Winter Sun

Words: Patrícia Barnabé

In a country that is expanding its tourism and hotel offer every year, it is necessary to recognise — and praise — the hotels that have best recovered Portugal’s heritage, not only architecturally, but also historically and culturally. Two dozen of the best examples of charming hotels in Portugal.

They are former palaces, monasteries, estates, villages, neighbourhoods, renovated and designed to welcome the whole world and the Portuguese who want to admire the beauty of their country, retold in a new life that dignifies Portuguese history and culture. If given the choice, and for the sake of the planet and good taste, who wouldn’t prefer places with patina and history? Here are some hotels with soul and character.

Vidago Palace

Entering the Vidago is an experience in itself, and even more so when you enter its magnificent hall and dining room, where the delicacies of Chef Vítor Matos are served. You can imagine the elite of the early 20th century coming here to take advantage of the hot springs in the town of Vidago. The hotel was inaugurated the day after the establishment of the Portuguese Republic, but it was King Carlos I who conceived and ordered the construction of what began as a luxurious spa resort, ready to welcome the illustrious and wealthy of the world, designed by architects Miguel Ventura Terra and later António Rodrigues da Silva Júnior. And it succeeded, becoming a European benchmark that faded in the post-war period, surrounded by a generous national park, with landscaping reminiscent of turn-of-the-century boulevards and a golf course, the latter designed by Philip Mackenzie Ross. The interiors were designed by the duo João Pedro Vieira and Diogo Rosa Lã, who have restored the majesty of everyday life without leaving a musty or museum relic smell. The excellent Clarins spa was designed by Siza Vieira, as was the clubhouse. Whatever needs to be done again, must be done well. And unlike many luxury hotels, this one welcomes pets, which in itself is a symbol of modernity.

In Vidago Park,

Ventozelo, Douro

Originating from the restoration of the ruins of a magnificent wine estate, in the tradition of the great Douro families, Gran Cruz, the largest exporter of Port wines, brings to life rooms that have been restored from the original stables and wine tanks. Similarly, where the workers’ canteen used to be, there is now a restaurant whose recipes are all local, using products from the farm or the region, sourced from small agricultural units. The rooms are unpretentious, as is all the decoration, designed to let in the splendid landscape that surrounds it. The whole of Ventozelo has been designed to enhance the region, which is why it has recovered as much of its heritage as possible, culminating in an Interpretative Centre that tells the story of the estate’s more than 500 years of existence, as well as immersing us in the history and natural beauty of the Douro, and the creation of an Association of Friends of Ventozelo, dedicated to thinking about how to make the Douro an even better place, including politically and economically.

Quinta de Ventozelo, S João da Pesqueira, Ervedosa do Douro,

Village by BOA, Porto

Photo: Luís Ferraz

The five buildings of the former Bairro do Silva, a workers’ island in the heart of Porto dating back to the end of the 19th century, are now an aparthotel with 40 design-conscious rooms. In the small houses, built in corridors and with narrow entrances, probably influenced by English architecture from the late 18th to the early 20th century, an intervention led by Pablo Rebelo and Paulo Pita, in conjunction with the Heim Balp Architekten studio, has been executed with utmost consideration for the site’s dimensions. The interiors have been tastefully curated by Bacana Studio. Crafted and customised in Portugal, the furniture draws inspiration from the sleek lines of Nordic and Japanese design. The colour palette is organic, and the materials are natural and robust, with a primary goal of achieving profound comfort. Special pieces were curated with the participation of various local artists. The idea behind Israel’s Boa Hotels was to respond to the growing demand for independent spaces with maximum privacy, which is why all the rooms have a kitchen and a large part of the hospitality service is provided by technology.

Rua do Bonjardim, 541, in Porto,

Valverde Santar, Viseu

This stands as one of the most exquisite manor house renovations in the Portuguese region. The new Valverde is a pleasure that commences in its medieval village, which thrived in the first half of the 17th century due to agriculture and the charismatic Dão demarcated area. Referred to as the “Cortes da Beira”, Santar hosted, unusually distant from the capital, the manor houses of noble families and the upper middle class. These residences were constructed by the Duke of Bragança as a reward for loyalty to the Portuguese Crown during the reign of Felipe. The heirs of these families initiated the Santar Vila Jardim project, opening up the splendid gardens of these residences to the public. The Dukes of Bragança generously contributed the Casa das Fidalgas for this new hotel, carrying the distinguished Valverde mark of excellence. This architectural masterpiece harmoniously blends baroque and neoclassical styles. The interiors, curated by Bastir, meticulously restored a section of the property, creating an intimate atmosphere. The outcome is truly magnificent, featuring an aristocratic floor hosting living rooms and bedrooms. The former agricultural outbuildings and areas, along with an ancient kitchen and wine cellar, have been artfully converted into suites and an invigorating spa.

