|Photo by Freeimages.com/Helvia Moreira|
by Mary Lussiana, The Daily Telegraph, April 20, 2016
From a sumptuous spa retreat to a palatial hideaway and sophisticated family resort, Portugal's lavish and lovely luxury hotels provide a stay to remember.
Once, Portugal was a safe bet for a hit of sunshine, sand and seafood. But in the past few years, there’s been a discernible wave of smart visitors travelling to the country to explore its medieval villages and hidden valleys, to sample the complexity of its wines and the depth of its heritage. In short, to sample some of the wonders of a place that was once home to Europe’s wealthiest court.
Taking note of the swell in visitor numbers, big names in the hotel world have begun to open their doors, with Six Senses choosing the Douro Valley for its maiden foray into Europe, Viceroy Hotels selecting the Algarve as the destination for its first European property and Aman creating a resort in Comporta, south of Lisbon.
Established properties are excelling too, with The Yeatman in Porto refocusing on their land's natural bounty to create inventive cuisine and Comporta's aptly named Sublime hotel continuing to offer the intuitive, friendly service that makes a visit to this unsullied destination one to savour. Read on to learn more about the Portuguese properties that can be relied upon to make a positive impact.
The Heritage House: Casa de Mateus, Vila Real
Much of Lisbon was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1755, but Casa de Mateus, near Vila Real, was left standing and today is one of the best surviving examples of 18th-century baroque architecture in Portugal. Described by the art critic Sir Sacheverell Sitwell as “the most fantastic country house in the country”, it has a façade graced by an ornate balustraded stairway and rooftop pinnacles that are reflected in a beautiful lake. The architect of this wonder was probably Niccolò Nasoni (1691-1773), from Italy, and descendants of the family for whom it was built still live in one wing of the house. The place to stay after visiting the house is the Vidago Palace hotel, an elegant pink palácio built in 1910 and restored a few years ago. Bedrooms have views over the leafy park and its painted belle-époque kiosks where locals still come for doses of the curative waters. The addition of a spa, designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira , means that, for the first time, visitors can indulge not just in the waters, but in considerable comforts afterwards.
The Beach Retreat: Comporta, Troia Peninsula
Portugal has many gorgeous beaches, but those in Comporta are incomparable. Diaphanous turquoise waters gently lap the white sands, which stretch for empty mile after mile. Umbrella pines reach into a high, cloudless sky and vivid-green rice paddies dot the landscape. This is where the understated wealthy come for downtime: to stop at Sal Restaurante for freshly grilled fish drizzled with olive oil, to ride with José Ribeiro from the local riding school through the rice fields, across the dunes and down on to the beach as the sun is setting. The best spots in which to stay? Couples should head to Sublime hotel, which is just that: long and low, surrounded by pine trees, and with a string of white-on-white rooms, a long swimming pool, and a fire-pit around which to sample delicious local dishes and sip fine wines in the evening. Families or groups of friends should rent Casas Na Areia, a dazzling project by the acclaimed architect Manuel Aires Mateus. It has four thatched suites (two wooden, two whitewashed) set around an open-plan living space, whose heated floor is covered in icing-sugar-fine sand. Beyond lies the pool – and Nature writ large.
Sal Restaurante (00 351 265 490 129; main dishes from £22). Cavalos Na Areia riding school (00 351 919 002 545; lessons from £22 for 30 minutes ). Sublime (00 351 269 449 376; doubles from £145 ). Casas Na Areia (00 351 934 418 316; from £370 a night, sleeping eight; minimum stay three nights).
The Family Resort: Vila Vita Parc, Porches
Spread over 54 acres of bougainvillea-strewn gardens on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic, Vila Vita Parc is one of the best family resorts in Europe. For adults, there are golf courses and tennis courts, a yacht for private sojourns, scuba-diving and snorkelling excursions, as well as a spa with Margaret Dabbs pedicures and Hypoxi weight-loss treatments. For younger guests, attractions include a golden beach on which to build sandcastles, a playground with a trampoline and a children’s club, as well as heated and non-heated swimming pools.
