Rupert Parker enjoys the luxury of this stunning hotel in Portugal’s capital and takes a city tour with a difference.
I don’t suppose it was my magnetic personality playing havoc with the key cards at the Four Seasons, but I did find myself locked out of my room a couple of times. No problem, reception simply gave me a bundle of cards to provide for any number of eventualities and, of course, it didn’t happen again. I had a spacious room on the 10th floor, with large balcony, overlooking the park and, on arrival, there was a small bottle of port, some cakes and fresh flowers to welcome me.
Add a king sized bed, large sofa, a marble bathroom with l’Occitane toiletries and you can imagine the kind of luxury on offer. You get both a walk-in shower and a bath, and the tub fills so quickly that there’s danger of causing a flood if you don’t pay attention. In the room, I particularly liked the USB sockets for charging phones and laptops which meant I didn’t have to rummage in my case looking for an adapter. Oh and there was the personal espresso machine which gave me my fix of coffee, morning and night.
The hotel was built in the late 1950’s when the Portuguese dictatorship decided to show the world that it too could offer first class hospitality. The richest ten families were encouraged to invest in this symbol of national pride and it opened in 1959, as the Hotel Ritz, seven years after the start of construction. Designed to be a showcase of Portuguese materials and craftsmanship, the walls were lined with specially commissioned artworks from the best painters in Portugal. These are still there and an iPhone app will guide you round the best of them.
Locals still call it the Ritz Hotel, but it was taken over by the Four Seasons group and entirely refurbished. It’s not much more than a large concrete box on the outside, but inside, all is spacious, furnished not just with paintings, but sculptures, ceramics, murals and tapestries all commissioned at the same time. Huge flower displays prevent it feeling like some massive art gallery and the corridors that connect the 282 rooms are wide enough to accommodate two cars driving in different directions.
The Varanda restaurant doesn’t have a Michelin star but it feels like it should. On the night I was there, it wasn’t too busy, so the chef created a tasting menu for me of the day’s best produce. Of course, starting with a glass of champagne never hurts, and there was a different wine with each course. Fish was very much in evidence – there was an amuse bouche of stone bass, followed by chunks of octopus on turnip greens, with salsa and pearl onions.
Main course was cataplana, a Portuguese version of bouillabaisse, with brill, grouper, clams, prawns and lobster in an extremely tasty bisque. I also did sample a couple of slices of suckling pig, before deciding I’d eaten enough. If you don’t fancy dining at this level, then, at lunchtime, a sushi chef prepares dishes in front of you in the bar area. Since the sea is so close, then the fish is as fresh as it can ever be, and it ranked as some of the best I’ve eaten.
I enjoyed my stay at the Four Seasons, and the attention to detail is outstanding. Apparently they employ around 850 staff, roughly three to a room, and it shows, although two people opening the entrance doors seemed a bit much. My only complaint? The hotel is situated just above the Marquês de Pombal Square, at the top of Avenida da Liberdade, which makes it a bit of hike if you want to visit the old town. However, there’s a good metro service and you can also take a city tour with a difference. Grab a helmet, climb into a motorcycle sidecar, hang on tight and speed round Lisbon’s streets, at ground level – something definitely not for the faint hearted.
More about Rupert
Rupert Parker’s special interest is food and travel, he writes about everything from wilderness adventure to gourmet spa tours. His articles appear, not only in national newspapers and magazines, but also on global websites and appeal to young and old alike. He’s made ground breaking TV series for the BBC, Discovery and National Geographic, among others, and has been nominated for an Emmy. His most recent series for Discovery US was filmed across 5 continents and, despite having over 80 countries under his belt, he’s still hungry for travel. Read his latest adventures on Planet Appetite and follow him on Twitter@planetappetite.