Relax poolside with a good book

Perched on a hillside on the outskirts of the historic Portuguese city of Évora, the 5-star hotel Convento do Espinheiro Hotel & Spa offers an intimate escape for couples and culture aficionados, just a short distance from Lisbon, says Jonny Payne.

First impressions

While waiting in the reception area of Convento do Espinheiro Hotel & Spa, having arrived at the entrance of the imposing whitewashed edifice, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in any old luxury hotel. But it’s what lies beyond this stylish yet slightly stark first impression that marks the hotel in the charming Portuguese town of Évora as anything but the archetypal hotel group 5-star.

Convento do Espinheiro chapelColourful tiles adorn the walls of the still-used chapel
WTG / Jonny Payne
For one, the colour scheme is a harmony of deep purples, ruby reds, and rich, warming golds – all very classical. Then there’s the sheer number of spaces. I walk from one room to the next, all equally well-appointed, but each with its own character, from the snug bar in the convent’s former kitchen to the hallway area with a perfectly positioned pool table that surprisingly doesn’t look out of place below a faux renaissance painting. But the real standout is the 15th-century chapel.

Unsurprisingly, given its name, Convento do Espinheiro Hotel & Spa was once a convent and echoes to its past (and indeed present) as a place of worship abound. The chapel itself is right in the middle of the hotel, with its peachy oranges and pinks offset by walls of exquisite azure blue hand-painted tiles for which the Portuguese are famed. For me, the most striking aspect of this place of worship, which is today used for mass once a month (as well as weddings), is that it’s shrouded in crisp natural light, something lacking in even the best-lit of churches.

There is a real sense of calm here, even away from the chapel where the central cloisters area, with its attractive arched galleries, is peppered with couples having an afternoon drink; others are relaxing in the comfortable lounge area engrossed in their books.

Ideal for…

Culture vultures and Lisbon lovers looking for an elegant escape or an intimate weekend within easy reach of Portugal’s capital city, which is less than 90 minutes away by car. The cultural attractions of Évora, the wines and gastronomy of the region and the hotel’s intriguing past make it the perfect destination for gourmands, arty types and history buffs.

The room

Convento do Espinheiro bedroomRooms vary from the modern to the more traditional
Convento do Espinheiro hotel
I’m led into my room by the cheery porter, who brushing aside the elegant curtains, lets in a swathe of natural light. The dark browns of the wooden floor and classically styled furniture are immediately transformed into melting chocolaty shades. I collapse on the inviting queen-size bed, with its showy, carved headboard and look out of the bedroom window and discover the perfectly-framed 16th-century aqueduct, one of the many sights of Évora.

Back in the lounge area, there’s a comfortable sofa, a small television, the ever-present minibar and ample workspace off to the side. I discover a door to the right and am surprised to see a terrace. In fact this is my own personal terrace, which is almost the size of the suite itself. From here, I can look directly onto the cloisters below.

The bathroom is large and well-appointed with an array of toiletries, while the toilet is an all-singing, all-dancing 21st-century marvel with water spouting from every imaginable angle – the kind of extravagance of which the 15th century nuns definitely would not have approved.

Best room

Convento do Espinheiro cloistersGrab a room overlooking the serene cloisters
Convento do Espinheiro hotel
While the Royal Suite – with its own dining room, lounge and balcony with views over the town and beyond – has the ‘wow factor’, and the rooms in the modern wing offer contemporary chic; opt instead for one of the suites around the cloisters. These are traditional and wholly in keeping with the convent, while they’re also positioned conveniently right in the heart of the hotel, near the restaurant and bar area.

Eating and drinking

The Divinus Restaurant, punctuated by sweeping arches, has private spaces and an intimate atmosphere lacking in many hotel restaurants. The food is good too. My moreish gazpacho is served in a small glass jug, flanked by lightly fried anchovies, and the usual trimmings of croutons, cucumber and pepper. This is followed by a hearty lamb stew, an Alentejo favourite, served in an individual casserole dish. The crème brûlée dessert is rich and creamy.

Convento do Espinheiro foodA gazpacho starter is indicative of the tasty meal to come
WTG / Jonny Payne
But if dinner is a delight, then breakfast is a true spectacle. Waffles, pancakes, eggs, bacon, abundant fruits, a mindboggling selection of rolls and pastries, and pastéis de nata – deliciously creamy custard tarts in bite-sized portions – which are enough to tempt even the most health-conscious into a second helping.


The hotel does not stop at the walls of the 15th-century building. A spa area offering the whole gamut of treatments, a relaxing indoor pool, gym and a range of suites extend into the modern wing of the hotel. There are also landscaped gardens and an outdoor pool with a lively cocktail bar.

Back in the main building is a modern wine cellar and bar stocked full of wines from the Alentejo region, which is becoming increasingly recognised for its viticulture. I attend the weekly tasting with sommelier Cristiano, who educates a group of us in the local grape varieties and sets up a blind tasting, complete with tuition in the art of sabrage – opening a bottle of sparkling wine with a sabre.

Room for improvement?

The hotel is an elegant and quiet space befitting of a former convent, and not on the face of it, a place for the kids. In fact, during my two-night stay I fail to see a single child. While there are facilities such as indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a play area and a kids menu, the hotel is not as attractive to the little ones as it is to adults – but maybe its clientele want it to stay that way.

Out and about

Templo de Diana PortugalVisit Evora's Templo de Diana which dates from 2 AD
WTG / Jonny Payne
Convento do Espinheiro Hotel & Spa is on the outskirts of UNESCO World Heritage site Évora, a pretty hilltop city of winding streets, Roman fortifications and café culture. Explore the city on foot or hire a car and tour the fascinating region, with its vineyards, rural villages and flat, expansive plains.


Convento do Espinheiro Hotel & Spa
Apartado 594, 7002-502 Évora, Portugal
Tel: +351 266 788 200.
Prices: Rooms from €150, suites €300, Royal Suite €1,000 (prices per room per night).

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