Words by Peter da Silva
As soon as you enter the Hotel Britania in the heart of Lisbon, you feel you have stepped back in time to the luxurious 1940s.
Located just off one of Europe’s chicest avenues, the Avenida da Liberdade, the award-winning Art Deco property, spread over five floors, is truly unique and is the perfect hotel for those seeking a glamorous escape. Home to 33 large bedrooms and suites, the hotel also offers a sophisticated bar open throughout the day and a dedicated concierge desk.
The first thing guests are wowed by is the front door – alerting them to the fact that they have arrived in style, as the hotel invites guests to make an entrance through the heavy iron and glass doors which are designed in a curved 1940s style. Once inside the lobby and main hall you will feel instantly immersed in luxury. Admire the fresco paintings in reception and spend time either at check in or over a Martini later admiring the plaster moulding, the marble and wooden floors, all of which have been exquisitely restored.
This is a hotel for fans of Art Deco and design, and while it does feature Wi-Fi throughout, it is a hotel that respects the past while facing the future as well. The hotel was built and inaugurated during the second world war when Portugal was a neutral country, and this meant the clients at the time were mainly foreign diplomats. This hotel is well versed in welcoming international guests, and Omar Shariff was known to have stayed at the hotel where he played Bridge.
Take one of the vintage elevators to your bedroom and, once you have laid eyes on it, you may never want to leave. The Hotel Britania has soul, and each bedroom has been individually designed. All bedrooms feature original floors made in 1944 from cork mosaic whilst the bathrooms are designed with marble throughout and feature Molton Brown amenities. The furniture in each room is bespoke and was designed specifically for each bedroom and this original furniture has been carefully restored to continue the Art Deco excellence to this day. The décor in the bedrooms also include photographs and newspaper articles from the time when the hotel was opened and give you a window into its past.
Breakfast is a continental offering with a wide variety of pastries including the famous Portuguese custard tarts. There are various warm options too and service is impeccable.
The hotel describes the city of Lisbon as ‘Europe’s finest all-season outdoor capital’ and our concierge offered up some ideas on year-round outdoor activities. All are either a short walk or taxi ride away and worth doing on any break. These include:
– Parque Eduardo VII, which offers the most impressive views of the centre of Lisbon. From this manicured park, visitors enjoy views of the river and all of the Avenida da Liberdade. At the very top sits the Amalia Rodrigues Garden where visitors can enjoy a post walk drink on the Linha D’Agua terrace.
– A riverside walk to Lisbon’s coolest and modern art gallery MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) takes in a large part of the pedestrianised riverfront before arriving at the museum which covers an area of 38,000 sq. metres.
– Slightly further away, a visit to the first botanical garden ever created in Portugal dating back to 1768, is worth the visit. Jardim Botânico da Ajuda showcases over 5,000 species of plants with magical views of the river in the distance. These are some of Portugal’s finest gardens.
– Head to the beaches which surround the city. The stretch from Lisbon to Cascais is served by frequent trains, which get there in just 25 minutes, and on the other side of the river, reached by car is the Costa da Caparica, a vast beach of golden sand with plenty of space and alfresco dining spots.
– Cross the famous Ponte 25 de Abril bridge which extends for 2.2km by taxi and climb the famous Cristo-Rei statue for stunning, front row uninterrupted views of Lisbon from above, then enjoy a meal by the river facing Lisbon.
– Jardim da Estrela is located in the heart of Lisbon and is the ideal place to take a book. Enjoy a drink at one of the kiosks before exploring the jacarandas, dragon trees, araucarias and a pond home to ducks and geese. The park gently fills with locals as it sits by various neighbourhoods and peacocks also call this park home.
– The Tapada das Necessidades is one of the best parks in Lisbon to read, enjoy a picnic or take in some sunshine. The extensive grassy areas are surrounded by exotic plants, statues and abandoned historic buildings. This was once Queen Maria II’s home, and it is centrally located.
– Take the metro to Oriente station and walk by the river exploring ‘new’ Lisbon at the Parque das Nações which was regenerated for the 1998 World Expo. There are various gardens to visit and unique buildings including Álvaro Siza Vieira’s epic award-winning Pavilhão de Portugal featuring a huge concrete roof weighing 1,400 tonnes.
– Discover Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood Alfama, to the sound of fado. This is Lisbon’s most traditional neighbourhood with cobbled, tight alleys across various inclines all with rewarding views of old Lisbon. There are many traditional restaurants to experience, and this setting also inspired Madonna during her Lisbon stay and recent album.
– Stroll to a Miradouro and enjoy a sunset view. Lisbon is full of viewpoints across its hills and one of the most famous is Miradouro de S. Pedro de Alcântara, an ideal point of discovery of the city facing the castle and looking down on Avenida da Liberdade.
After all that exploring you long to return to the air-conditioned hotel and before doing anything else, unwind with a cocktail in the Imperio Bar. If you happen to have hired a car, the hotel offers a garage and parking for its guests.
In a nutshell
The Britania Hotel has the most impeccable manners and one can imagine that a James Bond like figure would quite easily rub shoulders with you at the bar. This is the ultimate Art Deco hotel for exploring one of Europe’s liveliest and sunniest cities. 1940s style and elegance never looked so alive.