The Douro's Senses

2017-06-29

Nestled on the left bank of the river Douro, opposite the town of Régua, sits the old Quinta do Vale Abraão, a baroque manor house with a discreet nod to the French chateau. A decade ago it was turned into an hotel, which has been managed since 2015 by the Six Senses chain. The landscape is unmistakeably Douro, and the architecture of the place, cascading terraces and all, is in tune with the better Portuguese country estates. Inside however, you could be anywhere. Anywhere nice of course, as the interiors have been designed by the reigning queen of sensible minimalism, the Irish-American Clodagh. But anywhere still: it’s unapologetically contemporary without the slightest hint of 18th century Portuguese interiors.

Taking advantage of the steep terrain, guests enter through the top floor, dine and wine at the 3rd floor and pamper themselves below. The rooms are in between, and quite comfortable and lofty they are, with open plan bathrooms, large lounging areas, sensible lighting and beautiful, though a bit narrow views. And speaking of which, the gardens are stunning. Right next to the pool there’s an organic garden which the hotel’s kitchen actually uses. Around, lush lawns punctuated with century old trees, with the river as a constant backdrop lead us to a whimsical forest.

There’s a wine bar, or if I may put it more correctly, a wine library, which actually doubles as a library, and a proper bar, complete with pool table. The bartender mixed me a pretty decent Bloody Mary before dinner, right after a crash course in port wine by one of the house’s very competent sommeliers João Koeler.

Dinner was served in the contemporary rustic restaurant, featuring a scenographic kitchen in the first room, and a beautiful panel of mismatched 18th century tiles in the larger salon. Joana van Zeller, the very charming hotel’s PR, joined me for dinner, and we just let ourselves go through a nice ride down the rather extensive menu and the wine list. The food does the interior design justice, and traditional local fare sits nicely along oriental fusion and international standards. My choice of smoked (and actually still smoking) charcuterie and the local dry aged beef tataki were delivered with a generous side of theatricality. The hotel commissioned the kitchen to Ljubomir Stanisik (see Comporta is Sublime), and I fear some authenticity might have been compromised in an effort to, understandably, cater to a diverse crowd of well healed visitors. But there’s a Josper in the kitchen, and the chef likes to show off his prowess operating its grill and backing power applied to local traditional fare, such as roasted cod fish or grilled octopus. You should definitely go for it.

Breakfast the next day was on par with the latest tendencies of five-star breakfasting: 7 different types of milk, of which just 3 are actually milk based, a full blown egg station, and the ever larger assortment of exotic fruit salads, yogurt combinations, granolas, cheeses and cold cuts, these last two meriting their own dedicated room in the buffet. The quality of the bread leaves room for improvement though.

After that it was spa time, and at 2000 sqm for just 100 guests, you know you’re in for a treat. The gym was very comprehensively equipped, which is especially remarkable given the small number of patrons it serves. The large indoor pool, was a tepid anthem to serenity and calm. And the sauna, a show stopping cantilevered room overlooking the trees and the river, was just gorgeous.

Six Senses Douro Valley is the upscale place to stay while visiting Douro and due to its strategic location is a fine gateway to the whole Douro experience. And what it may lack in authenticity and sense of place it more than makes up in the high standard of service and world class level of comfort delivered.

Contacts:
Quinta de Vale Abraão, Samodães,
5100-758 Lamego
Portugal
T +351 254 660 600
Email: reservations-dourovalley@sixsenses.com

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