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Hotel Rural Casa dos Viscondes da Várzea

Lamego, Portugal


ABOVE: Noddy the Rhodesian Ridgeback, a guest with a mobile phone, and a haycart stand near the entrance of the Casa dos Viscondes da Várzea in Northern Portugal's Douro Valley wine region. INSET BELOW: A view of the hotel's formal garden from the veranda.

When you stay at the Hotel Rural Casa dos Viscondes da Várzea near Lamego, in Northern Portugal's Douro wine region, you'll get more than a night or two on a 17th Century wine estate: You'll also meet the vicondessa Maria Manuel Cyrne, Portugal's most publicized mother, whose story is an inspiration for mom-and-pop entrepreneurs and patrons of fertility clinics.

The vicondessa grew up on the estate, which had been owned by her family for generations. In 1975, political and economic changes forced a sale of the estate to Seagram, which harvested grapes from the vineyards but let the historic manor house fall into disrepair. Maria Manuel Cyrne and her husband established a life in Lisbon after attending university, but she always dreamed of someday returning to the family quinta.

photoIn 1994, Maria Cyrne and her husband were able to buy back the family estate and restore the manor house, which no longer had a roof but was structurally intact. Nine years later, in 2003, the Casa dos Viscondes da Várzea was reborn as a hotel rural that offers upscale comforts (including excellent meals, a pool, and tennis courts) amid the vineyards, fruit orchards, and olive groves of a 180-hectare estate.

As for her role as Portugal's most publicized mother, that's for the to explain: Suffice it to say that, after years of trying to conceive, Senhora Cyrne and her husband had twins at an age when most couples are looking forward to grandchildren--and she became a Portuguese media celebrity as a result.

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