Flamingos, salt mines, and a castle. These were just some of the sights we saw from outside our car window as we drove from the Central Algarvean town of Porches to Vila Real de Santo Antonio, a city that lies on the eastern part of Portugal right on the Spanish border.
The area has a relaxed, laidback feel to it; neighbours greet each other as they dance to live music in the town square, there’s a regular antique market by the harbour that attracts collectors and tourists alike, and the sounds of Spanish and Portuguese seamlessly intermingle throughout the city.
After being devastated by the 1755 earthquake and tsunami, the town was rebuilt by the Marques de Pombal in the grid-like design and architecture now known as Pombaline. The Guadiana International Bridge was constructed in 1991 and is responsible for the regular influx of Spanish tourists who come to dine, shop, and enjoy the beaches. Similarly, the bridge makes for easy access to the popular landmarks of southern Spain such as the royal palace of Seville and the Alhambra in Granada.
Standing proudly across the harbour is Grand House Algarve – Relais and Châteaux, a five-star Belle Époque hotel with 28 rooms. The oldest hotel south of the Tagus river, Grand House Algarve was the brainchild of visionary and canned fish entrepreneur Manuel Ramirez.
Together with Swiss architect Ernesto Korrodi, the hotel first opened as the Hotel Guadiana in 1926 and still retains much of the glamour that the roaring 20s is known for. “We wanted to give the grand dame its old charm back,” explains general manager Marita Barth. “So, we thought, what is the 20s? It’s Art Deco. And Portugal is the country of discovery, so we decided to decorate it in a grand, colonial style with the marina and beach in mind. So, we have all the public spaces in 20’s colonial style whilst the rooms have a comfortable, contemporary feel to them.”
True to Barth’s description, our room is flooded with natural light and has a bright, airy feel. The décor is minimal with a white, khaki, and gold colour scheme, with pops of colour coming from the cushions and artwork in the lounge. Throughout our stay, we are surprised with little presents left in our room by the staff; traditional snacks and homemade limoncello, and everyone we meet made an effort to catch up with us and make us feel like we were part of the Grand House family.
Meals are served in the Grand Salon, a colonial-style dining room with a speakeasy-type bar tucked away in one corner. We were welcomed by freshly brewed coffee each morning whilst our evenings were spent enjoying the best of Portuguese land and sea. One of our most memorable meals was a tasting menu we had at the Grand Salon. Standout dishes included sea ravioli with a verbena emulsion and algae, line-caught sea bass with xerém, and bivalve velouté, and octopus with sweet potato and grilled pineapple. Everything was perfectly paired with wines from the Grand Salon Bar and bartender Filipe.
For a more relaxed affair head to Grand Beach Club where the menu has a strong seafood focus with a special tuna selection to pay homage to one of the area’s most prized products. Dishes like clams in the bulhão pato style, flamed coastal shrimps, and The Grand Bruschetta with tuna estupeta on oven-roasted local bread and herb pesto made for light and refreshing meals whilst we enjoyed the view of nearby Spain.
The Eastern Algarve is blessed with excellent weather and water temperatures thanks to its Mediterranean influence. We made sure to take advantage of this by spending many hours at the hotel’s exclusive beach and its own Grand Beach Club, which has an open and inviting vibe. The sound of the waves plays magically with the chilled-out tunes whilst an infinity pool is just waiting to cool you off. The hotel provides complimentary shuttles to both the beach and beach club, situated just a few minutes away, and guests have priority access to the strategically positioned sun loungers.
All guests are provided with a Mobile Butler, a phone that has a built-in system that allows you to order drinks or food, call a shuttle, speak to the staff, or simply find out more about the local area. Every detail has been thought of to ensure guests can stay Covid-safe whilst still experiencing the unique personalised service offered by the Grand House team.
In a nutshell
As we enter another era of the 20s, perhaps we have something to learn from the Grand House team. In order to rise from the ashes of a turbulent and challenging period, maybe we need to look to the things that money can’t buy: time, space, and the feeling of being cared for.
True luxury is about having the ability to take a step out of the day-to-day and enter a bygone era. It’s about pressing pause on things that are out of our control and seeking the elements that make us happy. Who knows where the rest of this decade will take us? But it’s good to know that no matter what, life can still be grand after all.
Address: Av. da República nº 171, 8900-203 Vila Real de Santo António, Portugal
Phone: +351 281 530 290