Casa da Cisterna

Castelo Rodrigo, Mountain Beiras, Portugal Book from

A cosy and stylish Beiras home-from-home, imbued with the gentle and caring spirit of its owners
Castelo Rodrigo's hilltop fortifications speak of an age when Portugal and Castille vied for control of the borderlands between the medieval kingdoms. After becoming an important stepping stone on the pilgrim's route to Santiago, this village in northern Portugal gradually lost its kudos, with its population dwindling to a mere 50 people.

In recent years the tide has changed as travellers discover the treasures of the Beira Alta and the neighbouring Douro region: home to fine wines, the archaeological sites of the Côa valley, great hiking and exceptional flora and fauna, it's easy to see why Ana and Antonio fell under its spell. After fleeing the big city they set up a small guesthouse at the heart of the oldest part of the village, naming it after the adjacent cistern which once supplied the village with water.

The avian theme that runs through Casa da Cisterna reflects their passion for ornithology, whilst a collection of beautiful books, sculptures, wall-hangings and paintings mirrors their conservationist leanings. Think Slow Food, a cosy room, unhurried conversation and a chance to visit the rock art sites of the Foz Côa Park in the company of Ana, who is a qualified guide.

Highs

  • Wonderful breakfasts, picnics and evening meals, which take their cue from the best Slow-Cooking principles
  • The place exudes warmth and individuality, born of Ana's welcoming spirit: you'll arrive as a guest and leave as a friend
  • An easy drive to the beautiful Douro valley for walks and wine tasting, plus several fascinating villages
  • Cisterna's library contains stacks of books on the region's history, ecology and archaeology as well as detailed information on the best hiking trails
  • The rock art sites of the Côa valley are a highlight of any visit, and Ana's guiding breathes new life into these ancient drawings

Lows

  • Castelo Rodrigo is a fair way off the main drag even though the Beira Alta region is easily accessible from Oporto or Spain (it's close to the eastern border with Spain)
  • A couple of the rooms draw a fine line between 'snug' and 'small'
  • We're yet to see the Deluxe rooms and Sobreiro Suite, but we can't wait to experience their sleek styling for ourselves

Best time to go

Every season has its own rewards here. The landscape changes colour throughout the year, with stunning reds and golds in autumn, crisp white snow in winter, beautiful mountain blossoms in spring and blue, blue skies in summer. Walkers would naturally choose the months when there's less likelihood of rain, meaning late spring, summer and early autumn. That said, seeing a blanket of morning mist gradually lifting from the surrounding hills and valleys is a memory which you'll savour for many years to come. Summer temperatures hover around 28C; winter temperatures around 6C.

Our top tips

Don't miss out on the opportunity to visit the rock art sites of the Côa Archaeological Park in the company of Ana. The excursion by night to see these amazing paintings was a highlight of our trip to Portugal, and Ana's deep knowledge of the subject made the visit doubly special.

Great for...

Cheap & Chic
Eco
Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Peaceful guesthouse
  • 11
  • Breakfast (+ other meals on request); self catering possible
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Daily Maid Service
  • Towels & Bedlinen
  • Bicycles Available
Room:

Rooms

There 4 rooms in the main house, and a handful in 2 adjacent buildings: Uphill House and Casa Mikwéh, which records suggest was once a Jewish bathhouse. Mikwéh has a fully equipped kitchen too, so this house would be a great choice for a larger family or a group of friends. Wood-burners and central heating keep things snug in winter - Beira Alta can get very cold - whilst thick, granite walls ensure the houses are cool in summer.

Ana decorated the rooms in a way that feels both understated and stylish, choosing eye-catching fabrics for cushions, throws and bed bases, which are contrasted by white walls, bedcovers and sections of unrendered granite. All bedrooms come with a TV, DVD player and WiFi.

In Casa da Cisterna, 2 bedrooms lead off from the dining room: Pisco (robin) is a twin with a shower room whilst Rabirruivo (redstart) is a smallish double with a bath rather than shower. Two other rooms look onto the small garden to the rear of the house: Andorinhao (swift) is a double-bedded room with a shower bathroom and private terrace, which is given decorative zest by its collection of hats, whilst Noitibó (nightjar) would be our top choice. This is a mezzanine-style suite with a double bed, larger bathroom with shower/tub, an airy sitting room with a sofabed and a fireplace, plus a stretch of garden for lazing in a hammock.

The nicest room in Casa da Mikwéh is Chapim (great tit), a double with with a tub bathroom and a window overlooking the street. The other rooms, Melro Azul (rock thrush) and Coruja (owl) are smaller doubles with shower rooms. Both rooms are attractively decorated with subtle lighting and fabrics. Coruja's only source of light is from 2 small skylight windows: this room felt too hemmed-in for my liking.

