Your Portuguese Hotel Style

Boutique? Pousada? Resort? How to pick the best hotels in Portugal for your style, mood, and travel needs.

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In principle, finding hotels in Portugal is not that complicated.  You start by choosing the location, and then narrow down the options to get the most amenities for your budget. 
But what if you did this in reverse? If you start by figuring out what amenities really matter to you – including some you might not have considered before –  you could end up in a slightly different, though unexpectedly delightful, location than you otherwise would have.
I admit to usually doing this the traditional way.  Sure, I’ll begin with a broad search: “hotels in Algarve” or the Lisbon Metropolitan Area (OK fine, that’s a lie. I only stay in Baixa) or Northern Portugal.  Then, I get more specific from there.  But recently I’ve realized that I’m missing out on a lot of interesting options for places I could stay, which of course is directly related to the area of the country a particular hotel is located in, meaning I’m also potentially missing out on a lot of interesting geography.
Furthermore, relying on the so-called “star system” of hotel ratings isn’t much help.  There is no internationally recognized classification, and so many organizations and publications have their own ratings that it’s difficult to tell which one is the most useful.  The Portuguese government agency Turismo de Portugal does maintain a domestic star system, but it’s not much of an improvement: supposedly five-star hotels are often rated poorly by guests in online platforms like Trip Advisor.
In the service of helping you not to miss out on anything interesting either, I thought it would be helpful to write a post on how to pick hotels in Portugal, and thereby get to know the country better, in exactly this reverse order: hotel type first, location second.  Below, I classify Portuguese hotels into five general categories, with a snippet about the traveler profile most likely to identify with each, based on a completely unscientific set of social stereotypes I’ve curated over the years.  Accommodations for you to check out follow. 
Before I go on, a word about Airbnb. 
I won’t be talking about Airbnb, or platforms like it, because I have mixed feelings about the whole “homestay” enterprise. 
On the one hand, I have generally been disappointed by the quality of the Airbnbs I have stayed at in Portugal – and elsewhere, too.  They are almost universally more beaten up than their online pictures suggest, and with fewer amenities than even a basic hotel, unless we’re talking about a property specifically marketed as luxury.  Furthermore, nowadays many owners hire property management companies, and if you feel like just a credit card at a chain hotel, you’ll feel the same at many managed Airbnbs, where the most one-on-one communication you’ll have is with a numeric keypad to enter the apartment. 
On the other hand, for friend groups or families, Airbnbs are a convenient way to stay at the same location and have a place to unwind in the evenings, so I understand their appeal. But when you factor in the grocery costs, the cleaning products you end up buying, and all the cleaning you end up doing – usually there is weekly but not daily housekeeping, unless you pay extra for it – I often find that I don’t quite get as much bang for my buck at an Airbnb than in a hotel, especially as a single parent with young children.  (This is all to say nothing of the impact Airbnbs may have on the local real estate market, which I discuss in my Portugal Real Estate Watch post.)
With that out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks.  What type of Portuguese hotel style best fits your personality or trip planning mood?

Lux Modern

You’re a fan of “clean” design, as every Portuguese architect and contractor I’ve ever talked to calls it.  Lots of white and beige, with a tasteful accent piece in a jaunty taupe.  Dinner should involve multiple courses and your server must liberally pepper the conversation with the words plating, reduction, and emulsified.  Despite what your favorite podcast hosts recommend, you are not genuinely interested in “experimenting” when it comes to a hotel.   
An upscale chain like the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon will fit the bill. One of the most, if not the most, expensive hotels in Portugal, this Four Seasons has got you covered for luxury.  You’ll also get your Michelin star craving satisfied at their restaurant, Cura.  (Afterwards, I would gently suggest branching out to something Beyond Michelin Stars in Lisbon.)
You might also like the Six Senses Douro Valley, part of the upscale Six Senses chain of hotels and spas.  This restored 19th century manor will soothe your soul while also serving as a convenient home base for wine tourism in the incredible Douro Valley. 

