Staying With Friends

View with a room…

My wife and I stayed at Penha Longa for four days over Christmas, and yes, this is a superlative establishment with beautiful architecture and landscaping and all the amenities you expect from a 5-star hotel bearing the famous Ritz-Carlton brand.

But in fact it is people you remember when you go away, like Candela, a charming young girl whose name means „flame“ in English and who wouldn’t just point out the way to the spa but insisted on walking there with us.

Or the restaurant manager whom we asked if we could purchase a glass of the utterly delicious tea jelly with rosemary and who instead presented us with one as a „special gift for special guests“ (I bet he says that to everybody – and I bet everybody feels it’s true…).

Or the young waitress from Russia who brought us the hand-written recipe for vanilla risotto from the chef when she couldn’t immediately answer our question about how on earth you could make anything so delicate and delightful.

But the person we will certainly never forget was our concierge, Viktor, whose dedication to his job went so far beyond the normal call of duty. The way it happen was this: My wife was driving back to the hotel when she was forced off the road by an oncoming maniac which caused her to hit a pothole at full speed knocking out both tires on the far side. Fortunately, this occurred just a few yards from the turnoff, and we managed to reach the hotel gate before the tires went completely flat. Five minutes later, Viktor was there in a luxury BMW limo; half an hour later he had arranged all the details with the rental company in Lisbon who delivered a new car by truck within two hours which we spent luxuriating in by the pool.

It was also Viktor who worked the phone for at least an hour on Christmas day trying to find a restaurant that was open and would serve us lunch. When he found one at last, he apologized profusely that it was „only a very simple place, but very, very good.“ And how right he was: At Praia da Adraga we were the only tourists in a ramshackle fisherman’s pub standing all alone by a remote little beach where we had a sea bass to die for, fresh caught in the morning by a local right offshore and lovingly grilled over an open charcoal fire and served with the kind of dry, slightly fruity vinho verde that visitors to Portugal remember in their dreams.

So yes, definitely think about playing the wonderful championship golf course and eating at one of the restaurants (the “Midori” is considered to be Portugal’s best place for sushi, and I totally agree). But above all expect to be treated not only like a valued guest – but as a friend.

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