Having completed our circuit of the Arrábida National Park, we found ourselves in the small town of Azeitão, known throughout Portugal for its fine wines and cheeses. Here, we would visit a summer palace, which was once home to royalty, and today acts as a small vineyard for the Bacalhôa wine company.
We parked at the Bacalhôa cellars, where the company’s shop and main offices are found, and signed up for a tour of the palace. There are a couple tours to choose from: you can visit the cellars, the palace, or both. We got lucky with a private English visit to the palace, but you should call ahead to confirm times, as there aren’t that many scheduled per day.
The Quinta de Bacalhôa has a history stretching back to at least the 15th century. The name means something like “Cod Lady”, which our guide explained was because the estate was originally owned by a cod fisherman, who bequeathed it to his wife. “Cod Lady” isn’t the most appetizing name for a wine, but you can’t argue with history.
The palace has a privileged location in the hills bordering the Arrábida park, with a view that stretches to Lisbon, and came into the possession of the House of Albuquerque in the 16th century. After the collapse of the Portuguese monarchy at the turn of the 20th century, the estate fell into ruin.
In 1936, the property was purchased by an American family, who lovingly brought it back to life, planting the first wine grapes, and restoring the priceless tiles which line its patios. There’s been recent evidence that the Americans also used the palace to shelter Jews who were fleeing from Eastern Europe.
Today, the Quinta da Bacalhôa is owned by the wealthy Portuguese Berardo family, who keep a residence on the upper floor, and have opened the bottom floor as a museum for their private art collection. There are some incredible statues and paintings on display, as well as information about the history of the palace itself. The best features of the palace, however, are found outdoors: a labyrinthine garden and a small pleasure pool. In the pool’s patio, we admired ancient tiles whose designs are unique in all of Portugal.
Our tour concluded back at the winery, where we were able to sample some of Bacalhôa’s wines, and also purchase them at very low prices. This was an excellent excursion, and one which had been a real surprise. When pulling into Azeitão, we hadn’t even known there was a winery, let alone one that included a visit to a historic palace.