More recently, Uphill House was added to the collection. We haven't seen it yet, but here you'll find a loft-floor suite and 3 Deluxe Rooms, all sleek and modern, and some with mezzanine reading areas.

Features include:

  • Bathrobes (on request)
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Dvd player
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer (on request)
  • Internet access
  • Tv

Eating

Ana's immaculately presented cuisine is a celebration of the region's best produce. She's often given a hand by her grandmother who has handed down several of her recipes for cakes, confits and desserts.

At breakfast, guests eat at one table in the main house: it's a great opportunity to make new Portuguese friends (who make up the majority of Cisterna guests). Everything that graced our table looked good and tasted the same. After being given a glass with local honey topped with creamy yoghurt, and another of freshly squeezed orange juice, we helped ourselves to an enticing buffet of oven-fresh bread, homemade cake (a different one every day), cereals, olive oil, local ricotta-style cheeses, smoked ham and homemade jams. The coffee couldn't have been better and there was a huge selection of teas as well as 9 different sugars! It felt spoiling and fun.

Lunches, dinners and picnic lunches are available on request: the veggies come fresh from local producers or are gathered from the countryside; herbs are from Ana's organic garden. In summer, set meals follow a lighter, 'tapas' style formula and might include dips, loose-leaf salads, summer soups or marinated fish with a regional wine matched to each course. Winter meals are heartier creations with a higher meat content, and prepared with the same TLC: everything is homemade. These meals are served at individual tables in the dining room or on the balcony. If you prefer the idea of heading out for supper, Casa da Irene in Malpartida is about 20 minutes away by car: it is known for the excellence of its regional cuisine.

Sometimes, guests staying in Mikwéh self-cater a few meals. The kitchen is well set up for this with an oven, stove, microwave, dishwasher, toaster, kettle and fridge freezer. You can shop for groceries in the village.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Children meals
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Meal delivery service
  • Picnic by Arrangement
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Visit the rock art of the Côa valley in the company of Ana: the drawings are best seen at night when their millenia-old incisions can be highlighted by torchlight. The Côa Archaeological museum is worth a visit, too

  • Hike in the hills of the Douro National Park: we followed one of Cisterna's recommended walking trails and had an unforgettable day out

  • Almeida is close; another historical village whose defensive walls take the shape of a 12-point star. There's a great thermal spa , so take your swimmers

  • Grab a pair of binoculars and a bird guide and head out for some serious twitching along the tributaries of the Douro

  • Ride out from Castelo Rodrigo on one of Cisterna's mountain bikes, and enjoy amazing mountain views

  • Drive up to the Douro and take a boat trip along the river or visit a few wineries for tastings

  • Wander up to the castle for sunset then shop for local goodies at the wonderful Casa do Chá (jams, wine and fantastic olive oil)

  • Book a half-day jeep excursion with Ana and let her show you the best of Beira Alta

  • There's a tennis court in the village

  • Kids will love riding Ana and Antonio's donkeys; they can arrange horse riding, too

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Donkey riding
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Mountain biking
  • Museums / galleries
  • Private guided tours
  • Shopping / markets
  • Tennis
  • Wine tasting

Kids

The ethic of Casa da Cisterna is resolutely child-friendly and extra beds, cots, highchairs, toys and baby gear are all available. The owners have 2 small children themselves.

The only drawbacks we can see are the drive from the airport (2.5 hours) and the lack of babysitting, which limits your evening activities.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

The suites, Sobreiro and Noitibó, are the biggest rooms, and in our opinion the best for an extra bed; we felt the others were too small to fit one comfortably, although there's space for at least 1 baby cot in any room.




If you are travelling with 2 kids you'd be best to rent 2 bedrooms or, better still, the whole of Casa Mikwéh, which is geared up for self-catering lets.




Andorinhao, Chapim and Noitibó have bathtubs.

Baby equipment:

  • 4 cots
  • High chair
  • Pushchair to borrow
  • Baby bedding
  • Potty
  • Baby bath
  • Bottle warming

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

Breakfast is a communal meal; lunch, dinner and picnics can be catered on request, with half portions for children. You can self-cater in Casa Mikwéh and wherever you stay, you have access to a microwave and blender. Meal delivery is also available.

Kids Activities on site:

  • Mountain bikes
  • Children's DVDs
  • Toys and games, including Lego

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Côa Archaeological museum has interactive sections
  • Foz Côa Park's rock art sites
  • Miranda donkeys, in a paddock down below the village
  • Donkey riding and horse riding can be arranged
  • Tennis courts in the village

Families Should Know:

There are unprotected drops and steep steps around the property. The nearest shop is 2km away, the nearest hospital is 3 minutes away. There is a mobile phone signal everywhere in the property

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

8/
Rooms
10/
Food
9/
Service
8/
Value
9/
Overall

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