Hotel Review: Palacio Estoril Golf & Spa Hotel, Estoril in Portugal
Lisbon’s easy-going charm belies the fact that, at one time, Portugal was a maritime superpower, a sea-faring force to be reckoned with. Look beyond that relaxed pace, however, and you’ll see the pride with which the capital wears this history, apparent in striking monuments and, less obviously, the confident stride, straight-backed stance and easy smiles of its inhabitants. With its beautiful architecture, several hills and waterfront position, Lisbon bristles with marvellous views: head to one of the city’s several Miradouros (viewpoints), most of which have cafes and restaurants in which to soak up the ambience whilst taking in the capital’s charms.
Although Lisbon heaves with accommodation choices, the old-school glamourpuss in me can’t resist the allure of Palácio Estoril: it’s a little way out of the centre (about 20 minutes by train) but the honeyed elegance with which it drips more than compensates. My balcony, overlooking the pool, is petite but something about it entices me, while dressing for dinner, to stand on it clad in just a short slip, breathing in the evening air and dreamily watching the nearby casino’s sign reflected tremblingly in the water. I wish I smoked. A cigarette would suit this moment perfectly.
It’s no surprise, then, to learn that the hotel has a significant James Bond connection: not only did Ian Fleming (author and creator of 007) stay here while on a spy mission in 1941 but, during his stay, he was allegedly inspired to write Casino Royale. The hotel – and one of its most long-serving and cherished staff members – also make an appearance alongside George Lazenby in the film version of ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. Before leaving my room, I add an extra flick of eyeliner for good measure.
The hotel bar doesn’t disappoint – once the haunt of spies, it’s all warmth, intimacy and flattering light, with wood panelling, ornate mirrors and low-slung tables. Crisply suited bartenders stand to attention as my heels click over its long, narrow, chessboard floors – and mix my cocktail to perfection.
The hotel’s golf offering is more apparent the next morning at breakfast, when tables of collared men glance appreciatively from behind the rooms’s graceful columns at the women they’re not with, whilst consuming extraordinary amounts of egg and pastries. Who knew golf was so calorie-necessitous? I’m tempted – the spread looks incredible – but still replete from last night’s Four Season’s Grill dinner, during which I feasted in a manner quite unsuited to the impeccable surroundings and service.
With these recent indulgences in mind, I jog from the Palácio Estoril down to the seafront and take a right, to follow the promenade all the way along to Cascais. As well as the gentle breeze off the sea being the ideal counterfoil to the morning’s rising heat, it’s also – as I’ve often thought about running – an incredibly efficient way to sightsee in an immersive way. It’s not so much about any attractions or architecture you might pass – although of course, these are also a bonus – it’s more the joy of watching locals going about their normal lives, walking dogs, pushing prams, setting out cafe tables and, like me, running. A glimpse of Cascais, with its lovely curve of sand and pretty squares, before making the return journey, shows me enough to know that I’ll be back for beach basking and beers before this trip is over.
Later on that day in Lisbon, my quads and I take on the steeply angled streets and steps to Miradoro do Castelo, from which, as well as sweeping views of the capital, the São Jorge Castle can (unsurprisingly!) be seen. It’s too temptingly near to ignore, so I walk another ten minutes or so, past lopsided balconies and tumbling flora, to gain entry to its ancient walls, within which peacocks strut, gnarled trees provide welcome shade, and city vistas unfurl before me. Wandering the streets back down towards Avenida da Liberdade, I see, as well as impressively ‘grammable street art, old women, broad hipped and sturdily shod, clambering determinedly up the city’s steps towards home, stopping to rest every few paces and probably using up whatever puff they’re supposed to be saving with their charming but slightly intimidating bursts of rapid-fire conversation. I’m only slightly shamed to say that they’re made of sterner stuff than I, and the soothing ministrations of staff at the Palácio Estoril’s Banyan Tree spa later that afternoon are more than welcome.
Maybe it’s a lifetime of pastéis de nata from which they get their oomph, I ponder later that night as I sit, out on my balcony again, eating one – okay, two – of the confections which have been left, along with some port, for me during my turn-down service. I’ve had “portuguese tarts” – or approximations of them – before, but these ones are something else – all crisp flaky pastry and tooth-sinkingly sweet custardy filling. Go to Pastéis de Belém, a couple with whom I share my breakfast table the next morning urge me. Established in 1837, the tarts are made to an ancient, secret recipe – I’m sure they mention monks at some point but I’m pretty sure that monks aren’t allowed to bliss out on confectionery are they?! In any case, when I find myself in the neighbourhood, their recommendation – plus the eager throngs of sugar-junkies crowding for the boxes of takeaways – convinces me that I’ll have massive FOMO if I don’t get involved and, to be honest, even if the tarts weren’t amazing (they most assuredly are), I’d be happy to have just wandered through this warren of blue-and-white tiled rooms, and to have inhaled that cinammony scent and the guilty-but-I-don’t-care faces of the people drinking coffee and making their way through platefuls of tarts.
From here, it’s not much of a wander to the iconic Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) and from there, it seems natural to follow the river, taking in the sensuous curve of the newly-built MAAT and beyond that, the 25 de Abril Bridge, with Lisbon’s Christ the Redeemer replica on the opposite bank. There are several pop-ups and bars along the Tagus, leading me to think that this could be a fun area to head back to by night – and just before I reach the Praça do Comércio, I’m struck by the sight of two gnarly old men on the river side of the wall, quietly stacking up rocks into cairns, some of which have been painted with colours and faces, plus messages of thanks to Santo Antonio, patron saint of the city.
This is the largest of Lisbon’s elegant squares; from here you can walk through the ornate Arco da Rua Augusta (for a small fee you can gain access to the top, where more glorious 360 perspectives await you) and up the Rua Augusta. The city’s tram system can help you tackle its hills but I’m happy enough just to travel on foot, up winding cobbled lanes and flights of steps, taking time out occasionally to sit by fountains or on benches to just watch a day in Lisbon unfold around me. That evening, my legs get a welcome reprieve as an elevator glides me up to one of the city’s many rooftop bars for cocktails where, against a backdrop of ambient tunes and the soft, twinkly descent of nightfall, excessively-easy-on-the-eye bar staff prepare orders with an insouciance that falls squarely on the right side of cool. I hark back to the cairn-builders I saw earlier this morning and mentally give Santo Antonio the thumbs up. He’s doing a fine job.
Address: R. Particular à Avenida Biarritz, 2769 504 Estoril, Portugal
Phone: +351 21 464 8000
Sovereign (sovereign.com) offers a seven nights at the five star Palacio Estoril, on a B&B basis, from £949 per person – saving up to £263 per couple. The package includes one free night’s stay, private resort transfers, and return flights from London Heathrow with TAP Portugal. Based on departures 23 October 2017. TAP Portugal flies direct from various UK airports to Lisbon up to 12 times daily.