The lowdown Nestled in 250 acres of woodland in the Trás-os-Montes (literally meaning “beyond the mountains”) region of Northern Portugal, an hour away from Portugal’s second largest city of Porto, Vidago Palace is as regal a retreat as its name suggests. Indeed, the belle époque hotel was built for King Manuel in 1910, but a coup d’état prevented his inauguration and the palace has been a hotel ever since. Sitting on the site of four thermal springs, the palace re-opened in July 2010 having undergone a massive four-year €50 million makeover under hotelier Grace Leo’s GLA ‘Haute Couture’ label.
The hotel Terracotta by day and lit up like a pink birthday cake at night, the palace is like a glamorous dowager surveying her spoils, with a battalion of stone steps leading up to the lobby. Almost before the car had stopped moving, an amiable bellboy opened my door and whisked away my luggage, leaving me to gawp freely at the astonishingly picturesque hotel and the vast fountain in the driveway. The hotel marries its majestic edifice and rich history with an interior of handsome, rather than prettified elegance – a sweeping double staircase leads upstairs, where the 70 suites boast leather sofas, dark wood bureaus, French windows, hand-painted de Gournay wallpaper (there are ten different colour schemes across the rooms) and discreet touch pads located around the suite to control the lighting and curtains. InStyle stayed in one of five Privilege suites, which have a large English-style bathroom by Devon & Devon of Florence, vast walk-in closet, chic desk area and pared-back living room. Vidago Palace is all about the bespoke touches: the two televisions in my suite welcomed me by name (as did the staff every time I passed them) and an edit of the British news was compiled and hung outside my suite every morning. The terrace is perfect for a bellini at dusk and the main bar and oak-panelled drawing room are stocked with board games and an international range of books in mint condition - from Harry Potter to Graham Green. There is also an impressive wine cellar and cigar collection.
The spa The huge white marble and chrome spa provides a cooling inner sanctum to seek respite from the blazing Mediterranean sun. With 20 treatment suites - and the most comfortable treatment beds I have ever encountered – the spa is an inviting oasis of calm, offering treatments by Vichy, Jet Blitz and Hydromassage, and using products from Aromatherapy Associates and the more medically based MCCM Medical Cosmetics. Day packages are available for top to toe pampering and for ultimate romantic luxe à deux, there are two twin spa suites where you can bathe face to face in hammams (Turkish baths). There is also an indoor pool, spa bar, well-stocked gym and ‘thermal suite’ of sauna and steam room. Like the hotel, the spa is dotted with cute and stylish touches, such as cafetières of peppermint tea, bowls of crisp green apples and my personal favourite, a fountain of crushed ice to cool you down. I enjoyed possibly the best aromatherapy massage of my life, having chosen my own blend of coconut oils. Knowing exactly what my body craved, my therapist was both gentle and firm, leaving me to serenely glide out of the spa after 55 minutes. Given that it’s near impossible for any woman to leave the spa for too long, husbands and boyfriends can seek solace in the impressive 18-hole Cameron Powell designed golf course (which, if you know your golf, is just as impressive as the spa). For the energetic guest, the hotel can also organise a selection of day trips, such as wine tasting and jam making in the nearby Douro Valley.
Eating and drinking Chef Josu Sedanu-Martin’s (previously of The Ivy and Quaglino’s in London) cooking is both unpretentious and delicious. A pristine, beflowered table on wheels delivered breakfast to our suite each morning - egg white and salmon omelettes, homemade smoothies, blueberry waffles and madeleines with Vidago’s own peach jam. For lunch, we enjoyed a light salad with grilled prawns and chicken at The Poolside Bar. Dinner in the light-filled Winter Garden conservatory (overlooked by the library mezzanine, which displays the palace’s original silverware) consisted of scallops, fillet of Iberian beef and turbot; the chocolate fondant with violet ice cream was a pitch perfect note on which to end our meal. For a sumptuous dining experience, the vast, gilded 18th-century Salão Nobre Dining Room (the former ballroom), with its hand-woven carpet and other Arts & Crafts touches, is well worth a feast. We left Vidago Palace sated, suntanned and with more than one tear in our eyes.
Details Prices start from 130 euros per room per night for a Junior Room on a bed and breakfast basis. To book visit www.vidagopalace.com or call 00 351 93 264 0512
By Pandora Sykes