The spring at Luso
While natural spring water marks Luso, Bucaco's highpoint lies in its monumental hotel built as a summer palace, writes Annie Datta.
While its natural spring water proudly marks Luso, Buçaco's highpoint lies in the 19th century monumental hotel built as a summer palace in Neo-Manueline style. In cultural and artistic terms this is a representative building that encloses a regal ambience within its walls. Driving to Luso is an experience by itself. Within a span of six kilometres, off the town of Mealhada, on the highway to Porto, the road brings you to an unexpected height surrounded by lush green forests (first inhabited by Benedictine monks in the 6th century).
Greater thrill awaits tourists able to cycle their way up from Luso to Buçaco, a three kilometre climb through the shade of cypress trees. There are at least 400 varieties of trees, shrubs and flowers including a Himalayan species Pinus roxburghii known popularly as chir pine in the Buçaco forest. The stamp of Asia reappears in the interior of the Palace Hotel where antique carved furniture is on display. Evidence of the flowering of Indo-Chinese art.
Buçaco was the battleground when in 1810 Anglo-Portuguese forces under the command of Duke of Wellington fought the French in what is known as the Peninsular War. As a result of a decisive victory, Portugal was largely freed from French presence. The historical event is celebrated in tiles (azulejos) that decorate the hotel wall. The place has other important historical landmarks including a military museum in the vicinity.
Luso was once a village linked in the eleventh century to a monastery at Vacariça. The discovery of hot water springs brought it to prominence in the eighteenth century. Picture postcards portraying its archaic past are available in shops around the complex. The water originates from a spring under the chapel of São João. Luso is an attractively situated spa resort whose miracle-mineral water flows freely from its spouts. It is literally free for scores of tourists and locals seen busy collecting water all day. A couple had travelled miles for the purpose and confirmed the water's efficacy for treatment of renal problems. The water is also known to be effective for other illnesses such as arteriosclerosis. The fountain at Luso is the core around which the city flourishes. The place boasts of a body clinic with modern equipment including physiotherapy. The spa thus links health with tourism.
One is not so sure if the water also whets one's appetite to seek the culinary delights of the place. Restaurants in and around the place specialize in dishes prepared with know-how that impressively goes back in time. One could ideally go for a four-course meal in the Edwardian comfort of the Buçaco Palace Hotel offering French and Portuguese cuisine. A temperate tourist would be more than satisfied with Chanfana (goat meat stewed in red wine). Such food makes you hungry even as it satisfies. It impels you to return to the resort. In short, to a healthy package of pleasure and peace.