This small town just north of Coimbra is famous for one thing in particular: water. Agua de Luso is synonymous with good quality mineral water in Portugal, and thousands of bottles of this precious liquid are consumed daily across the nation. It flows freely from fountains and springs in the town and is also renowned for its healing qualities, hence the fact that Luso is one of Portugal’s most important spa towns. The hypotonic and radioactive qualities of the water have been hailed as cures for all manner of ailments, from skin conditions to kidney function and most specially artery flow issues, since the 18th century. The summer months see the main flux of visitors looking to benefit from the thermal baths. Luso is also a good central point for exploring other nearby towns such as Fátima and Coimbra, and of course it’s not too far from the coast.
However, one cannot mention Luso without also mentioning the neighbouring town of Buçaco and the beautiful forest that lies nearby. Its peaceful charm attracted barefoot Carmelite monks seeking solitude and space for spiritual contemplation in the 17th century, although other orders had inhabited and lovingly cultivated it since the 6th century. A monastery was then founded in the town of Buçaco and a wall built around a section of the forest so as to ensure the seclusion of the green-fingered monks. Women in particular were forbidden entry, on pain of excommunication from the church. The devotion of the monks to horticulture resulted in the forest boasting not only august cedars and cypresses, lush shrubbery and vibrant flowers but also more exotic plants such as the monkey puzzle tree. Over 500 species of plant are still present and some of the trees date back to the 1600s.
Nowadays in the centre of this walled area in the south of the Buçaco hills, there stands an impressive hotel with a top class restaurant and romantic balconies offering picturesque views of the forest. Built in 1900 as a summer residence and hunting lodge for the royal family, its elaborate pseudo-manueline design evokes a turreted castle and its name, the Palace Hotel, is not an inaccurate description. All manner of activities are offered here from tennis to fishing in the nearby river.
To the north of this wooded area lies the small hillside town of Penacova with its old stone windmills, which overlooks the winding Mondego River.