Superb cuisine, tranquil river views and a warm staff.
Everything at this resort in Baiao spells newness and innovation. When seen from above, the minimalist décor is reminiscent of a modern art museum with multilevel concrete squares stacked at midpoints to form a sort of birthday cake design.
Built on an incline to take advantage of unobstructed views of the Douro River, the lobby, in an unusual upside down twist, is situated two storeys up. Combined with the floor-to-ceiling windows, this has the effect of making guests feel as if they are floating on the water. The sleek atmosphere inside with its polished hardwood floors, geometric lighting and soft turquoise and grey colour scheme delights without distracting from the natural beauty.
Indeed, the landscape takes centre stage throughout the property. There is a persistent invitation to venture outdoors from the nearby pier, rectangular infinity pool, and expansive panoramic terrace with neatly lined deck chairs to private balconies in all 70 rooms and tennis court.
Twin rooms are stylish with eggshell-hue tufted bed head, seating area and working desk, ideal for both business and leisure travellers. Ruby bar with its marble bar top and crimson pool table adds a cool touch to common space. The Royal Spa features Vichy and Scottish showers, spacious relaxation rooms and a full range of treatments. There is also 700 square meters of conference and meeting space, suitable for large scale events.
The fresh energy of the hotel is perhaps best illustrated at the Palato D’Ouro Restaurant where the menu celebrates the best of Portuguese cuisine with a contemporary edge. A retinue of young chefs achieve gastronomic heights under the tutelage of Chef Julien Cardoso. To begin, a voluptuous sweet chestnut soup is brightened with yoghurt, next, house made jet black linguine nero is coated with a rich tomato sauce bursting with fresh basil and served with a variety of seafood. The main course, a thick piece of seared bacalhau (salt cod) coated with crunchy corn bread sits atop earthy blackened pepper and onion puree and accompanied by bitter turnip leaves. The trio of dessert from pastry chef Filipe Silva represents finesse on the plate and palate: a guava sorbet refreshes, a warm chocolate lava cake comforts, and the local Portuguese almond cake is an intriguing insight into tradition. Breakfast too is a lavish affair, with a buffet showcasing a dumbfounding array of freshly bakes pastry, bread, cakes as well as cheese, yogurt, fruit and cold cuts.
Unlike so many modern hotels of this scale which can feel impersonal, even detached, Douro Royal Valley Hotel & Spa, despite its size, reveals a reassuring familiarity. It is in the small gestures like that of maître d’ Francisco inquiring after the wellbeing of a guest who felt under the weather, pastry chef Silva making a beeline to the kitchen for several additional slices of chocolate cake when a guest compliments it and waitress Tania who exudes warmth and takes to heart comments about how much guests are enjoying their meal. These are the moments that make this someplace truly special.
Lugar de Portela do Rio, Ribadouro, 4640-400 Baião;
This original hotel article first appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of City Style and Living Magazine