To the Manor Born: The Parque da Mina

We spend a lot of our time as travelers imagining.  Imagining what it might be like to live as a modern day Bedouin in Jordan, a Berber in Morocco, a farmer or fisherman eking out a living in Nicaragua, Vietnam or Russia.  We have no problems at all imagining where we would go if money were no object or the style in which we would travel.  And, since we both have a passion for history, we imagine what it would have been like to live at the height of the Mayan or Incan civilizations, travel along the Silk Road or learn about wondrous new places during the time when the New World was being mapped in the Age of Discovery.

Wikipedia has a surprisingly long list of castles and fortresses that are located in Portugal and ruins dating all the way back to the Romans and even earlier. So it’s easy to for us to close our eyes and imagine the lives of the nobility and history’s “social influencers” – what it would be like to stride our way through one of the great halls, feast at a grand banquet in one of the dining halls or sleep in one of the bed chambers of these vast estates.  It is, however, harder to frame a picture of the day-to-day lives of the common folk who tended the sheep, brought in the crops or sold their wares at the markets.  And there’s surprisingly little written on the lifestyles of those wealthy merchants or the “middle class” of Portugal just a few centuries ago.Parque de Mina

Our chance to find out more about how the common folk and upper-middle class lived came when we took a detour on a recent day trip to Monchique, located in the mountain range of the Serra de Monchique of the Western Algarve.   A winding mountain road took us through forests of cork oak and eucalyptus trees, past small farms and the occasional groupings of homes.  A sign for Parque da Mina at the edge of the road invited us to take a right-hand turn and piqued our curiosity so we turned and followed the paved road a few meters to a small parking lot. Upon further reading of another sign we found the tempting promise that we could travel back in time and see how one, land-owning family lived in this area of Portugal.  We ponied up the price of 10€ each (which seemed a bit high but goes towards maintaining the property) and set off down the path as it began to lightly rain, towards the family home turned museum and a glimpse of how life was lived many years ago.

Parque de Mina

Our first sight of the 18th century home made it very clear that this was a property lovingly and carefully maintained.  In typical Portuguese fashion, the home has been passed down by the original family through the generations and the current guardians of the estate have generously shared their family history and opened the home as a living museum to the public. And what a treasure!  We were welcomed at the door by a smiling woman who gave us an informative tour through the old home that was packed full of practical artifacts used in daily life, some extensive and eclectic collections that reflected the family’s interests and some more modern curiosities like the old Victrola we found in one room. Parque de Mina - 18th century Portuguese farmhouse

The tour began with the heart of the house, the kitchen, furnished with a lovely old table and chairs, earthen bowls and a collection of plates decorating the whitewashed walls. Here the meals would have been prepared by those in the employ of the family and the large fireplace in the background serves as the focal point.  Look closely and you can see the keepers-of-the-hearth sitting and enjoying a bit of a rest. Parque de Mina, near Monchique, PortugalNext was the dining room with a rich Oriental rug and intricately carved furniture.  (A maid stands ready to serve some traditional Portuguese dishes.)  Parque de Mina

We passed by the sitting room where the family may have sipped some tea and learned of the news of the day from (what seemed to us to be so quaint mixed in with the formal antiques) a vintage radio perched upon the side table. The bedrooms were tastefully decorated and, since Portugal is a traditional Catholic country, the saints protected and watched over the family while they slumbered.Parque de Mina

 

Parque de Mina,

And then came our favorite room, obviously where the family must have spent their time together playing music and maybe cards, listening to the Victrola, reading and enjoying the warmth of the fire.  Here was their collection of musical instruments and, a sure sign of how times have changed, several species taxidermied and displayed.  A large sea turtle shell stood upon the floor next to the backbone of some huge, unknown mammal.  Viewed by today’s cultural norms the display might be a bit macabre but the home would have reflected the tastes of a well-traveled and sophisticated family who enjoyed and celebrated a good life. Parque de Mina

 

Parque de MinaHere and there were nooks with a favorite collection of the patriarch’s pipes, displays of fine china and a whole little room devoted to an enormous assortment of finely carved and embellished, antique wall and table clocks. We peeked into a room where the sewing machines and flat irons stood at the ready and learned that all families of means employed their own personal seamstresses.Parque de Mina - sewing room

Passing by the office we noticed a colorful painting that, upon closer inspection turned out to be a grisly little scene of hunting dogs bringing down a wild boar and the master with his knife at the ready, lunging in for the kill. A bit removed from the more genteel side of life but another glimpse into times past and the country life of long ago.  Parque de MinaThe last part of the tour took us down a winding staircase to the immense cellar with doors giving access to the courtyard and grounds which, again, had several informal exhibits showcasing the different industries that would have been necessary to support the household. As one of the wealthiest and largest properties in the Monchique region, Parque da Mina had agricultural fields, forests and a working mine that produced iron-ore and copper.

