“When I grow up, I’m going to be a princess and live in a big palace…” a little girl once said to a curious enquirer.
Twenty-five years later, in November 2013, that little girl had grown up and her wish was granted in Porto, Portugal, of all places. At least it was granted for three nights.
But those three nights were enough thanks to the luxury, grandeur and frankly kick-ass amazing elegance I was surrounded by.
A short distance down the Douro River from Porto’s Old Town, Palácio do Freixo (the palace of Freixo) was designed by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni who was something of a male Travelette himself travelling across Southern Europe before making Porto his borrowed home. Palácio do Freixo is just one of the many legacies he left on the landscape with his elaborate Baroque buildings. Completed in 1750 and protected by National Monument status since 1910, the building has been lovingly preserved and now serves as a luxurious hotel of 87 rooms which can be found in the beautifully tall and pink old grinding mill next door.
We were shown to our room by the smart, dark-haired man who’d checked us in with a warm smile. As we got a short tour of the palace – ooh-ing and ah-ing at ceiling frescos, mirrored walls and far too comfortable looking sofas – he greeted other guests, hopping from Spanish to Portuguese to English again. If I hadn’t have had my boyfriend beside me I would have been inclined to think this could have been a contender for my very own Prince Charming…
“Your room has a view of the palace and the river…” My coulda-woulda-shoulda Portuguese Prince Charming explained before leaving us to settle in to our spacious room.
I stood for a few seconds at one window admiring the afternoon sun glistening on the wide Douro waters and decided that this was definitely my favourite view, but when I turned to then see the blue sky behind the palace’s turrets I found myself changing my mind. I thought about lying on the bed and drifting in to a daydream that would involve me in a long dress with a hundred petticoats taking a tour of the neat river front gardens, but my boyfriend had other ideas.
“Come on! Let’s go for a bike ride!” Hmm… not exactly what I had in mind and definitely not exactly a petticoat-friendly activity.
But I couldn’t deny that blue sky was too tempting to ignore and within minutes Reception had organised two bikes for us to hire for the day (from North Road for 12.50 Euros for 24 hours). Prince Charming gave us clear directions, we put our sunglasses on and within minutes we were riding along the waterfront pavement that takes you into Porto’s World Heritage Site. A few minutes after that and we’re cycling towards the sea, mesmerised by a falling sun and crashing waves of the Atlantic.
The ease with which we hired bikes was just one example of how Prince Charming was not alone; all the staff at Palácio do Freixo were charming and helpful. I pestered one man for food recommendations – “We want the best chicken in Porto!” – and he umm-ed and ahh-ed a little before drawing a small circle on my tourist map.
“I should tell you that this place is not very smart… ” He looked a little nervous. “It will be full of local people…”
“Perfect!” I said. And he was right. We stuck out like two saddle-sore tourists and had to order our meal through an elaborate display of pointing, smiling and nodding. But the chicken was tender and tasty.
On our second and third day the blue sky had faded into a permanent rain cloud depositing a steady drizzle on our plans to see more on our bikes, but the hotel’s free shuttle bus into the town centre still meant I got to see the parts of Porto I wanted to. (For some great photos from Porto see Lorna’s post Discovering Porto.)
One of the reasons for our trip to Porto was to catch up on sleep and switch off our computers, at least for an afternoon or two. And we did. Thanks to the indoor pool, sauna and steam room we enjoyed a healthy amount of lazing around and thanks to industrial strength blackout curtains we slept in far too late, though obviously not too late to miss breakfast.
Ah yes, the food. Have I mentioned that yet? Each morning we challenged each other to how many rounds of the breakfast buffet we could do (I won 2-1) and we were very glad we chose to have dinner in the hotel restaurant one night. With a sumptuous interior and super polite serving staff we were very surprised to learn that the hotel’s 3-course menu was a mere 20 Euros per person (and the restaurant is open to non-guests) though we weren’t surprised by the extensive port collection in the bar, a selection of which helped us sleep that night!
I’m no expert when it comes to hotels though I’ve stayed in many, but I often find when a hotel is instantly grand thanks to its external appearance there is always the risk that the inside lacks the same beauty, elegance and yes, charm. Well, I’m happy to report that this was not the case with the Palácio do Freixo. In fact, this princess is looking forward to returning to Porto and Palácio do Freixo in the summer months and with a much bigger suitcase because I have an unfinished daydream about walking in the palace’s gardens wearing a long dress atop one hundred petticoats.Tweet