The drawing room of Pergola House is full of mementos. As we sup our glasses of complimentary Port, the smiling faces of past generations gaze out from their photos.
We're staying in the pretty coastal town of Cascais on the first night of Inntravel's walking trail, 'Palaces & Pathways of Sintra
'. This exquisite town house is the perfect place to start our journey. Inside it's refined and traditional; outside there's a riot of colourful flowers tumbling down the decorated façade.
A week of scenic walking is the main reason we've booked our trip to Portugal but it's Inntravel's accommodation choices that raise the bar. When you're slogging up a hill and longing for the relief of flat terrain (or is that just me?) the thought of a comfy bed and delicious food in beautiful surroundings is just the spur you need to keep going.
It's only one night in Cascais and I'm already sad to be leaving. Owner, Patricia, makes sure her Inntravel guests (there are three couples) are ready to be picked up by Jonathan, the owner of our second hotel, who will be driving us to the start of our walk. They greet each other fondly; this is a routine they have carried out many, many times. They are part of the Inntravel family of hoteliers and that's so reassuring as you wave goodbye to your luggage.
We're dropped off at the starting point of our trail, with offers from Jonathan to take us a little bit further if we want to skip a kilometre or two. No one wants to cheat so we politely refuse and start making headway along the coastal path.
It’s a breathtaking trail across beaches, dunes and flower-filled meadows. Finally we reach Convento de São Saturnino, nestled in the valley of Ribeira da Mata. This 13th-century treasure has been renovated to provide an idyllic retreat for walkers and lovers of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
Our room, with its stone floors and roughly hewn walls, looks out over the sea. Taking a walk around the hotel, up and down little steps, reveals a swimming pool and terraces. Inside, a restful living room, full of curios, a well-stocked honesty bar and a vast open fireplace. Other guests have placed socks and boots here to dry off. I like that: it's a gorgeous place but there's no standing on ceremony.
During our two-night stay dinner is served with other guests at the long communal table. The Nepalese chef adds spice to the menu and we spend a wonderful few hours with our new friends, conversation bolstered by the complimentary bottles of wine.
When you think Inntravel can't possibly have found another incredible location for its weary walkers, they surprise us with Colina Flora in the tiny hamlet of Pé da Serra. A stone archway and wooden gate lead to the property. Lush green lawns and an abundance of early summer blooms surround this impossibly pretty guest house.
There are only five rooms here and each one, named after flowers, is unique. Ours, Marigold, has fresh yellow and orange hues and sports a huge private terrace. There's complimentary wine, herbal teas and books to peruse. In the garden is an inviting swimming pool and a guest kitchen for rustling up your own dinner, if you fancy. Guests can help themselves to drinks and snacks at great value prices: 1 Euro for a beer, anyone?
Colina Flora is an eco-friendly B&B, owned by Americans James and Aasta and their adorable dog, Lucca. It's also a vegetarian hotel, which might concern some guests who crave a rasher of bacon for breakfast. Worry not. Baked bananas with coconut, homemade granola and the most heavenly selection of pastries and cakes will satisfy everyone. James happily drives guests to local restaurants for evening meals: plenty of opportunity for meat-eating there.
I can't leave Colina Flora without mentioning the packed lunch. Wrapped in gingham and tied with a ribbon, it’s very charming and sums up the essence of this remarkable establishment.
Our final stop is Sintra and suddenly we're faced with the hubbub of a busy, tourist town. Most visitors are day-trippers, spilling out of trains and buses to whizz round the many attractions of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Yet even here, Inntravel have chosen accommodation that provides tranquillity and individuality. Lawrence's Hotel, probably the oldest in the Iberian Peninsula, has 17 rooms, named after celebrated writers. We're taken to our suite where renowned Portuguese writer, Eça de Queirós, was inspired to write. It's decorated warmly, in corals and creams, with highly polished oak floors and antique furniture. In this historical setting I'm surprised yet quite delighted to find a jacuzzi in the bathroom.
Lord Byron stayed at Lawrence's and penned his epic poem, Childe Harolde, in which he extols the beauty of Sintra as 'glorious Eden'. As I sit outside the hotel, sipping a refreshing gin and tonic in the sunshine whilst writing up my walking notes, I have to say Byron got it spot on.