Portugal On The Rise

The Sky Bar at Tivoli Lisboa is a rooftop restaurant popular for its panoramic views of Lisbon and contemporary Portuguese cuisine.

With gorgeous scenery and a rich cultural heritage, Portugal is soaring in popularity among American travelers. The spotlight is trained on the Douro wine region and the cool city of Lisbon. But even the beach-blessed Algarve region — which historically has been associated with mass-market tourism — is going luxe with a number of new resorts in the pipeline.

First and foremost is the new Anantara, the first European resort for the Thailand-based brand renowned for glam properties in beautiful settings. The Minor Hotel Group, Anantara’s parent company, acquired the Portuguese hospitality brand Tivoli Hotels & Resorts last February. Tivoli has 12 hotels in Portugal and two in Brazil, with ambitious plans to grow. On a recent jaunt to Portugal, Luxury Travel Advisor got the skinny on these exciting developments, experiencing a magnificent destination through Tivoli’s lens.

The Tivoli Lisboa has kept vigil over the Avenue da Liberdade for over 80 years and now Minor Hotels is injecting much-needed capital into this landmark property. A head-to-toe renovation that began in November is expected to be completed in April 2017. Already an important host for business meetings and conventions, the renovated hotel aims also to attract the affluent leisure market. One of the biggest changes will be the addition of a new spa and updated fitness center. We hear the revamp will also open up the lobby with light, and redesign the rooftop restaurant and Sky Bar, which is already a coveted destination for panoramic city views and contemporary Portuguese cuisine. Previously, the Sky Bar had a seasonal closure in the winter months, but the renovation will enclose part of the space for year-round revelry on the roof with resident DJ Nebur. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better spot to sip and watch the sun set over the Lisbon cityscape with the Castelo São Jorge and the River Tagus in the backdrop.

The Presidential Suite at Tivoli Lisboa is adorned like a palatial private apartment with antiques.

The number of rooms is being reduced from 306 to 286, and a new Family Room category, accommodating up to four guests, will target the growing affluent leisure market. Suites will come with a host of new amenities and services — curbside check-in /check-out with a dedicated floor manager, Hermès bath amenities, complimentary airport transfers, Illy espresso machines, and —  based on availability — two hours early and late check-out. Suite guests will also have access to the Executive Lounge on the ninth floor. The Presidential Suite (No. 730) is the top dig, decorated like a palatial private apartment with marble floors and antiques. Perks include a Jacuzzi, a sauna and a large balcony overlooking Lisbon.

What’s rare for a city-central location: A lovely outdoor pool in a garden adorned with the tile mosaics emblematic of historic Lisbon.

This is a brand prized for its local know-how, explained Rita Machado, director of marketing for Tivoli Hotels, and Minor values Tivoli’s on-the-ground expertise. There is a strong familial connection among the staff, many hailing from the northern province of Beira Baixa and working for Tivoli for generations. The attentive staff is a key part of the Tivoli DNA, appreciated by repeat guests. Even before experiential travel was all the rage, Tivoli had implemented the “Experience More” program as a means of  unlocking a destination and providing guests with insider access to authentic, local experiences.

Keen to hit the market or try the hottest restaurant in town? Want to explore Lisbon’s buzzing street art scene? The in-the-know concierge can arrange the perfect itinerary. The head concierge at the five-star Tivoli Lisboa is Filipa Ferreira (experience.lisboa@tivolihotels.com).

Tip: Next door, the four-star Tivoli Jardim is being converted into an Avani hotel — the stylish, contemporary brand from Minor Hotels.

A trip to Portugal isn’t complete without a stay in Sintra. Less than 20 miles to the west of Lisbon, Sintra is an otherworldly place: a mist-cloaked enclave high in the hills above the Atlantic, lushly verdant because of a unique microclimate. This is where generations of aristocrats and royals would escape the summer heat, and their estates exhibit flamboyant architecture. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Sintra is incredibly popular because of the exotic gardens, like the Parque de Monserrate, and the castles, like the Pena Palace, an extravagant mix of Moorish and Bavarian flourishes perched on a peak facing the ruins of a 9th-century Moorish castle.

Tivoli Palácio de Seteais, an 18th-century palace hotel with 30 guestrooms, enhances guest experience with horse-drawn carriage rides.

In such a storybook setting, the place to stay is the Tivoli Palácio de Seteais, an 18th-century palace hotel straight out of a fairytale. First built as the official residence of Daniel Gildmeester (Dutch Consul in Portugal in 1787), it became a hotel in 1953. Filled with antiques, art and tapestries, the Palácio de Seteais is an elegant estate with sprawling gardens and views of the ocean on a clear day. What we most enjoyed about the experience was that the hotel manages to combine the grandeur of a palace and the intimacy of a sumptuous private home. There are only 30 guestrooms, and the staff, many of them long-time employees, go out of their way to make guests comfortable — parking your rental car, appearing at your door with a carafe of Port as a nightcap, amusing children with magic tricks at the breakfast table, and offering nightly turn-down service with hot herbal tea and treats.