Parque de Mina

The old trades of the region were showcased in several displays of many fine, old agricultural tools and machines whose uses we couldn’t begin to guess at.Parque de Mina

In one corner an animatronic wine maker greeted us in Portuguese and we admired the nearby wine making apparatus and learned about the local liqueur, medronho, made from the fermented berries of the arbutus tree which grows on the property. Parque de Mina

And, in a country where wine flows as abundantly as water, we saw many old barrels and casks used to store vintages of years gone by, some marked branco (white) and tinto (red).Parque de Mina

One of our favorite displays was of a general store and its contents that dated (our best guess only) from the 19th and 20th century.Parque de Mina

And finally, despite the threat of more rain showers we ventured outside to explore some of the outdoor exhibits and especially liked the old vintage vehicles scattered about the grounds.Parque de Mina

 

IMG_7734 (800x477)

Sometimes it’s more fun to take a detour to explore a place you’ve never heard of rather than stick to the original plan and, for us, this turned out to be one of those times.  It’s rare to see a historic home so meticulously maintained and to find so many authentic and vintage collections displayed in each room. We arrived at our original destination, Monchique, a few hours later than we had planned but very pleased to have taken a trip on the “Way Back” machine and imagine what it might have been like to live in this rural area of Portugal long ago.

By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash

 

52 comments

  • What a great find! I love wandering through stately old home like this one. Monchique was on my list last winter, but I never made it there. This is another reason to visit next time. I read a few restaurant reviews that sounded excellent. A visit to Parque de Minha Portugal, and a delicious lunch sounds like a perfect day out! 🙂

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  • This is my favorite kind of museum: quirky, local, and not at all crowded! And I love imagining what life would have been like then. My guess is that life was pretty good for the residents of this house, but not nearly as good for all of the many servants and farmers they would have employed!

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    • A good point, Rachel. The residents of this home were very well off, especially for the times and the rural Algarve Region. Unfortunately, there weren’t any of the employees cottages remaining but it isn’t hard to imagine that they were several levels down in size and comfort and with few of the amenities that the wealthy, well-educated and well traveled residents of the Parque da Mina enjoyed.

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  • Oh, how I have missed your posts and historical descriptions. This reminds me of Downton Abbey Portuguese style. I have your posts saved and I am reading them one at a time. The most amazing thing in the sala is the giant tortoise shell. Incredible. Thanks for a peek into the lives of the country elite.

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    • I love your phrase, “Downton Abbey, Portuguese style” as this living museum made it very easy to imagine the day-to-day goings-on in the home of a country gentleman. I think our favorite room was the salon which seemed to be where the family would spend their time pursuing their hobbies and interests. It’s easy to conclude that at least one member of the family combined hunting and traveling to exotic locales and the tortoise shell was a real stand out for us too, especially in this era of trying to ensure this mammals continued survival. Thanks, Debbie, as always for your comments – we’re so glad you like our posts! 🙂

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  • Interesting! We loved our time in Portugal. Thought Spain would be “the” place, especially as we speak Spanish, but Portugal won our hearts!!

    Nice post.

    Peta

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    • Thanks Peta! We also considered Spain as a place to set up a home base since we speak some rudimentary Spanish but, like you, Portugal felt like a place we could call home within a few days. The people are very outgoing and interesting and there’s no shortage of things to do, see and learn. And, just to make our decision even easier, Spain is less than two hours away by car!

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  • What an amazing discovery! I love the idea of taking detours and finding new places which is so different from mainstream package holidays. Praia de Rocha in Algarve was my first visit to Portugal 3 years ago. Lovely region!

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    • The Algarve Region is a perfect introduction to Portugal but I really don’t think you can go wrong anywhere you land in this lovely country. Praia de Rocha near Alvor (a very quaint little city) is a beautiful beach and we always love driving into the town via the narrow road edged by old walls covered in brilliant bougainvillea blossoms. And we have to agree with you that wandering about and discovering places on your own is a lot more fun than following a tour guide!

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  • My favorite way to travel is with a VERY general agenda and lots of time. Portugal has been on the bucket list for a while and I suspect that when I get there the travel will be S-L-O-W. Thank you for adding another spot where I need to pin on the map.

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    • Slow travel has always been our favorite way to explore new places too and we love to immerse ourselves and experience life like a local for a short time in many small towns and cities. We have to agree that staying flexible when planning a trip is the best way to discover some interesting places and there’s also the added benefit of timing to avoid large crowds if we can. Be sure to let us know when you head to Portugal, Zippy so we can point you in some directions where you might discover some unusual travel gems!

