Portugal is climbing the league of our favourite holiday destinations. This year, the country is set to surpass 2019’s number of UK visitors. Those who want to swerve fellow Britons should plan a visit out of season.
Let our pick of lost-in-time hotels guide you to a destination, such as the beaches of the north or the cities of Coimbra or Lisbon. Each option comes with a back story, from a converted convent that once hosted Henry Kissinger to an Art Deco property where Omar Shariff played bridge.
Pousada Viana do Castelo, northern Portugal
The Belle Epoque Pousada Viana do Castelo crowns Monte de Santa Luzia, a 228-metre-high hill above the city of Viana. Here, the lifting of a morning’s mist reveals the Temple of Santa Luzia, while far below the Lima River flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
The hotel’s generously proportioned reception and guest rooms reflect the grand scale of the 1900s. And among its collection are striking tapestries by Portuguese Modernist artist Almada Negreiros.
It is a 15-minute drive or an hour’s walk to Viana do Castelo, from which Port wine was once shipped to northern Europe, while Ponte de Lima is 35 minutes by car. Thought to be the oldest town in Portugal, the latter has a bridge that is included on the Camino de Santiago. A portion of its arches are Roman while a larger section is medieval.
Viana can be reached by train from Porto in less than an hour and a half. Comboios De Portugal and Renfe run services from Porto – Campanha.
Pousadas has doubles from €108 (£94) for a minimum two-night stay, pousadas.pt/pt/hotel/pousada-viana
Palace Hotel do Buçaco, Centro Region
The deliciously eccentric Palace Hotel do Buçaco sits in the hilly Buçaco National Park, 45 minutes’ drive from Coimbra. When it was a convent, Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, rested here after winning the Battle of Buçaco. Then, in the late 19th century, a castle was commissioned by King Charles I of Portugal who wanted to create a new version of Lisbon’s Belem Tower. It became a hotel in 1917.
An extravagant Neo-Manueline (Portugal’s Age of Discovery-inspired architectural style) folly of carved stone, woodwork and azulejos panels, the palace is surrounded by gardens and Buçaco National Forest. The forest was planted by Discalced Carmelites, an order of monks, in the 17th century and includes more than 250 species of trees and shrubs.
The hotel is a seven-minute drive from the spa town of Luso and 45 minutes from the riverside city of Coimbra.
Doubles from €145 a night, almeidahotels.pt/pt/hotel-bussaco-em-coimbra/
Vintage Hotel Parque do Rio, Minho
Step back in time at the perfectly preserved 1970s Hotel Parque do Rio. The hotel was developed around the Piscina do Rio, which was designed and built by architect Julio Oliveira in the 60s.
Period details are still intact, including wooden handrails, geometric tiles, light fittings and telephones. This creates a familiar feel for guests who have seen the 2023 French-Portuguese film Mal Viver, which was shot at the hotel. The saltwater swimming pool, set in a shell-shaped lawn and sheltered by pines, serves as a backdrop for the story of three generations of women running hotel.
The property is an eight-minute walk from Ofir beach where sand dunes and Atlantic winds are ideal for kite flying, or winter walks.
In the winter, Vintage Hotel Parque do Rio is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with rooms available from €70, parquedorio.pt
Hotel Astoria, Coimbra, Centro Region
The Astoria is an Art Nouveau-Art Déco family-run hotel on the main train line between Lisbon and Porto. Original features from the 1920s include a marbled lobby complete with wooden elevator.
It is based on the Mondego River in Coimbra, the home of Portugal’s oldest university. Students in black cloaks throng a maze of narrow streets leading up to the university buildings, including a baroque library. Other Coimbra pleasures include tascas (traditional restaurants), Fado bars and the botanic garden.
Doubles from €65 a night, almeidahotels.pt/en/hotel-astoria-in-coimbra
Hotel Britania Art Deco, Lisbon
Designed by Portuguese architect Cassiano Branco and opened in 1944, Hotel Império, as it was previously known, became a favourite of actors and writers. Spanish actress and dancer Carmen Sevilla, and Brazilian poet and playwright Vinicius de Moraes, were once frequent guests while Omar Shariff visited for games of bridge.
It retains its Art Deco style with marble columns and chandeliers in the lobby and the curved mahogany of Império Bar.
Bedrooms also have original Art Deco touches, such as cork floors and marble bathrooms. A tiny, time-warp barbershop now functions as a museum.
Hotel Britania is in Lisbon’s city centre on a quiet street behind Avenida da Liberdade.
Doubles from €118, lisbonheritagehotels.com/hotel-britania