.
Travel agents also receive a 20% discount at any Solares
Jack and Helga van Horn, owners of Posh Journeys in Reno, Nev.,
are among the few tour operators who sell solares stays. They take
three or four small, private groups per year.
Because she knows many of the owners, Helga van Horn often books
with them directly but recommends the efficiency of booking
centrally for agents unfamiliar with the properties.
The solares also figure in the itineraries of Backroads, a
Berkeley, Calif., company that organizes hiking tours through the
valleys of the Minho and into its manors.
Splendor in the hills
A favorite of operators like Backroads, Paco de Calheiros sits
on a hilltop, a sprawling, two-towered mansion with stone balconies
and seemingly endless rows of doors and windows.
The inside features halls of blue tilework that lead to 10 guest
rooms, measuring some 250 square feet each and similarly adorned
with blue tiles in entryways and orange terra-cotta floors. There
are no televisions or phones in the rooms.
Tall French doors open onto a flowered terrace. A few apartments
occupy the former stables; otherwise, little has been done to alter
And because the traveler never knows what the next solar will be
like, they really are roads less traveled.
For more details on this article, see Amenities in common.