During our previous visit to Northern Portugal, we stayed at two remarkable properties in the Douro Valley: Aquapura and Romaneira, choosing the latter as our 2009 Hideaway of the Year. On a return trip, we began in the charming city of Porto and then headed through a sculpted landscape of vines to check on the recent renovation of one of Portugal’s grandest Belle Epoque hotels.
Situated on a hillside overlooking the Douro River, the Port warehouses of Vila Nova de Gaia, and the old city of Porto, The Yeatman opened last September. Although the lobby of the 82-room hotel recalls the traditional architecture of the local Port caves and the upriver quintas (country wine estates), the five-story building is otherwise a sleek granite structure with a raked façade. Standing on the large terrace of our room, enjoying the compelling views of the city across the river and admiring its elegant, illuminated cast-iron bridge, we quickly began to relax. In an inky dusk, signs bearing the great names of the Port trade — Fonseca, Graham’s, Cockburn’s and Offley among them — burned brightly.
Our room was as attractive as it was comfortable, with a beautiful pistachio- green bedroom fitted with crown moldings and dark Regency-style furniture that conveyed the air of an English country house, which was appropriate, given that almost all of the great Port houses were founded by Englishmen. An unusually spacious bath came with a large tub and a separate stall shower.
That evening, we enjoyed an excellent dinner of contemporary Portuguese cuisine by Michelin-starred chef Ricardo Costa, including a first course of miniature hamburger with a slow-cooked egg, black truffle, asparagus and crisp wands of bacon. Sea bass with crunchy baby artichokes was followed by a selection of Portuguese cheeses. The Yeatman is owned by Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman — one of the oldest Port houses, founded in 1682 — and it offers a fine selection of wines and Ports by the glass, including Luis Pato Vinha Formal, an excellent white from the Bairrada region of central Portugal that we enjoyed with our fish. After dinner, there is an adjacent fumoir in which to enjoy a cigar and a glass of vintage Port.
In general, The Yeatman’s public areas are spacious, well-lit and exceptionally attractive. A grand staircase leads from the lobby down to the breakfast room and a large circular pool on a scenic terrace. Elsewhere, an impressive range of leisure facilities includes a well-equipped fitness center and an indoor pool with wonderful views of Porto through floor-to-ceiling glass walls. The hotel’s spa, yet to open at the time of our visit, is run by Caudalie, the French company that specializes in beauty products made from grape pips. The Yeatman offers a convenient jitney service into Porto for anyone disinclined to contend with the city’s heavy traffic.
THE YEATMAN 94 SuperiorRoom, $490; Suite, $785. Ruado Choupelo, 4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia. Tel. (351) 22-013-3100.
Leaving Porto on a sunny autumn morning, we happily meandered northwest for 75 miles to the tiny, old-fashioned spa town of Vidago. The recently renovated 70-room Vidago Palace hotel was built in 1910 as a grand rural hideaway for the king of Portugal. A revolution intervened, and the four-story palace with its granite- trimmed façade became a hotel instead. Now it has been elegantly redecorated for a new century by G.L.A Hotels, a Paris- based consultancy run by well-known hotelier Grace Leo-Andrieu. Closed for four years, this stately grande dame has been impressively refitted, and its comforts are now state of the art. However, the charming décor of the original grand hotel has been shrewdly updated, so that the Vidago Palace remains in essence a pedigreed Old World beauty.
The property makes a powerful first impression. Wrought-iron gates open onto a granite-paved driveway bordered by huge trees, and three flights of baronial stairs sweep up to a lobby with a magnificent horseshoe staircase. Our Junior Suite was compact — like most rooms at the Vidago — but it was delightful, with a parquet-floored lounge and a pretty bedroom containing a queen-size bed and natural linen damask curtains. The spacious bath came with a marble counter, an old-fashioned stenciled tile floor, a deep sleigh-shaped tub in front of French doors with views over the park, and a separate marble-lined stall shower. Service throughout our stay was formal but welcoming.
The hotel’s new spa is now arguably the best in Portugal.
The hotel’s new spa is now arguably the best in Portugal. Large and extremely well-run, it has 20 treatment rooms and offers a menu that includes the signature Vidago treatment, comprising a soak in spring water scented with rosemary and lavender, plus an 80-minute anti-stress massage and a facial. The therapists are cheerful, well-trained young women, who speak good English.
In the strikingly opulent dining room, we greatly enjoyed a dinner of grilled scallops with slivered broad beans, followed by the Portuguese national dish, bacalao, or salt cod, which came with a salad of baby potatoes and mushrooms. During the day, light lunches are served in the clubhouse frequented by golfers playing the hotel’s immaculately manicured 18-hole course.
Despite its modern comforts and startlingly beautiful décor, the Vidago is ultimately so charming because it still follows the gentle rhythms of a 19th-century grand hotel. Strolling through the property’s 40-acre park planted with towering cedar and pine trees was a pleasure. And we spent happy hours on the veranda with a book, enjoying the pine-scented air and listening to the splash of a fountain. Although the Vidago Palace is now a popular spa-and- golf getaway for affluent Portuguese and Spanish couples, it is also an ideal place for Americans to relax during a tour of northern Portugal and Spain.
VIDAGO PALACE 93 DeluxeRoom, $310; JuniorSuite, $535. Parque de Vidago, 5425-307 Vidago. Tel. (351) 276-990-920.
Map © Andrew Harper.