Convento de Belmonte: The Gourmet Pousada

If you haven’t been to a Pousada in Portugal, I think it’s time, especially if you like great food.

A Pousada is a historic inn with fine restaurants that hire chefs who have a respect for the local food traditions. Pousadas are the places to stay in the historic centers of Portugal. I’ve enjoyed every one I’ve stayed in.

breadsticks, belmonteBut Belmonte is special. On the wall adjacent to the parking lot a sign identifies the Pousada as: “Convento de Belmonte Gourmet.”

I thought the sign was a bit pretentious. Then I ate there.

First waiters brought out some freshly made bread sticks with some dips and that great Portuguese olive oil. You see it on the right. It’s a great way to start a meal while you sip some of the local wine.

mushroom soup capuccinoThen I had ordered a wild mushroom soup. There’s a picture of it over there on the left, cappuccino style. Chef Valdir Lubave is passionate about collecting and serving the local wild mushrooms. They’re a fantastic path to the main course of a meal. Just the right size, because next was the main course.

But I just had to order the pork with clams. It’s a dish from the Alentejo region, not far from Belmonte. But this Carne Porco à Alentejana is different. The succulent and tender marinated pork lies on a bed of mashed potatoes which are flavored with the local sausage called Alheira. Alheira is a spiced, smoked sausage made by Jews during the inquisition which has become a long standing tradition. It’s a faux “pork” sausage made with chicken or game, so the local Crypto-Jews could appear to eat traditional “Christian” foods. With this and other tactics, many survived the inquisition; you can find out about them in the Jewish museum in Belmonte.

pork and clamsAre you getting the picture here? At Convento de Belmonte we were being served traditional foods given a bit of a twist by Chef Lubave, who built upon traditions while entirely respecting them. It’s what makes Portuguese cuisine one of the most exciting in the world right now; it’s a rapidly developing cuisine that has well-respected roots, a fine way to “taste” a country.

Find out more about the Convento de Belmonte Pousada or reserve a room at a decent price. The town has a castle which hosts events and festivals and some very interesting museums.

[Click any of the pictures to see them larger]

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