Lux Historic/Boutique

White and beige are well and good, but you want to see some distressed wood.  Extra points if it’s actually old.  You want the hotel to look a little different but you still have expectations: it needs to feel like you’re staying some place special, and that means a doting concierge who can recommend something not in your Fodor’s guide, and turn down services with a fair-trade chocolate on your pillow.
Try the Hotel Vermelho in the Alentejo village of Melides.  The word vermelho means red in Portuguese, and we would expect nothing less from the first hotel opened by stiletto designer Christian Louboutin. Portuguese traditional meets just-shy-of-over-the-top luxury.  
You might also like The Yeatman in Porto.  Widely regarded as the best hotel in the city, The Yeatman is actually located across the river in Gaia, but with spectacular views of Porto.  The hotel forms part of a Port wine family dynasty, and its signature restaurant boasts two Michelin stars.
If you want to go a little more historical, you might also consider a stay in a pousada, a category of traditional, upscale hotels once owned by the Portuguese government – many are in former palaces and monasteries – now owned by the private Pestana Group of hotels. Another option to check out are refurbished Portuguese manor houses, casas senhoriais or solares.

City Center Convenient

You want the best thing you can afford near the center of Lisbon or Porto, where you can walk out of the lobby and immediately point Google Maps to somewhere better than your hotel.  Just open your favor hotel aggregator – Expedia, Booking, etc. – and search according to the map and filter by price like you normally do.  Honestly, this post isn’t really for you because you don’t care about The Experience™ of your hotel, but I don’t want anyone to feel left out. 
You’ll be happy at a mid-level chain like the Sofitel in Lisbon or the Sheraton in Porto.  If you’re on a budget – or really, really don’t care about your lodgings – the French hotel chain Ibis is all over the country, with bare bones but clean rooms.

Resort – Urban/Semi-Urban

You want to feel like you’re Getting Away From It All, but you still want “it all” to be a short drive away –  or even better yet, walkable.  A dash of nature, but a dollop of amenities: pool bar, lots of restaurant options nearby, and *of course* you’re going to use the bathrobe after taking a bath with all the designer personal care products the hotel put in your bathroom that you wouldn’t normally have time to use.
Resorts in the Vila Moura area, which has a marina lined by shops and restaurants, are right up your alley.  (Vila Moura is also perfect for families.)  Try the Tivoli, which faces the marina and has beach access on the other side.  Pine Cliffs Resort in Albufeira is another option with plenty of city life nearby, but if you want to really splurge, Vila Vita Parc is one of the best hotels in the Algarve.  It’s slightly less urban, but with more than five dining options on-site, including the Michelin-starred Ocean – where I was lucky enough to spend my 40th birthday – you will feel like you’re in your own microcosm.

Resort – Full-on Rural

You are one of those rare individuals who can claim that you didn’t answer a call or text because “my phone was on vibrate” and it’s actually true.  A day wondering around a wildlife preserve, followed by a wine tasting and dinner on the terrace back at the hotel, is the peak of vacation experience.  You feel like you can really get to know a place via its flora and fauna – and not ironically.  But you’re not “glamping” for the love of God. 
You would enjoy partaking of turismo rural, or rural tourism, in Portugal, which is a new and rapidly expanding segment of the Portuguese travel industry.  One of the best areas of the country to feel like you’re in the middle of a beautiful nowhere is the Alentejo, so have a look at São Lourenço do Barrocal.  Located on an herdade, or estate, and surrounded by vineyards and horses, you can enjoy Alentejo cuisine, spa, and a whole lot of doing nothing.  While you’re there, you can visit the nearby Herdade do Esporão, the main estate of the winemaker Esporão, and eat at their restaurant, awarded not just a regular Michelin star but also a “green” Michelin star for their environmental stewardship.  Esporão is part of a movement towards sustainable winemaking in the Alentejo, and I review some of their delicious wines here
Eco resorts are still somewhat new to Portugal, but you might also like Areias do Seixo, a boho chic, eco-friendly resort in Santa Cruz on the “silver coast” between Porto and Lisbon. Areias do Seixo sits along the dunes of a protected wildlife area, with geothermal heating/cooling to make you feel suitably sustainable.
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