Hotel Review: The Torel Avantgarde, Porto in Portugal
When a trip to Portugal springs to mind, often the first thought is a seaside trip to the Algarve, or a whirlwind weekend in the vibrant capital of Lisbon. But Porto, a coastal city in the northwest of the country, is fast becoming known as the nation’s second city – and with a growing population of 1.7 million, it also one of the most up-and-coming city break destinations in the whole of Europe. Even so, part of its charm is that it is not yet overrun by tourists like most capital cities are, leaving you free to wander the steep narrow streets and admire the intricately-tiled buildings without having to battle the crowds. Now, Porto is a city where you can explore at your leisure, but it might not always be this way – and, with so many things going for it, from its beautiful architecture and charming riverside eateries and bars, to the flurry of Port wine cellars that line the banks of the Douro, it’s only likely to be a matter of time until the masses cotton onto the draw of this wonderful destination.
Few cityscapes are quite as impressive as Porto’s, with the oldest parts of the city spreading up the steep slopes of the river, a densely-packed hodgepodge of tall, colourful houses and church spires linked by narrow streets and steep alleys, and tucked inconspicuously away on the steep hill of Rua da Restauração, just half a mile from the bustling downtown area of Baixa – is five star boutique hotel, Torel Avantgarde. Serving as our base for two nights for the second leg of our trip, it’s a minimalist and unassuming building from the outside, but within, a whole different world of inspiration and luxury awaits. Here, it is all about the art – a fact that is apparent in every carefully chosen element of this quirky yet beautiful new hotel.
Having opened its doors in September 2017, Hotel Torel Avantgarde is just eleven months into its journey, but has fast established itself as one of the most sought-after luxury hotels in the city – and not without good reason. Created in collaboration with Portuguese artists Jorge Cuval, Frederico Draw, Daniel Eime and Paulo Neves, inspiration has been taken from the worlds of plastic arts, literature, science, music – and of course, art and design – from the likes of Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacometti to Amadeo De Souza-Cardoso and Nina Simone. Interior designer, Isabel Sa Nougueiro can be thanked for the décor throughout the hotel which fuses the best of Portugal with modern art and design.
Everything at the Torel Avantgarde is handmade here in Portugal – from the beautiful barstools that line the cosy breakfast area, to the incredibly comfortable beds that grace each bedroom. This is a place where quality prevails, and the result is an opulent yet characterful feel.
Although art plays a starring role in this impressive boutique establishment, it’s only when you head upstairs to the rooms that its true level of impact is revealed, with quirky and distinctive canvases lining the stairwell and the door of each suite inscribed with the name of an influential artist. Shown into the stunning Coco Chanel Suite, we found ourselves pausing in awe to take in the incredible river views that lay before us. The hotel’s location high on a hill certainly comes with its advantages, and with floor-to ceiling windows and a private balcony, you could sit here and watch the world go by for hours. And, arriving on a rainy afternoon, that’s exactly what we did – the piece-de-resistance of the Coco Chanel Suite is its enormous bath tub right in the window of the bedroom, and we couldn’t wait to fill it and submerge ourselves with a glass of port wine or two.
Each of the 47 rooms at the hotel are given their own unique identity, named after famous artists and decorated accordingly. The Coco Chanel Suite feels distinctly luxurious in every way, with ambient lighting softly highlighting the Coco Chanel canvas and mannequin that can be found in the dressing room, and providing a warm and inviting atmosphere in which to relax, unwind and rest.
That afternoon, I was invited down to the hotel’s Balsamea spa – a quiet and dimly lit affair where softly spoken therapists are on hand to see to your every need. When the weather is not on your side in Porto, how better to while away a rainy afternoon than enjoying a relaxing massage? Boasting its own steam room and sauna facilities, you can prolong your zen experience for as long as you like, and I must admit, I didn’t want mine to end. After a long morning wandering the steep slopes of the city, it was a thoroughly blissful experience – and a must if ever you find yourself visiting the Torel Avantgarde.
Of course, the hotel caters to all weather eventualities when it comes to R&R, and on warmer days, the long, rectangular outdoor pool with its comfortable sun loungers is a great place to start the morning. Wake up with a few laps, then dry off in the pleasant Porto sunshine – one of the simple pleasures of a Portuguese summer, but at the Torel Avantgarde, luxury comes as part of the package.
After a thoroughly relaxing afternoon unwinding between the spa and our utterly to-die for suite, all that lounging had made sure we had worked up an appetite, and with the evening ahead of us, we made our way downstairs to acquaint ourselves a little better with the bar and restaurant areas. It was then that we had the pleasure of stumbling across the show-stopping ‘Flower Room’ – a beautiful and vibrant lounge area which boasts a magical curtain of colourful wisteria-like flowers hanging from the ceiling – covering it entirely from corner to corner. They call this hotel ‘Avantgarde’ for a reason, and this is yet another work of art – a feature you’re unlikely to forget, and a room I found myself looking for any excuse to return to for the duration of our stay. It’s a great place to sit back and read a book, or to plan the day ahead – and that’s exactly what we did each morning after breakfast, in no rush to leave.
The great news for hungry guests is that the Torel Avantgarde is home to its very own restaurant, offering spectacular views over the Douro River and the beautiful town of Vila Nova de Gaia along its banks as you dine. Digby serves up a range of tasty dishes in a relaxed yet sophisticated setting, with ambient lighting creating an intimate mood that is perfect for couples to enjoy a quiet evening together, as well as for larger groups. Here, the focus is on Portuguese gastronomy with a contemporary twist, fusing quality national ingredients with mouth-watering flavours to create a menu that is both memorable and unique.
After dinner, guests can enjoy cocktails or a nightcap in the adjoining bar – which also doubles as the breakfast area in the mornings, where an extensive buffet of fruits, cheeses, meats, breads and more is served up until late.
Digby is in a privileged position in that it boasts two adjoining terraces, so guests can enjoy a leisurely meal outdoors, morning, noon and night. It’s really quite something to soak up the sunshine and city views over breakfast – the perfect way to start your day if you’re staying at this remarkable hotel.
IN A NUTSHELL:
Fusing art and culture with all out luxury, Torel Avantgarde promises guests a truly inspiring stay – with luxury infused into every element of this uniquely opulent hotel. This is the place to stay if you want to entirely immerse yourself in everything that is Porto, and is the perfect base from which to explore this up-and-coming and entirely charming city. Expect beautiful yet quirky décor, lavish touches and impeccable service – it’s a hotel you’ll want to return to again and again.
Address: R. da Restauração, 336, Porto 4050-501 / +351 22 011 0082