A stay’s magic is enhanced with horse-drawn carriage rides and picnics in the lemon groves. Head Concierge Paulo Vaz (experience.seteais@tivolihotels.com) can also arrange excursions to the beach town of Cascais, tastings in a nearby wine village, and helicopter rides over Cabo da Roca, Europe’s westernmost point.

A restoration took place in 2008-2009, enlisting top artisans to repair precious antiques. A heritage-listed property like this requires constant maintenance; General Manager Pedro Frazão passionately pointed out details like new custom carpets and restored frescos. The Tivoli Palácio de Seteais is a revolving door of famous guests, from Agatha Christie and Kylie Minogue to Brad Pitt and Mick Jagger. When Johnny Depp filmed a movie in Sintra, he stayed in Room No. 3. He loved the room’s vintage shoeshine box so much that he bought one to take home with him.

Tivoli Palácio de Seteais is full of antiques, art and tapestries. Seen here is the hotel’s lobby.

Individually decorated, the rooms come with modern creature comforts like flat-screen TVs and Nespresso machines. There are repeat guests — like two American couples who met at the palace 20 years ago — who request the same room each time. Some American companies also plan conference retreats, making use of the hotel’s six meeting rooms. Booking Tips: There is only one suite on the ground floor (No. 2), and the neighboring Deluxe Room (No. 3) has a large entry hall, separate tub and rainshower, plus great views over the pool. There is only one set of rooms that interconnects. Frazão’s favorite room is No. 26, which has sweeping views of the Atlantic.

Facilities include tennis courts and a cabana-flanked pool. Insiders tell us that there are plans in the pipeline to create a spa in a turreted outbuilding. At the time of our visit, the palace was in the process of transforming the restaurant into a gastronomic destination. Chef Miguel Silva was recruited from the Terraço restaurant at the Tivoli Lisboa where he made a name for himself with unexpected flavor combinations (like lobster with apple and hazelnut) in contemporary riffs on traditional Portuguese cuisine.

The palace is a hot spot for weddings, but you don’t have to tie the knot to rent out the hotel in its entirety; exclusive use can be arranged for 30,000 euros / day. Another over-the-top experience is “Dining Delight,” a decadent affair with waiters and a violinist dressed in 18th-century costume.

In the sunny south, the upmarket Tivoli Victoria opened in March 2009 overlooking the fairways of the championship Victoria Golf Course in Vilamoura. Now it’s being reincarnated as Anantara’s first European resort. With acres of marble and a palm-lined pool, the hotel was originally built to five-star standards, so the renovation is not a top-to-bottom overhaul, but more of a light refurbishment. The décor will be changed, and Anantara signatures will be found throughout — from staff uniforms to tuk tuks at the entrance. Major Changes: Dining concepts, a new fitness club with personal trainers, an Anantara spa and a top-notch kids club managed by the renowned Worldwide Kids Company. The Anantara resort will appeal to multigenerational families with themed Academies (like golf, dance) for the teenage set. What’s more, 50 interconnecting rooms will be converted into a new category of family rooms. (Currently, the hotel has 280 rooms, including a swoon-worthy Presidential Suite with a rooftop terrace for Jacuzzi soaks overlooking the golf course.)

To prepare for the hotel opening in April, the new GM Tamir Kobrin (fresh from a stint opening the Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort in Sri Lanka) recruited 100 additional staff members.

The Presidential Suite of Anantara Vilamoura (formerly Tivoli Victoria) has a rooftop terrace with Jacuzzi.

The focus isn’t just on ultra-luxe resort amenities, but on celebrating local culture. Cuisine will continue to be a highlight. At the award-winning Emo restaurant, we delighted in our best meal in Portugal: scallops and crab topped with tomato caviar, nori wasabi, and beer foam; tiger prawns with almond gnocchi; suckling pig belly with olive orange tapenade. We highly recommend the chef-led market tour; shop for ingredients with the hotel chef at the Loulé covered market then return to the kitchen to learn the secrets behind traditional Algarve specialties like the cataplana.

For VIP bookings for all Tivoli hotels, reach out to Frederico Ayala (frederico.ayala@tivolihotels.com), global sales manager-luxury sales. 

New Experiences

The timing for the Tivoli Lisboa’s makeover couldn’t be better. In the midst of a renaissance, Lisbon is on the rise as a tourist destination, with thrilling nightlife, a lively art scene and a rich history making for a winning combination in the Portuguese capital. It’s particularly appealing for travelers who crave authenticity. The new MAAT museum complex is getting lots of buzz, and a new cruise terminal is expected to open in July 2017. First-time visitors should take a ride on the vintage tram 28 to the atmospheric Alfama district, where you can get lost in steep alleyways on the way to the hilltop castle. Explore the Belém district, famed for UNESCO World Heritage sites like the Jerónimos Monastery and the Torre de Belém, which appears as a magnificent floating fortress dating from the Portuguese Age of Discovery. Belém is the birthplace of the pastel de nata, the traditional Portuguese custard tart. Speaking of food, there are a host of eateries to sample Lisbon’s exciting culinary scene from Michelin-starred destinations like Belcanto to the Palácio Chiado, a restored 18th-century palace now housing seven fun dining concepts.