The Intercontinental Hotel Palácio das Cardosas
Most people associate Porto – the second largest city in the Iberian Peninsula – with world famous port wine production, historic buildings and faded Portuguese charm.
But ever since ‘special one’ Jose Mourinho began coaching FC Porto and made them European football stars, the city has had something of a trendy overhaul.
You can almost feel it when you arrive in Porto itself, the city seems to have a spring in its step and city breakers who once flocked to Lisbon are now giving her much-maligned sister city a try.
Intercontinental Hotel And Porto is certainly not resting on her laurels, as part of her bid to keep interest, areas are being spruced and new hotels are popping up.
One of the most iconic new openings is the Intercontinental Palacio das Cardosas, not just because it is a big name in the hotel world, but because it resides in one of the city’s most striking buildings.
Intercontinental Hotel Located in Porto’s Old Town, north of the Duoro river, the hotel is actually an ancient monastery that dates back to the 15th century and sits on one side of the Praça da Liberdade – Freedom or Liberty Square.
The square with its long-standing monument to Portugal’s own Napoleonic defender Dom Pedro IV at its centre, is reminiscent of London’s Trafalgar Square – without the lions and fountains – and similarly acts as a social hub for locals and tourists alike.
The spectacular monastery fell into disrepair in the late 18th century but just about survived the political upheavals that ended the monastic order and was bought at auction to be converted into a private palace by wealthy bourgeois Manuel Cardoso dos Santos.
Unfortunately the 19th century businessman who made his fortune in the then Portuguese colony of Brazil died soon after he purchased the property, and his wife and three daughters inherited the building.
A condition of the original purchase was that the facade of the building remained true to the monks’ original reconstruction plans.
That facade is the very same one which greets guests today 200 years later.
Restored to its former glory by Alex Kravtetz – the architect and interior designer behind London’s Westbury Hotel and the Sheraton in Luxor – the neoclassical frontage of this magnificent 11,000 square metre building stretches for the whole width of the block it majestically occupies.
Large, white-framed floor-to-ceiling windows with green wrought iron balconies decorate the exterior wall which overlooks the square.
After a 30 minute ride from Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport on the city’s three-year-old Metro system, another airport-like revolving door gently ushers my family and I into the hotel’s grand foyer, all marble floors, crystal chandeliers and decorative plaster mouldings on the ceiling.
What a view: The room opens out onto the square
To the left of the entrance the grandest of the chandeliers hangs in the impressive reception area above another ornately patterned marble floor with a majestic star shaped medallion at its centre. This has certainly been designed to impress.
And the emphasis on palatial elegance continues in our room, one of 105. A king-sized bed clad in colour-coordinated bedding and splash cushions dominates the main room and mirror tiles adorn the wall above the fabric-paneled headboard giving a greater feeling of spaciousness with a hint of naughtiness.
Intercontinental Hotel On the wall opposite at the foot of the bed hangs a 42 inch flat screen TV just above a work area that houses a glass table desk and lamp – unlike those hotels which still insist on charging a fortune for the internet, WIFI comes as standard.
While the Italian marble bathroom with a standalone bathtub and walk-in rainforest shower is impressive, I am mainly taken by the view. Framed glass doors open onto a small terrace, providing a monarchical vantage point to take in the historic architecture of the buildings of Liberdade Square.
Intercontinental Hotel But no matter how interesting the view from the room, this UNESCO World Heritage site of a city has more to offer than its celebrated 16th century buildings and architecture.
The hotel’s concierge helps us plan a tour of the local area, providing us with a tailored list of things to do in the historic town. From boat rides down the Douro river and under its famed bridges, a visit to the fantastic Sea Life aquarium which has my three-year-old son engrossed, to a tour of the city’s world famous port wine cellars. And that’s without including the beach.
Beautiful sandy stretches can be found less than a 15 minute car ride away along the opening of the Douro river or in the neighbouring coastal town of Matosinhos.
Porto’s location in the north of the country means that in summer it doesn’t feel the oppressive heat of more popular stops on this peninsula and benefits from a cool North Atlantic Ocean breeze. For those in search of just retail therapy or Porto’s burgeoning nightlife, the directions are simple. Right out of the hotel for the shops, left for the clubs.