Published by_ Happy Woman magazine - Baleska Press."Check-Out" section.
As the Portuguese poet said, "God wills, the Man dreams and the work is born." It was for the man to dream about a panoramic shelter in the heart of the mountain and name it Alfândega da Fé.
Somewhere in remote northern Portugal, there is Alfândega da Fé. The name comes from the Arabic, meaning 'Frontier of Faith'. A place that blends Moorish and Christian influences. Also the former seat of the ancient Order of the Knights of the Golden Spurs - way before the Templars. As we go up the mountain, there are little shrines to Mother Mary spread along the way. They seem to pop out of the twilight blue, in small glasshouses, sprinkled with candlelights and flowers. Each statue immaculate, peaceful, under the evening mist. It felt mesmerizing.
We were heading the old Auberge of Nossa Senhora das Neves ('Our Lady of the Snow'), now converted into a modern hotel. We arrived late, welcomed by a kind concierge and a spirited fire. By that point, there was nothing we could see beyond the big glass facade, only the night. The building is sculpted downwards from the mountain. And down I went to my room. A very comfortable room.
A Spa in the Sky
As the black mantle rose, it awakened the luminescence of a desert of green. It revealed mountain after mountain, a silvery river reflecting the sky, and little groups of houses sprinkled far, far away. This place, torn by flares of light, is the scenery of tales of Moors, damsels and noble knights. Here, the clouds are seen from above, offering the full meaning of its name. In Alfândega da Fé, the hotel is simply known as "The Spa". It was the first of its kind built in the Bornes’ Mountain, and it is also unique in Europe. It celebrates its exclusive treatment formulas with cherry, almonds and olive oil, but what makes it truly special is no less than a suspended Spa. An area placed 1100 metres high, where guests dare the snow in the steamy outdoor Jacuzzi or enjoy a four-hand massage over the hot season. Summer and winter seem to be lovers in this place, courting each other in blissful shows of light. They ecstasise, astonish, surprise, but never in the same way. Everything else seems superficial before such power.The one that reigns over raindrops and sun rays, turning the sky into a sacral art canvas, blending seasons in bright colours. Hour after hour.
One More Night
The common areas are in white, red and wood. With straight, minimal lines upholding the view from the enormous glass facade. The rooms offer earthy tones and an overlook of the beautiful Douro river. With such a landscape, there's no need for anything else.
The first night asks for the following, and the evening after that. The same with the days. All enjoyed with panoramic views from the inner pool, gym, bars and relaxation areas. Even outside, with the Montesinho Natural Park, the International Douro Park and the Archaeological Park of Vila Nova de Foz Coa.
The flavours are equally beautiful, mixing regional cuisine with modern twists. From the signature cherry cocktails to the courses of wild boar with chestnuts and fresh fish wrapped in rye. All in all, it is a five-star hotel offering the whole sky.
"Feeling comfortable?" A whisper brought me back to my full senses. For a moment, I believed that my body didn't exist. I was at the top of the two-floor SPA, lying by the mountain light, placed in the hands of an angel.
I simply smiled, blissed out by a scent of white tea and bergamot. "Enjoy"
On the last stage of my massage, I was offered jasmine tea and a sunbed under the skylight roof. I found myself, for unsearchable reasons, gazing up at the sky and thanking it for all my senses. The Sun was shining from above the clouds as if reaching out to the world in a warm embrace. The kingdom of heaven indeed felt near in that place. Maybe that was the root of its name, after all – the Frontier of Faith. Where nature and divine play and rise together, even in the darkest of the night, a heavenly mantle of stars.