S T O P P I N G P L A C E : Q U I N T A D A S M E R C ê S
Like on the Portuguese continent ‘turismo de habitaçao’, staying with a family in often elegant historical country manor houses, is becoming ever more popular as an off the beaten track and personal way of lodgings during the holidays. Fortunately, the remote Açores also offers ever more this type of accommodations. Though the quality, the amenities and the level of luxury greatly differs. One of the most charming, if not ‘the pearl in the crown’, is undoubtedly Quinta de Nossa Senhora das Mercês in São Mateus, a quiet and languish suburb of the splendid capital of Terceira, Angra do Heroísmo.
Quinta da Nossa Senhora das Mercês is an elegant nobleman’s house dating from the 17th century which has been very carefully restored by the current owners, Dom and Dona Alcino and Maria de Matos Raiano. The oldest part is a former farmstead, closest to the country road, that finds its roots already in the century before. Later the stylish ensemble on the little plateau together with the private chapel with fine Marian art was built. Set on this small hill from which one has the most stunning views of the Atlantic from seemingly every corner. The view seems to be as inspiring on sunny days as well when on days tormented by rain and storm. The ‘farm of mercy’ is surrounded by a number of gardens divided by local old lava stone walls with tucked away seating and eating areas. An old barn has been converted into a game room with space for table tennis, snooker and card games.
For the more active there is a gym and sauna, a tennis court and a nice saltwater swimming pool whose ‘infinity’ edge blends right into one’s eye view of the sea beyond. While the nearby open Atlantic offers numerous other sportive activities like high sea fishing, whale or dolphin watching and depending on the port of call: sea sailing. Only for the diehards though. Waves can be high and tough once and a while.
“Set on a small hill from which one has the most stunning views of the Atlantic from seemingly every corner.”
The estate also offers various opportunities for hiking both behind the manor house, where a large area of dense wood is located, as well as in the more open scenery in the rural vicinity. An Italian couple, of which one was a biologist noticed highly interesting and unique species of flora in the woods on the grounds of the quinta, D. Alcino told me.
One’s every need
When I arrived I was more welcomed like a lost son than an average guest. This warmth and attention was extended throughout the stay until the day of departure. D. Alcino is a host in the true sense of the word. He is inviting, has a sincere interest in people and is helpful. He and his son made themselves available for one’s every need. Whether it was a lift to town while it was raining cats and dogs and a taxi could have taken me there, planning an excursion around the island, or helping with one or another small errand difficult to get for a person that is unknown on the island. The De Matos Raiano’s created a paradise of their own on their secluded estate with a rural feel. Yet it is close to the gorgeous city of Angra as it is called by the locals. Not more than 20 minutes walk. Angra do Heroísmo, the capital of Terceira is probably one of the most unique cities in the archipelago, if not in the central Atlantic Ocean. Since the 15th century it has been a safe stronghold for seafaring folk and a stopping place for everybody who crossed the ocean, by boat or by plane. The town has due its well preserved lay out, and wide array of monuments a well deserved listing on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Food is served by Dona Maria with the help of her maids. Whether it is breakfast, lunch or tea. Either served in the stone-floored room that was formerly the kitchen, or on a sunny day in the court yard or on one of the terrraces. Eye catcher at breakfast time is no doubt the small though appetizing buffet of local cheeses, like the ones from the nearby Queijo Vaquinha (semi-hard and fresh cow milk cheeses) and meats, pastries and fruits. Although the Quinta das Mercês doesn’t operate a restaurant one can often book a meal for the evening, but please do give the landlords an advance notice. You can be sure they will care for every detail. The ‘hospitality’ shown by the lady of the house is one of a pleasant old fashioned way, when nothing was too much, and definitely written with a capital ‘H’. D. Maria has the creativity to make a nice and savoury meals from the simple products of the island and the ingredients she has available. Even the smallest salads turned out to be generous bowls with a savoury food decorated with all kind of tasty and healthy trimmings. Always accompanied by good bread, Azorean butter and a nice glass of local wine. The food is definitely just delicious, always with this pleasant home cooked meal taste. Like eating at the home of your aunt who is the best cook in the family.
“Even the smallest salads turned to be generous bowls savoury meals with all kind of tasty trimmings.”
Birds and flowers
The quinta has this secluded, rural feel, yet it is not much more than a mile (20-minute walk) outside of Angra. And the little fishing harbour of São Mateus for crispy fresh fish dishes is even closer. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, with a modern marble bathroom and a vigorous shower. Nicely decorated with classical inspired patterns with flowers and birds in warm, bright and homey colours like cherry-red, clotted cream and roasted sugar. All of them have a writing and a sitting area. Four out of ten have a private little garden and terrace. And for those who like to spent all day reading there are several drawing rooms in the house available with comfy seats and sofa’s. And interesting books on China and Macau as well by the way; silent witnesses of the professional past of the retired owner.
Simple though stylish
Quinta das Mercês is a unique place where nature perfectly blends with a rich historical patrimony of the manor house and the island. If class and elegance, warmth and personal approach is your cup of tea, please book here. And you will enjoy every minute. Your stay will turn into an unforgettable experience. If you can’t cope with that atmosphere go to the money-obsessed, main stream – how luxurious they might be – and sometimes monstrous hotel complexes that overpopulate our world. Oscar Wilde once wrote: “I have simple tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.” And that’s what I found at the Quinta das Mercês. Simple though stylish, warm and caring, attentive yet giving room when needed. Like the movements of this immense ocean that surrounds this magic archipelago.
Quinta de Nossa Senhora das Mercês, Caminho de Baixo, s/n, São Mateus, P-9700-540, Angra de Heroísmo (Terceira) Azoren, Portugal, T + 351 295 642 588 F +351 295 642 540,
E geral(at)quintadasmercês.com, I www.quintadasmerces.com
(July 2, 2007, by Dr. Leslie Leijenhorst)