Casa das Fidalgas, Av. Viscondessa de Taveiro, Santar,

Casa das Penhas Douradas and Casa de São Lourenço, Serra da Estrela

Photo: José Campos

Two hotels have emerged as part of the sustainability initiative of the Burel Factory, a restored wool factory that preserves 19th-century machinery and is committed to textile circularity. Casa de São Lourenço, originally one of Portugal’s pioneering pousadas, underwent a transformation in 2018, evolving into a luxurious five-star mountain hotel. Perched at an altitude of 1,250 metres, its expansive windows provide awe-inspiring panoramas of the Serra da Estrela, the town of Manteigas, and the Zêzere Glacier Valley. The interiors, including much of the furniture crafted by the artist Maria Keil, were redesigned by P-06 and Site Specific. The collection is complemented by works from national designers and craftsmen, some of whom are local. The hotel proudly declares itself a homage to Portuguese design. As for Casa das Penhas Douradas, it has taken on the identity of a “mountain lodge”, incorporating elements reminiscent of Scandinavian comfort. The décor revolves around natural materials such as cork, birch wood and, notably, vibrant Burel details. The overarching concept pays homage to local craftsmanship. Both structures have undergone environmentally conscious renovations, especially considering their location within a natural park. Their approach to hospitality is deeply rooted in this foundational principle of environmental responsibility.

Estrada Nacional 232, km 49,3, Campo Romão, Manteigas,

Penhas Douradas, Manteigas,

Bairro Alto hotel, Lisbon

Formerly known as the Grand Hôtel de L’Europe until 1980, this establishment underwent a rejuvenation and re-emerged in 2005 as the capital’s inaugural five-star boutique hotel, presciently aligning with the cosmopolitan transformation embraced by Lisbon today. Renowned Pritzker architect Eduardo Souto de Moura led the restoration of four 18th-century buildings nestled in the heart of the city’s historic centre. The result is 87 rooms and suites exuding classic elegance, featuring sought-after panoramic terraces that come alive in the evenings. One of them is the excellent BAHR&Terrace restaurant, whose cuisine is based on Portuguese products and adapted to Japanese techniques.

Praça Luís de Camões, 2, Lisbon,

Ludovice, Lisbon

Situated across from the São Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint, just before reaching Chiado, the former residence of João Federico Ludovice, architect to King João V, has been transformed into a hotel. In the early 18th century, while designing for the King, Ludovice also created plans for his family’s home in Bairro Alto, an area where the Portuguese aristocracy settled, particularly following the earthquake of 1755. This palace — a beautiful testament to his vision — retains majestic 18th-century details, from frescoes and stucco to Baroque tiles. Uniquely expansive for its time, it spanned several blocks with a five-storey façade, featuring windows framed in stone that provided captivating views of the city. Notably, it included a chapel adorned with Masonic symbols. This groundbreaking palace was the first of its kind to occupy an entire city block. Today, after a comprehensive restoration by architect Miguel Câncio Martins, it boasts 61 rooms and suites, the Federico Restaurant, an extensive selection of Portuguese and international wines that lend it the character of a wine hotel, and the delightful Caudalie Spa.

Rua de São Pedro de Alcântara, 39–49,

Estoril Vintage

An emblem of national hospitality, this establishment has its roots in a centuries-old family home and doubles as a romantic palace, designated as a National Heritage Site. Laden with tales of love and espionage, it served as the gathering place for the Portuguese and European elite in the early 20th century. Since the 18th century, Estoril and Cascais have stood as seaside retreats for the aristocracy. Originating as the Casa de S. Cristóvão manor, dedicated to the patron saint of travellers, it was constructed in 1917 by industrialist Alfredo da Silva. The design, credited to the Valmor Prize-winning architect and painter Tertuliano Marques, embraced a Baroque style inspired by the era of King João V. The Líbano Monteiro family, recognising its hospitable essence, undertook a renovation, resulting in 18 distinctive rooms, some with sea views. The interior, curated by Graça Viterbo, retains its splendour with a hint of British charm, showcasing original frescoes, intricately carved wood, and centuries-old stone and tiles meticulously restored by skilled craftsmen.

