When traveling, you sometimes find great places and other times, they find you. That’s what happened late last year when a small, newly open apartment hotel in Lisbon’s district of Graça got in touch to invite me to stay with them if I’d ever be in the neighbourhood. By some wonderful coincidence I was in fact going to be in Lisbon just 2 weeks later and was still looking for accommodation during my last 4 days. It was a match made in heaven – serendipity.

To be honest, at first I didn’t think so at all. I simply figured this would be a pretty nice little place to stay and frankly I had no expectation beyond that. But as soon as we pulled up to this enchanting building in a small street close to Lisbon’s famous Graça district (the old town) I realised we found a slice of paradise.

Antonio, one of the 3 friends that started Dona Apartments together, came to greet us, showed us the private parking lot and led us into the house, past a stunning garden with lush orange trees, a perfect-sized pool and some inviting sofas surrounding a little fireplace. It was an instant sell. I felt like we had walked into an editorial feature from AD magazine and the inside didn’t feel much different. The entire house has brand new wooden floors which are emanating that incredible smell wood has when it’s not overworked beyond recognition. Each floor was bright from the various skylights and huge pot plants creating an urban jungle vibe that I love at my own place back home as well. The rooms are all studios and one-bedroom as well as one two-bedroom apartments, complete with a fully equipped kitchen and a small balcony.

When we arrived the sun shone through the trees in the garden, creating the most beautiful light, every photographers ultimate source of joy. I just couldn’t put my camera down.

Even though it’s all apartments on these 3 floors (4 on each one), the vibe was so homely I didn’t bother locking my room or even closing the door. It was easy to meet the other people staying here, because the place just has that vibe of staying with friends. Owners Antonio, Rio and Hugo are always up for a chat, happy to give tips on places to see and check out without being overbearing or trying too hard. Just 3 totally eye-level guys who wanted to ditch their corporate careers for something they really could pour their heart and soul into.

Rui Vinagre is the architect in the trio and responsible for the overall look of the boutique hotel. Antonio Polena is a finance guy and Hugo Diogo and engineer. All three of the childhood friends have shifted gears in their careers to really focus on this special project: DONA. Their goal was to create a place that would feel authentic, central and could provide guests with a unique experience. Almost all of the furniture was designed and built to fit the walls they fill and the owners always wanted to create a place that they would want to live in themselves.

Staying here it was easy to tell how much love had been poured into every room and the energy of the house reflects it. We slept like babies and loved coming home every evening after a day of exploring Lisbon.

The hotel’s immediate neighborhood is Graça, my personal favorite in Lisbon which simply oozes authenticity and feels very local and not as swamped with tourists as some of the other more central parts of the Portuguese capitol. If you would like to experience the real Portugal, this is your hood. Or as Antonio put it: “The light, the colors, the smells are synonymous with joy, associated with the tranquility and security of your life.” Well, there you have it.

Within just a few minutes walk from the hotel you can find two of Lisbon’s greatest viewpoints which simply never get old. Grab a Galão (portugese coffee with milk) and a Pastel de Nata (delicious pastry) from the coffeeshop and sit on one of the benches, taking in the expanding beauty of Lisbon.

Another Must-Do is just a few minutes walk away: the Feira da Ladra market, the most famous and old street market in the city, where one can find just about anything. Finally, Graça is one of the main stops of the infamous 28 tram, a true staple on any Lisbon bucket list which just so happens to connect you beautifully to all the major hotspots of the city.

We loved staying here and I personally can’t wait to be back in the summer when I will most definitely spend countless hours in the gorgeous garden, swimming laps in the hotel pool and making friends with the other guests over an evening barbecue.

Disclaimer: We were kindly invited to 4 complimentary nights at Dona Apartments. All opinions expressed naturally are my own.