“They’ll be dancing in a minute. You just watch.” Glenn and Dianne smile at us knowingly. We’re stood in the square of a central Portuguese mountain village, attending their annual festa. It’s gone 11pm and the band has just started up. Despite the time, the square is busy with packs of teenagers, laughing friends, and families, from tiny children to their great-grandparents. This is the village event of the year, and everyone attends.
And then a couple start dancing, a relaxed but slightly jumpy partner dance. Another couple follows, doing the same style of dance. Soon half the village are in the space in front of the stage, dancing with a friend or partner or other family member. It’s like they were born knowing how to do these steps. There’s one woman who’s particularly captivating, agily weaving through the throng with her partner. An older couple are slightly slower, but still perfectly in time. I imagine them doing the exact same dance together, nervously, fifty or sixty years ago. Back then he would have had to ask her Mother and Grandmother for permission for just one dance. (Apparently even as recently as ten years ago, this was the norm here.)
This is the sort of event we’d never have discovered if staying in a bog-standard hotel or B&B. But from the moment you meet Glenn and Dianne (in our case, over coffee in the local supermarket, where we also chatted to some of their friends) you know your time at the Trapper’s Tent is going to be anything but standard. And that’s before you see the tent itself.
Regular readers who remember my aversion to nights under canvas might be wondering how John persuaded me to stay in a tent. But the Trapper’s Tent, set in the hamlet of Fonte Longa, is another of Canopy & Stars‘ ‘glamping’ destinations, and comes complete with a proper bed, wardrobe, shower and toilet (the latter two of which are inside a separate shepherd’s hut). You have your own semi-covered kitchen with kettle and hob, all the cooking equipment you’d need and a view over the valley. There’s also a barbeque if you’d prefer (remember to stock up on charcoal). The tent is covered, too, so even the sound of rain didn’t really bother us like it might in your typical under-canvas experience. To paraphrase a well-known ‘supermarket’, this isn’t just camping…
You will be the only people staying here for the duration, and so everything you see in the pictures* is for your exclusive use – the only people who might pop by are Glenn & Dianne’s friendly pets, or, occasionally, the couple themselves to check everything’s OK or to offer advice on where to go.
*The pictures in and around the tent that is.
It’s hard to tear yourself away from this idyll, but Dianne is wonderful at recommending nearby places to visit based on your interests (you have a quick chat about what you’d like from your stay when you arrive – but not before you’ve had a chance to gawp at your surroundings), places to eat and she even drew us a map of a local walk she enjoys. She has also written a guide to the area that you’ll find in the tent, even including information on the others who live in Forte Longa; you’ll learn about Paula, who’s family used to tour as a reggae band, Miguel the shepherd, Zeca who looks after the goats you often spot grazing in the fields below the tent…
Following Diane’s advice and hand-drawn maps, we explored the Roman ruins at Conimbriga, hopped over rivers in search of Lousa Castle, skimmed stones in the river by a tiny, deserted (man-made) beach by the Mondego River (near Penacova), and meandered down the streets of local towns and markets in this lesser-travelled area of Portugal. Then we’d come back and watch the sun set with wine* or beer and a book and a smile on our faces.
*Top tip: The €3 fizzy wine from Lidl is actually not bad.
Is this experience for everyone? No, probably not. If you don’t like the idea of being Internet-less in a foreign country (unless you want to pay for roaming; personally, we loved the escape from technology – to pick up a book, rather than check up your emails, as you wake up slowly in bed is such a wonderful feeling) or possibly having to skip to the toilet through the rain, or no television and room service – then this is an experience to avoid. But if you want to enjoy the great outdoors in relative comfort, or like the idea of barely going ‘properly’ inside for your entire stay (well, excluding supermarkets/museums/restaurants), or fancy experiencing quite a different country and culture not too far from home, all with expert advice from locals, then I’d highly recommend the Trapper’s Tent for a relaxed, friendly and slightly unusual escape.
Getting there and around: We got the train from Lisbon to Coimbra (and then from Coimbra to Porto); both journeys were very easy. From Coimbra, I’d recommend hiring a car to really make the most of the local area. Once you’re out of Coimbra, the roads are pretty quiet, so driving isn’t too difficult. Though despite Dianne’s helpful maps, I’d consider hiring a sat nav.
If you’d rather not hire a car, minibus and additional public transport can be found on the Canopy & Stars website.
Price: From £42 p/night, going up to around £65 p/night in summer. If you’re going for your honeymoon, you can pay a bit more to go fully catered and some other special features – see the website for more information.
Language: Although many chat away in English that puts us native speakers to shame (for example, the wonderful girl in the car hire office), not everyone in the area speaks – or is confident speaking – the language. I’d highly recommend learning a few Portuguese phrases and keeping a phrasebook on you. Based on our experience, locals will appreciate you making an effort regardless of whether they speak English or not.