Origins and History of Varais

The Varais manor stands on a hillside, overlooking the Douro valley with its typical rock-walled terraces covered with green vineyards which produce the Port wine. 

The present building of Casa dos Varais dates from the early 18th Century, although the original construction is believed to go back to the 15th Century or even before. In ancient times it was the residence of the noble Coutinho family, Lord of Lamego and Penedono. Penedono is a small town located about 35 miles southeast of Lamego. Here, there is a castle often considered as one of the oldest Medieval castles exisiting in Portugal. 

For many years, Casa dos Varais was occupied by the Salzedas monks (a village situated about 60 miles north of Viseu), who had arranged a special lease permitting them to stay in the house indefinitely. However, the house was returned to the family on March 26th, 1753 when Alexandre Luís da Sousa Coutinho, military governor of Armamar decided to cancel the leasehold and move into the house with his family. 

In 1808, the house was ransacked by Napoleons troops commanded by General Loison. Furthermore, a fire almost completely destroyed the interior in 1940, making it necessary to reconstruct it, but still keeping the original architectural lines. 

By way of various marriages, Casa dos Varais is connected with the noble families of Castro, Vilhena and Pinto da Fonseca. D.António Manuel de Vilhena and D.Manuel Pinto da Fonseca were both Grand Masters of the Order of Malta. The former fought many battles against the Turks, and at one time had a large fleet under his command. His remains now lie in a magnificent tomb at the Saint John's church in Malta. 

Alvaro Gonçalves Coutinho, a famous member of the Coutinho family, was one of the twelve Portuguese knights who went to England in the 14th Century to avenge twelve English ladies who had been insulted by some British knights. He was nicknamed 'O Magriço,' the 'champion of the ladies.' This event was narrated in Camões' epic poem, 'Os Lusiados.' 

Other distinguished members of the family include: Manuel de Sousa Coutinho, 31st governor of India (1588-1591), and governor of Ceylon and Malacca; Francisco de sousa Coutinho, Portuguese ambassador to the Netherlands, Denmark and France during the difficult period of 1640-1660 when Portugal, after regaining its freedom from Spain, was at war with this country; Alexandre Pinto de Sousa Coutinho, military governor of Armamar, who released the house from the monks of Salzedas in 1788, and Manuel de Sousa Coutinho, the celebrated writer, otherwise known as 'Frei Luís de Sousa.' 

Manuel de Sousa Coutinho was born in 1555 and died in 1632, and had such an adventurous spirit that a Portugues playwright was inspired to write a play about his life. He was imprisoned by the Moors in Algiers, and when released, returned to Portugal and married D.Manuela de Vilhena. When Portugal was under Spanish rule, from 1580 to 1640, Manuel de Sousa Coutinho set fire to his own palace in order to prevent the Spanish governors from lodging there when they were fleeing Lisbon, which at the time was being devastated by an epidemic. He was then forced to flee the country, and when he returned to Portugal a few years later, the death of his beloved daughter led him and his wife to retire to claustral life. In 1614, Manuel de Sousa Coutinho was received in the Dominican Monastery of Benfica in Lisbon, adopting the name of Frei (Friar) Luís de Sousa. 

The coat of arms which today stands in the house superbly shows the insignia of the Periera, Pinto, Coutinho and Sousa surnames. The present owner of Casa dos Varais is D.Lúcia de Castro Girão