An owl lived in the dark green cork woods and I was lulled to sleep by gentle hooting. A harvest moon silvered a swimming pool flanked by classical pillars and a Moorish aqueduct, crickets stridulated during the slow languid afternoon and a rumbustious cock crowed somewhere in the distance. These were exceptions to the silence that seemed to drop from the skies as truly as the quality of mercy.
In the night a storm came rolling in from the west, thunders and lightnings and mad operatic torrents of rain, but the next day the corks and pines were rejuvenated.
Pools of brown water like spaniel’s eyes, cuckoo calling in the direction of the sea, a solitary tractor ploughing. I went past a grove of walnuts, thickets of tangled fennel and tiny bitter pippy blackberries. There is a good red wine produced in the area and you can walk on and on through the vineyards until my legs remind me that they do not belong to a spring chicken. Otherwise, the nearby village of Azetaio is not particularly interesting especially as, like the Greeks, the Portugese are content to stay in their culinary grooves which do tend to pall after a few meals.
Fortunately Matt the Manager, as he prefers to be called, of the Quinta de Conçeiceo likes to cook so I had some delicious fish, vegetables and salad meals which were served with care and graciousness at the polished dining table.
There is a complicated story concerning the creation and running of this exceptional place: a decrepit 18th century country mansion owned by an old and proud Portugese family, restored and lovingly furnished with antiques and paintings by Matt Gruninger who cherishes and care-takes his responsibility with great attention to detail and to the welfare of his guests. A scholar of Tibetan history, he has abstracted himself from the hurly burly and grind of city life to live the slow life in this corner of Portugal. About thirty minutes away from Lisbon, it is an easy drive to get to the Quinta or possible to take a train from the nearby commuter town, its car park filled with row upon row of cars.
This is an excellent place to be based for exploring Lisbon or the Setubal region in Estredamura south of the capital. Accommodation in Lisbon is expensive and the city was teeming with tourists, so it is restful to get away from noise and pollution to the wide skies and clean air.
The Quinta is an ideal environment to navel-gaze, re-draft a book, paint or hide from the enemy, whoever or whatever that might be.
Contact Matt Gruninger www.quintadaconceicao.pt