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  • What a great find! We completely agree, some of our best discoveries have come from wandering off the beaten path just to see what might be around the next bend.

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  • Looks like you found a place that was frozen in time. Any nice find is so much sweeter when it’s spontaneous.

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    • You’re right about the “sweeter” part of finding the Parque da Mina, Irene. We were debating a bit if we wanted to spring for the cost of the tickets since we didn’t know anything about the house but we’re so glad we did. Money and time both were well spent and we had a very pleasant surprise!

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  • I’m with you on the imagining and detouring. It’s a blessing to have the time but also the inclination to adventure off the path. This looks to be a wonderfully undiscovered find.

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  • I love taking detours, away from the crowds. Thanks for sharing the Parque Da Mina with us, we enjoy learning about the way of life of the people inhabiting the countries we visit. I noticed that they show it in their art as well, with the painting of the boar hunt, a popular sport in Portugal as well as France and Italy.

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    • The trophies were kind of fun to see because the past time is such a throwback to different eras and customs. We lived in Montana for many years and visited several homes where hunting trophies were part of the decor (deer, elk and moose heads and antlers plus an occasional bear skin rug) although now they’re probably relegated to cabins or second-hand shops. But, like a lot of city kids, we have a bit of a hard time understanding the thrill of the hunt!

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  • It’s always so interesting to see historic homes decorated with furniture and artifacts of the times. This family certainly put a lot of time and effort into recreating the 18th century and your detour was worth it, considering, as you said, little has been written about the wealthy merchants or middle class of Portugal.

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    • The Parque da Mina was definitely one of the best “living museums” we’ve been to recently. Our visit to this home has piqued our interest in how some of the people lived a few centuries ago and, like you said, there’s a dearth of information online. However, this promises to be another fun past time since we can look for some histories and talk to some of our new friends about their families. No need to worry about boredom! 🙂

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  • What a fascinating tour of this home, so many beautiful pieces of furniture and collectibles. I would enjoy this type of visit.

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    • I think you would enjoy a visit, Noel since you really have a great eye for details. Sometimes the places we like most are off-the-beaten-path which is great because we try to avoid crowds whenever we can. After 3-plus years of relying solely on public transportation the thing we appreciate most about having our own car is the ability to meander, follow some of the little roads wherever they lead and either find a little gem to explore or, at the very least, enjoy the ride!

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  • It always surprises me that there are so many attractions directed toward showing us how the upper class and nobility lived in the past and so few on how the more ordinary people lived. Most of us would have been commoners had we been born in an earlier age. I know I would have and so it is the lives of the everyday people who I find most interesting. What a great find.

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    • We agree Lyn and it was obvious that this was a cherished family home where the generations had taken great care to preserve the family treasures. This made the everyday objects, furniture and clothing even more interesting and, for us, easier to imagine the day-to-day lives of the family as well as the people who worked for them. We especially loved the collections, the glassware and plates, tobacco pipes and musical instruments that gave us a peek at some of the family’s interests and past-times.

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  • What a great find! I love Monchique but I’d never heard of Parque da Mina. As you say, the entrance fee seems a little steep in relation to most places but it does look very well done.

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    • We arrived at Monchique quite a bit later than we’d planned and had a chance to explore some of the city in between downpours. I can see why you like it, Julie, because, for such a little city, there are some very quaint little shops and a few historical sites that we’ll want to return to and explore in more depth, maybe at the end of the tourist season. Luckily, it’s not too far away and the drive through the mountains is almost as nice as reaching the target destination. Having time to be flexible and backtrack or meander is one of the best things about slow travel or, in our case, having a home base nearby!

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  • Serendipity can pay off and you found a very interesting place. I love having a nosey around these old places and imagine what life was like for them. It is great to see it all so well preserved 😄

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    • Serendipity is the perfect word, Gilda! We love those times when we “discover” something unexpected and luckily, these places far outnumber the ho-hums and duds that we occasionally end up at. 🙂 And it was very apparent that a great deal of time goes into caring for the house and its contents as well as the grounds. Our tour tickets ended up to be money well spent.

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  • Oh wow! I love the antique furniture in the place. What a pleasant surprise it must have been to discover this place, love random discoveries like that. It reminds me of the hotel we stayed at in Córdoba. The breakfast was in the next building over and it was in this really old residence with amazing furniture like this and was run by this woman who had to be at least 90! Very big house too. I would enjoy this.

