When planning our trip to Portugal, Pinterest was my envy-inducing best friend. Like many of you trying to make your itinerary, I not only compared routes and notable sights, but I went down a wonderful rabbit hole that was discovering the award-winning design hotels of Portugal.
Once we had narrowed down our must-sees throughout the country, my next task was adjusting that route to experience Portugal’s penchant for well-designed accommodation concepts.
Porto A.S. 1829: Porto
Contributing to our early love affair with Porto was a boutique hotel made for a writer, Porto A.S. 1829, home to an old stationary outpost. With typewriters down every small corridor and a purveyor of quill pens in the lobby, this place was teeming with poetic charm. Our room was curated with a writing table, crisp white linens, and a private balcony that opened onto the sounds of street musicians and clinking wine glasses in Sao Domingos square below.
We were of course greeted with a glass of Port upon arrival and the entire staff was eager to make dinner recos and reservations, and help with all of our random requests.
Perhaps it’s because Portugal doesn’t see the tourists of nearby Italy and Spain, but the service in this quaint hotel epitomized the country’s welcoming ways.
Pedras Salgadas: Vila Real
About 2 hours northeast of Porto and due north of the Duoro Valley is a nature retreat in the middle of nowhere. Pedras Salgadas is a 4-star resort that opened in 2012 on the grounds of a natural spring park. The park is open to the public and when we arrived on a Sunday, it was dotted with Portuguese locals out for Sunday strolls.
On the grounds are 12 minimalist Eco Houses nestled in the trees that include a large kitchen and living space designed by Luis Rebelo de Andrade and Diogo Aguiar. The duo also designed two stunning treehouses as part of the resort. Although not nearly as spacious as the Eco Houses, standing underneath them is truly wow-worthy.
Although the resort itself was beautiful, on this particular Sunday night in September we were the only guests staying in the park, which made it feel like an episode of Stranger Things. We dined at the empty resort restaurant for Julie’s 40th Birthday dinner (epic, anti-climatic wife fail) and the next day, had the spa and naturally-fed thermal pools to ourselves as well.
Our second day a few more guests checked in, but we still had the amenities to ourselves. In addition to the spa and indoor thermal pool, there is a modern outdoor pool perfect for sunning yourself in the September sun, tennis courts, free bikes for touring the park and nearby areas and…that’s about it.
The tiny village near Pedras Salgadas had a few local restaurants we were excited to try, but unfortunately they were closed on Sunday and Monday nights. The food at the resort was above average, but not destination worthy.
If you are a design junkie and find yourself in Portugal, definitely check out Pedras Salgadas. But if you’re looking for a lively crowd and luxury, you might have better luck in peak tourist season or at The Six Senses in the Duoro Valley.
L’AND Vineyards: Montemor-o-Novo
Our itinerary through Portugal looked like a big backwards C. We started in Porto, drove up to Pedras Salgadas and then south to the Algarve and finally, to Lisbon. The drive from Pedras Salgadas in the north to the Algrave was more than we wanted to tackle in a vacation day, so we opted to spend a night at a small vineyard in the Alentejo region to break up the drive and we’re so happy we did.
Finding L’AND Vineyards was a challenge for our GPS, but once we arrived we were wowed by how well the minimalist contemporary white architecture of Brazilian Marcio Kogan complemented the verdant vines.
The exquisite interior design of the lobby extended to the guest suites as well. We opted for a Sky Suite which was amazingly private and included an open air sky roof over the bed, full living room, outdoor (and indoor) shower and baths, and a private fireplace complete with a staff at your beck and call for late night fire building.
L’AND Vineyards is a small working vineyard offering wine tours and tastings daily, striking outdoor pool, full spa, complimentary (and in my case private) yoga classes each morning, and an award-winning restaurant featuring Michelin-star cuisine of chef Miguel Laffan.
Our meal at L’AND Vineyards was one of the best we had in Portugal. Since Tuesday nights are open exclusively to hotel guests, the service and spoiling were divine. We enjoyed many complimentary amuse-bouches and then started with Tom Yung Kum soup with oysters/shrimp and scallops with mushrooms. For entrees we had sea bass and a pork tenderloin that made even a pig-cynic like me believe in more than bacon. We topped the night off with tiramisu and Port that we took back to our room to enjoy in front of our outdoor fireplace.
And were these fab Portugal hotels sheshe friendly?
The inspiration for sheshelife started from this wanderlust-loving gay couple traveling the world together and seeing how it would react. Confirming king beds. Ordering room service in robes. And hanging honeymoon banners on our doors.
The good news is, Portugal legalized gay marriage in 2010 and is one of the most open and LGBTQ friendly places we’ve visited. Gay bars and clubs were easy to find, especially in Lisbon, but not surprisingly, most catered to men.
So if you’re looking for a safe, charming, foodie-approved destination to get your gay on, Portugal and its amazing designed hotels will be glad to welcome you.