PATHWAY TO PURIFICATION
Pedras Salgadas, Portuga
By Ross Belfer
As much as one can plan ahead, living in the moment is certainly a fulfilling way to travel. After several days spent in Portugal's bustling second city of Porto, we felt in need of a tranquil getaway wherein a calming atmosphere and verdant landscapes take precedent over late-night parties and scorching treks through urban climates. This is exactly what we found on an impromptu journey to Pedras Salgadas Spa & Nature Park.
Navigating away from the tourist-laden beach towns in the southern portion of the country, we hit the runway toward northeastern Portugal’s Trás-os-Montes, a stunning region replete with endless hills and pastoral landscapes with picturesque villages nestled in between, also home to Pedras Salgadas Spa & Nature Park (located a little over an hour from the Porto airport).
Arriving there is somewhat of a mystery in itself. Whizzing through the countryside with Porto far in the distance, we cruised through a quaint, yet seemingly uninhabited town before entering the nature park’s charming outdoor courtyard surrounded by towering trees and an affable staff ready to assist with any request possible. But Pedras Salgadas (also known as Salted Stones Spa & Nature Park) is much more than an ordinary spa resort. The beauty of this destination lies within its ability to evoke the zeitgeist of early 20th century rural Portugal with all the modern amenities and health-benefiting components one could desire.
It's an area known for its mineral-rich, health-harboring thermal springs, discovered by a lone farmer in the 19th century, and coveted by locals for its digestive-track-healing qualities. A private company was founded in the late 1800s to process and bottle this naturally carbonated, iron-rich water so as to allow Portuguese residents to experience its health benefits from the comforts of home. Word of this revitalizing body of water reached King Carlos I, who built three hotels within the park and proclaimed it as his personal health retreat until the end of his rule, which concluded with the opening of the property and its springs as a site to be enjoyed by thousands of travelers and residents alike.
In 2011, the park was purchased by Unicer, one of Portugal’s largest beverage companies, and transformed into a modern eco-luxury hospitality treasure and a must-see for travelers to the region. While first exploring the grounds, several modular, beautifully designed “Eco-Houses” created by world-renowned Portuguese architect Luís Rebelo de Andrade captivate the eyes while blending into the property like massive chameleons in an enchanted forest. Looking upward, two freestanding and masterfully designed treehouses extend high above the property grounds like spacecrafts ready to launch its inhabitants into a truly ethereal state of existence.
We had the chance to stay in one of the Pedras Salgadas tree houses, which is unlike any hospitality concept. Guests first enter a long, wood and slate walkway connecting the grounds and treehouse in one symbiotic and seamless design, perfectly harmonized with nature.
Once inside the treehouse, guests feel like an extension of the surrounding forest—jettisoning into the sky with only a clear-glass window in between. The well-conceived yet minimalist approach to the treehouse design permeates throughout the interior, which includes a plush bed suitable for two (ensnared by classic wooden walls made of indigenous materials), a retractable sky roof, a luxurious shower and a kitchenette.
Gallivanting throughout the 50-acre property by foot and mountain bike (the hotel offers complimentary bicycle rentals for its guests) unveils a shimmering tennis court, a stunning outdoor pool, historic edifices to be explored (some in use and some sitting in abandonment in advance of restoration plans by the hotel) and an indoor pool housed within the Álvaro Siza Vieira-designed spa. The top amenity though is a thermal water hydro-massage that is truly invigorating—and the perfect end to a day of nature treks and mountain biking in quite a magical place.