Learning local cuisines around the world is one of my favorite activities, and a Portuguese cooking class while traveling through the Center of Portugal was a must for our itinerary. Most cooking classes are in Lisbon or Porto, but there’s a unique one halfway between those two cities at the Cooking and Nature Emotional Hotel. The hotel itself is wonderful to stay at with different sensory rooms and plenty of landmarks in the surrounding landscape.
Staying at Cooking and Nature
The Cooking and Nature Emotional Hotel is located in the Aire and Candeeiros Mountains Natural Park near the town of Porto de Mós. The hotel is one of the best in Portugal with a very unique concept and layout. The rooms are beautifully designed, the hotel offers an exclusive Portuguese cooking class, and there are plenty of hiking trails into the surrounding mountains.
12 Sensory Rooms
There are 12 separate rooms at the Cooking and Nature Emotional Hotel, each with a different sensory motif based on various classic movies. The specific senses and emotions each room represents are:
- simplicity and meditation
- future and destiny
- exoticism and sensuality
- lust and passion
- coziness and protection
- curiosity and surprise
- longing and melancholy
- adventure and discovery
- joy and fun
- past and nostalgia
- magic and fantasy
- romance and glam.
I don’t know what movies every room is based on, but we got the exoticism and sensuality room which is based on the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. The decorations included scarlet red walls and Japanese-design carpets, a giant parasol above the bed and a smaller one in the bathroom, a bathtub large enough for two people, and the movie available to watch on a pen drive connected to the TV.
The rooms aren’t the only part of the hotel with amazing decorations and taste. There are several lounges and reading rooms, as well as a fully-enclosed playroom for kids. In the warmer months, you can lounge outside by the pool. Best of all, outside the dining room, there’s an honesty bar where you can make your own coffee or tea, or even grab a beer or a shot of your favorite liquor.
The buffet breakfast included in your stay is just as impressive as the other hotels I’ve stayed at in the Center of Portugal. There’s a wide range of homemade granola, cereals, homemade yogurt, a plethora of fruit, and various pastries including delicious pasteis de nata. If you’d like more protein, they’ll make you an omelet to order, which I much prefer over batch-cooked eggs sitting in a chafing dish.
Relaxing in the 3-Pool Spa
Despite the small size of the hotel, there’s a spa on-site complete with a massage room and three pools of different temperatures – cold, warm, and hot. Despite our busy itinerary, Vanesa and I couldn’t resist booking a slot in the pools. Jumping between the different temperatures was like my time on Utklippan Island, running back and forth between a tiny wood-burning sauna hut and the Baltic Sea.
The pools are available in the cold months (October to April) when the outdoor pool is closed. They’re free to use but must be booked ahead of time. If you have the time, you can choose from several relaxation massages to schedule in advance.
Taking a Portuguese Cooking Class
As wonderful as everything in the hotel was, the highlight of our stay was our Portuguese cooking class, as the name of the hotel implies. They offer two private cooking classes each night, one after the other, wherein the chef teaches a three-course meal. The preparation is staggered so you’re can devour each course after you make it before moving on to the next.
There are several different recipes to choose from for each course of the meal. Our three were as follows:
- Alcobaca apple tarts, onion jam, and rice blood pudding
- Cod loin with almond and herb crust, vegetables à brás, and Serra D’aire [local and organic] olive oil
- Chocolate lava cake with raspberry sorbet
The only parts of the meal we didn’t actually make from scratch were the onion jam and the raspberry sorbet. Otherwise, Vanesa and I prepared everything under the expert direction and supervision of the hotel chef. Everything was fantastic, and we were quite full by the end of the meal. In fact, Vanesa barely finished half of her vegetables à brás. Usually, the recipe is called bacalhau à brás and cod flakes are added to the vegetables, but I think it was nicer to have the crispy fish steak on top.
Exploring the Aire and Candeeiros Mountains Natural Park
There’s only one national park in Portugal, but there are several natural parks. The Aire and Candeeiros Mountains Natural Park is on the bottom of the central Portugal region. The mountains are full of limestone caves, grottoes, and mines. Just up the street from Cooking and Nature are the caves of Santo António, which you can visit for €6.60 ($7.50).
The park is also full of prehistoric fossils and dinosaur tracks. Outside the village of Bairro in an abandoned quarry are the longest, oldest sauropod tracks in the world. About two miles west of Cooking and Nature is Fórnea, a natural amphitheater with waterfalls formed during the Jurassic Period. You can either hike directly there or drive through the village of Porto de Mós (about a 10-mile drive).
There are plenty of other hikes you can take through the mountains and valleys in the natural park, or you can just relax at the hotel, enjoying the pools and learning how to cook Portuguese dishes. You could even drive out to Nazare to enjoy the beach, which is only half an hour to the west. In other words, this is a great place to stay and explore if you’re traveling through the center of Portugal.
Here are some more articles about Portugal to plan your trip with.
Disclaimer: My endless thanks to Center of Portugal and Cooking and Nature Emotional Hotel for inviting me to these amazing locations. As always, my views and opinions are completely my own.
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