Poet, playwright and government minister Antonio Ferro came up with the concept of the pousada in the 1940s: a hotel that offers an authentically Portuguese experience, via itssurroundings and gastronomy. There are now almost 30 pousadas dotted around the Portuguese mainland and islands; many occupy historic buildings in sublime locations. So, it was something of an anomaly that until this summer, there wasn’t one in the capital, one of Europe’s oldest cities. Happily, an opulent 18th-century sunflower-yellow Pombaline building, once home to Portugal’s Interior Ministry, has been repurposed as the latest – and perhaps one of the grandest – of Portugal’s pousadas.
Inside, it reeks of gluttonous celebration: the ghosts of parliaments past linger in every beautiful long hallway and on every lavish staircase. The hotel sits facing the river Tagus on Praça do Comércio – the main square. Stepping inside feels like walking into a living museum, with restored historical artefacts littered across the reception rooms.
Artwork and antiques borrowed from the city’s museums and galleries stay true to the era of the building without overwhelming it. The centrepiece is the huge breakfast room. Tall walls decorated with beautiful (though replicated) tapestries are in keeping with the classic decor. With the sun filtering through stained-glass windows it makes the perfect spot for a decorous breakfast, with espumante (Portuguese sparkling wine) on ice.
It’s worth spending an evening in the hotel’s Lisboeta restaurant. Dishes utilise traditional Portuguese ingredients such as black Iberian pork and black garlic, and paired with a bottle of regional vinho verde it all adds up to a very fair price.
It’s moments away from the Tagus, a minute’s walk from the main shopping street and imposing Rua Augusta arch – locations don’t get much better. With great waterfront bars and restaurants within reach, it’s tempting not to leave the Praça do Comércio area at all, but a walk up the Rua Augusta main artery siphons you off to the understated chic tapas and wine rooms of Alfama (the old town) and its charming boutiques. Everywhere in Lisbon is within walking distance, but the steep hills can be a good excuse to hop on a yellow tram.
Of the 90 bedrooms, those facing towards the imposing square or Sao Jorge Castle offer the best views, but even base-rate rooms are generous in size and clad with the same traditional dark wood as the super swanky Dom Perignon Suite.
It’s safe to say this premium, wood-panelled suite is enormous – the walk-in wardrobe alone was almost as big as my flat. A crystal chandelier in the bathroom ensured bathing was never tedious; a super king bed with a hundred ridiculous pillows all added up to a good night’s sleep. It was just a pity the perma-glow from a bizarre Dom Perignon wall-mount acted as an ominous night-light. And, disappointingly, the champagne cooler was stocked with bottled water.
If you want to feel extra smug about staying in the best suite in the city, try wearing the complimentary black Dom Perignon slippers and dressing gowns down to the indoor pool and spa. While hotels elsewhere in Lisbon tend towards shallow rooftop pools, here the indoor pool is ample and offers grateful shelter from both the harsh summer sun and autumnal downpours.
Whereas the rest of the hotel stays true to the building’s 18th-century design, the spa is a welcome update. That said, a painfully contemporary glass cut-out in the pool means that those taking a stroll across the third floor might get a shock to glance across the atrium and come eye to cheek with a Speedo-clad bather’s bottom half. Sun worshippers can make use of the breezy rooftop terrace connecting to the spa area, as well as the sauna, fitness centre and treatment room.
Pousada de Lisboa, Praça do Comércio, Lisbon, Portugal (00 351 210 407 640; pestana.com).
Doubles start at €210, room only