Herdade da Malhadinha Nova, Beja

Photo: Alexander Bogorodskiy

Becoming a member of Relais & Châteaux in the year of the pandemic, this property located in Albernoa, Beja, in the heart of the Alentejo region, stands as a testament to a family’s dream and a commitment to sustainable tourism. The Soares family acquired 450 hectares of virtually deserted land and transformed it by constructing five small lodges full of colour from the existing ruins, including one in the village located five kilometres away, resulting in a total of 30 comfortable rooms of various types. The journey began with a traditional Alentejo holiday home, opening its doors to Portuguese families amidst its 80 hectares of vineyards. Today, the unmistakable labels of Monte da Peceguina and Herdade da Malhadinha are renowned, and the recently launched Teixinha wines add a fresh chapter to the story. Over the course of 20 years, it has evolved into a notable beacon of quality hospitality in the southern region of the country. The Soares family, in breathing life into this seemingly “remote” land and its ruins, has not only revitalised it but also championed its biodiversity. It is a frequent sight to observe sizable nests of storks and various other birds. Visitors have the opportunity to experience horseback riding on pure-bred Lusitano horses at its stud farm. Additionally, the property is home to freely bred Alentejo cows, black pigs, and black and white Merino sheep. In its restaurant, under the meticulous supervision of chef Joachim Koerper, the essence of Alentejo flavours is rejuvenated using organic produce. Rita Soares, the matriarch, has undertaken an unprecedented effort to personally adorn her estate with the creations of local artisans whom she supports and encourages.

Herdade da Malhadinha Nova, 7800–601 Albernoa,

Aldeia da Pedralva, Vila do Bispo

A small village near Vila do Bispo, once somewhat overlooked, began welcoming foreign residents well over a decade ago. Since then, it has undergone a transformation into a haven for hospitality, driven by a growing desire to reconnect with the unique cultural roots of the area, and the country as a whole. This transformation reflects a return to more grounded habits, situated between the serene southern countryside and the untamed beaches of the region. Comprising 26 houses, these dwellings have been carefully renovated, respecting their original design and construction techniques, emphasising simplicity and unpretentiousness. Each dwelling offers autonomy and ample space, including a warm welcome for pets. This village stands as an ideal haven for those with a commitment to sustainability, nature enthusiasts, and individuals seeking an authentic and straightforward lifestyle.

Casa da Pedralva, R. de Baixo, Vila do Bpo,

Reid’s Palace, Madeira

A timeless gem in the realm of national hospitality, boasting 130 years of history as the finest hotel on Madeira’s “tropical” shores. The inception of this establishment traces back to William Reid, a Scotsman who, at the age of 14, relocated to Madeira seeking the island’s mild climate for the sake of his fragile health. By the age of 25, Reid had ventured into the wine trade. In the mid-nineteenth century, when it was common for disaffected Britons to come here for months or even years at a time to soak up the sun, the Reids began renting out properties until they bought their own, including the rocky outcrop known as Horse’s Leap, where Reid’s was built by architects J T Mickelthwaite and George Sommers Clarke. It opened in 1891 and was only operational during the winter months. In 1925, it was bought by the Blandy family, who ran the hotel for 60 years, and it is now part of a large hotel chain. The hotel underwent refurbishments in 1970 and 1990, the latter of which saw the addition of luxury suites. During this period, the dining room, cocktail bar and restaurant were restored to their original style. In 2006, interior designer Graham Viney further enhanced the historical ambiance, and additional improvements were made in 2017. This English classic boasts 123 rooms and suites bathed in the Madeira sun, narrating a chapter of the island’s history. It remains an enduring symbol of sophistication from bygone eras when esteemed figures, including royalty like Empress Sissi of Austria, politicians like Churchill, and a diverse array of artists and celebrities, found refuge within its walls.

Estrada Monumental 139, Funchal,

Palácio de Santa Catarina, Terceira, Azores

In Angra do Heroísmo, atop Monte Brasil, a new elegant retreat of refined luxury has emerged. The establishment is a meticulous restoration of the 1758 palace, once home to the esteemed Corte-Real family for centuries. Subsequently, it served as the official residence of the Bishop of Angra and became an integral part of the Diocese. Dedicated to Santa Catarina, on Pico da Urze, a small promontory carved out by a once-active volcano in the parish of S. Pedro. The original structure, characterised by a touch of austerity yet featuring an imposing façade, a graceful double staircase, and distinctive stonework, underwent interior expansion by architects Duarte Neves and Susana Cunha. The expansion allowed for the incorporation of 34 rooms and the addition of an outdoor swimming pool. Notably, in 1991, Pope John Paul II chose this residence during his stay. The palace has continued to embrace its original calling for seclusion, peace and contemplation, making it an ideal haven to appreciate the island’s natural beauty and immerse oneself in the rich local culture.

São Pedro, Pico da Urze site, Angra do Heroísmo,

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.

Top 3 Stories