Since its total makeover a few years ago, the resort now has a two-Michelin-star dining room, Ocean, overseen by the Austrian chef Hans Neuner , who creates dishes of culinary artistry, as well as an Italian trattoria and a Portuguese adega serving regional cuisine, all of which can be enjoyed with some of the finest wines in the country. As well as 165 rooms and suites, which feature regional crafts, furnishings and art, five lavish family villas have been added, with private pools, pretty gardens and sea views.
Vila Vita Parc (00 351 282 310 100; doubles from £118).
The Spa Hotel: Six Senses Douro Valley
The new Six Senses hotel – the group’s first in Europe – offers guests not only the chance to detox in an enormous spa, but retox afterwards in age-old vineyards. Housed in a 19th-century terracotta quinta, or farm, it brims with a sense of place. Views of the green Douro River and the vines that tumble down from terraces to meet it flood in from outside. Interiors, courtesy of the New York-based Irish designer Clodagh, are muted in colour but strong on texture and minimalist lines. A throw of rough local wool tops the smoothest cotton on the beds in the 57 bedrooms; shiny hand-painted Portuguese tiles surround a granite fireplace in the dining room; curls of delicate gold leaf on the walls near the Wine Library glimmer by thick cork tables on which lie the plumpest purple figs. Food is regional, rural and to be relished – much of it comes from the organic vegetable garden – and is paired with exceptional Douro wines from an impressive cellar. (You can even sample these wines while having a manicure in the nail bar.) There is also an indoor pool, a Pilates pavilion and a range of treatments that use Organic Pharmacy products as well as unguents made with citrus and locally pressed almond oil.
Six Senses Douro Valley (00 351 254 660 600; doubles from £210).
The Wine Hotel: The Yeatman, Porto
Among the red-roofed port houses that line the river banks in the Vila Nova de Gaia area of Porto is The Yeatman, which is designed in a series of terraced layers. Each of the 82 rooms and suites looks across the water on to the attractive multicoloured façades of the medieval city while, in the gardens below, the blue, decanter-shaped swimming pool shimmers. The view is almost as pleasurable as the cuisine in the gastronomic restaurant, where chef Ricardo Costa delivers delights such as sea bass roasted with herbs, lemon purée and fennel sauce. However, it is the wine, curated by sommelier Beatriz Machado, that is the big draw – and a theme throughout the hotel. Oenological rooms and corridors are lined with wine books and old maps. There are dinners with wine pairings, cellar tours, and tipples and port lessons next door in the historic port house of Taylor’s (owned by the same group), as well as vinothérapie treatments in the Caudalie spa. Diehards should book the 008 suite in which the centrepiece is a four-poster bed fashioned from an old port barrel.
The Yeatman (00 351 220 133 100; doubles from £158).
The Romantic Hotel: Vila Joya, Albufeira
With just 14 rooms and eight suites, Vila Joya still feels like the family home it once was, set in a garden of palm trees and bougainvillea on the edge of a cliff, with clear views of the ocean. This is one of those places where the rhythm of life slows to a crawl, where just listening to the sound of the waves crashing seems to occupy an afternoon. It’s not about cramming in experiences here, but about slowing down: sitting on the terrace with a glass of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé before a dinner of warm, crunchy langoustine and pink ginger, and guinea fowl covered with “feathers” of black truffle; watching the sea change from a stretch of blue infinity to shifting black waters illuminated by the moon. As night falls, candles are lit and beds – clad in crisp linens – are turned down. Rooms and suites are a mixture of old and new: some have bathrooms of traditional Portuguese tiles, others feature free-standing egg-shaped tubs. All have terraces, views out to sea and a charm that is unmatched anywhere in Portugal.
Vila Joya (00 351 289 591 795; doubles from £245; set dinner from £130 per person).
This feature is taken from the spring 2016 issue of Ultratravel, The Telegraph's luxury-travel magazine .
This article was written by Mary Lussiana from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.