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    • I think you’d love this KemKem and you can bet we’ll be in touch to find out about the hotel in Córdoba when we plan a visit there. Back in our former lives (30 plus years ago!) we collected antiques and loved poking around vintage shops and going to auctions. It was so fun to see the variety and quality of the furniture, glassware and other collections at the Parque da Mina and think of the family using these things daily. But we sure wouldn’t want to be the ones who have to dust all these treasures!

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  • I love touring historic homes that are as well maintained as Parque da Mina. They provide such wonderful glimpses in past lives. Great find.

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    • So glad you enjoyed this post Donna and we also love seeing how people lived long ago. Portugal, and Europe of course, have plenty of well preserved castles and fortresses so it’s quite a treat to see how day-to-day life was experienced by the non-nobility, carried out in a real home, with furnishings carefully selected by the family that reflected their tastes and interests as well as the styles of the times.

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  • They have made a good job of that museum. I really like those reconstructions of old life!

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    • We agree Andrew. Since we stumbled upon the side road leading to the Parque da Mina by accident we had no idea or expectations as to what the home and grounds would be like. Maybe the price was a bit high but it was easy to see that a lot of care and money is necessary to carefully maintain and preserve a home with such quality exhibits. We loved the tableaus set up in each room, complete with a mannequin dressed in period clothing, and enjoyed the feeling that we were guests in someone’s home rather than observers!

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  • I am constantly amazed at what a rich experience you are having in Portugal – and in your travels around the world! You really make a case for staying in one general area and really taking time to explore. Cheers – Susan

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    • I think one of the advantages of being a slow traveler (or as we say now, travelers with a home base!) is that we are still in “sight-seeing” mode looking for new places to explore both nearby and afar. Immersion style travel has always been our favorite and maybe Susan, at some point we’ll become blasé about life in new places. For now though, we feel so lucky to see the world around us with new eyes, appreciate the things that are unique and have a great time following little roads here and there!

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  • Thank you so much, Anita & Richard for allowing me to travel through your eyes!! Keep up the great exploring! What’s next???!! LOL

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    • So glad you enjoyed this post Charlotte! One of our new habits since we changed our lifestyle to full-time nomads was trying not to plan more than three months ahead (the length of many visas) and to keep our plans as fluid as possible to allow us to zig or zag and grab any opportunities that come along. And now that we have a home base here in Portugal we’re trying to follow the same plan “not to plan!” Of course there are more day trips around the area and farther north in Portugal to explore new places and (hint,hint!) we have a trip scheduled to a new country north of us in the next few weeks as well as some time in the US to see friends and fam. There’s no danger of becoming bored, that’s for sure! 😉

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  • Detours that lead to hidden gems are the best kind of travel adventures in our book! And yes, our imaginations have taken flight any number of times on our travels when we could see ourselves living somewhere, experiencing life as it was, or is being lived. We are right there with you. Great tour you took us on. . .loved those intricately carved bed frames!

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    • We were really amazed at the assortment of beautiful, high quality antique furniture, the draperies and carpets, and the personal collections that made the place feel like a home. And while the home was good-sized, it was comfortable and nowhere near the “McMansion” size of so many houses that are built today in the US. Although it lacked utilities (or Wi-Fi) it was easy to picture it as a home for today, almost move in ready although we might have had to box up some of the animal trophies and knick-knacks!

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  • What a fascinating visit into times that were. We also have had some of our best times on detours from plan. This was certainly one of those wonderful detours for you. I loved all the pictures. Great museum and great entry. Enjoy the journey! Suzi

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    • Thanks Suzi. I think we can all agree that life often times can be a detour from the original plan but look at where we’ve ended up – you in Panama and us in Portugal! A great journey for sure and let’s keep hoping for many more side-trips, little paths less trodden and lots of interesting detours!

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  • You obviously found one of those hidden gems that are so often overlooked and reward the curious explorer. Loved the truck sign at the entrance – that would have pulled us in as well. Overall it seems very well presented for a family museum so your 20 Euros appears to be well invested.

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    • Since we didn’t know what we’d be seeing, 20€ sounded pretty high but we can definitely see that the money is used wisely to maintain this lovely family estate and, since we spent a few entertaining hours there, it was money well spent. We have to confess that we took a bit of “literary license” and posted the picture of the yellow truck at the beginning rather than the end as a way to introduce this post. We always like a bright splash of color to break up long (wordy) paragraphs and the original FYI sign was a little boring. 🙂

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  • Fascinating tour. They used their skills and talents to create a life of value and beauty as opposed to turning on some device to see beauty. It is amazing what you discover while simply driving around.

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    • Now that we have a base again Maida, we’re really glad we bought a car because it gives us so much more freedom to explore out of the way places. We have a bit of a feeling that we’re off on a little adventure whenever we drive to a new place and it’s fun to see where we end up. And all that beauty is right in front of us in “living color!”

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