It seems to me King Carlos 1 knew a thing or two about tourism when he ordered the building of the Vidago Palace Hotel at the turn of the last century. He and many of Europe’s well to do were coming to this special park in northern Portugal an hour or so from Porto to enjoy the magical healing powers of the iron rich mineral water which bubbled out from the underground spring. He wanted a grand hotel to be built here, a royal palace to make his elite visitors feel more at home and properly indulged while they bathed and drank the magical waters.
Sadly, he never lived to see his dream fulfilled, falling under an assassin’s bullet in 1908, but the hotel was opened in 1910, ironically the day after Portugal became a republic, and was an instant hit. For decades, the Vidago Palace Hotel sitting snug within its own 250 acres of prime forest, was a magnet for European aristocracy enjoying the wellness treatments, playing golf on the Mackenzie-Ross designed course and enjoying one of the most luxurious hotels in Europe.
Ultimately, the competition got fiercer and the elite moved on and the hotel limped along, a shadow of her former self until 2010; when after a 4 year care plan of love and attention from her ambitious new owner (a company itself steeped in the water business owning two of Portugal’s most famous brands SuperBock beer and Pedras Salgadas mineral water), the Vidago Palace Hotel rediscovered her mojo and opened her doors once more.
Today, the Vidago Palace Hotel is, without question, a little bit special. A hidden palace of luxury and pampering cocooned within spectacular parkland scenery; the acres of mature leafy trees, the beautiful lakes and trails surrounded by the rolling Iberian hills of Chaves, just a stone’s throw from Spain. The palace itself, a stunning salmon-pink study in Belle Époque, sits proudly at the end of a quite wonderful tree lined drive, the drama gradually unfolding as you get closer, taking in the fabulous fountain and lavishly grand stone steps, history simply oozing from every stone. They say first impressions last, and when your first impression makes you breathless with excitement, it doesn’t get much better than that. Still, I silently hope it all lives up to the billing.
The interior is elegant and classically authentic; high ornate ceilings, varnished wood panels and flooring, a sweeping double sided staircase and lots of nooks, crannies and corridors. One leads off to the majestic former ballroom, once the home of lavish parties of the well heeled, but now the Salao Nobre gourmet dining room. It’s like being in a scene from Titanic, a gorgeous snapshot of Edwardian splendour everywhere I look, the food lorded over by Portuguese culinary legend Rui Paula. Another corridor leads to the Winter Garden breakfast room, another sumptuous helping from the Palace’s noble provenance; the chequered black and white marble floor, the banquettes and draped windows embraced by an impressive mezzanine balcony make a fitting venue for an extravagant breakfast buffet which I find as a pleasant surprise is preceded by a different fruit smoothie each day.
Upstairs, the 70 guestrooms are equally impressive; deliciously spacious neo classical examples of cosy luxury, with comfy armchairs, bookcases, flat screen TV and a huge king size bed. My bathroom it must be said is a total triumph, Clarins toiletries, a large tub, retro -style taps and fantastic rain forest shower does it for me.
The beating heart of the Vidago Palace Hotel is undoubtedly her spa. With such a legacy of wellness and that supply of precious iron rich mineral water still bubbling up from the spring, it’s a partnership made in heaven. The huge white marble spa, a true state of the art facility, sits discreetly behind the palace building, sparing any contamination to Vidago’s turn of the century splendour. This is no bolt on third party run spa, but a well thought out wellness centre with its own in house team run with military like precision by Spa Manager Vera Goncalves. It’s here where meticulous personal well being strategies are hatched, everything from a 2 week total health plan encompassing diet, exercise and treatments, to a simple day sampling the numerous specialty therapies on offer delivered by trained therapists who certainly know their stuff.
My own Vichy massage is something I will long remember, lying on a bed being drenched by overhead showers whilst having a body massage at the same time. After your special treatments, there is ample opportunity to try out the spa’s other offerings; 3 pools, one indoor, another outdoor and a vitality pool where you can swim against warm water jets. Sauna and steam baths are always firm favourites with me as is a well stocked gym.
The hotel sits in 250 acres of beautiful national parkland, and whilst a healthy chunk of this is taken up by the spectacular new golf course (now upgraded to 18 holes from the original Mackenzie-Ross 9 hole track), and just recently the venue for the Portuguese Seniors Open, there is ample space left to walk or bike the numerous woodland trails passing by the two original ornate spring houses, where you might even grab a taste of the bubbly natural water straight from the tap.
The Vidago Palace Hotel is an epic experience for anyone keen to find a five star luxury retreat away from the usual tourist hot spots of Portugal. The spectacular golf and spa offerings are top drawer, the Rui Paula inspired cuisine is delicious and the service is exactly what you would expect from a hotel within The Leading Hotels of the World portfolio. Above all though, for me it’s the palace building itself which binds it all together beautifully, it speaks to me of the glitz and glamour of a bygone era, brought magnificently up to date. King Carlos may have missed out but his legacy lives on. Just an hour or so from Porto, a very special place indeed.
I want to stay at the Vidago Palace Hotel. How much is it?
Double rooms start at £112 per night bed and breakfast.
‘Vacations Package’ It is four nights in two interconnecting rooms or in a Junior Suite for four people (Bed & Breakfast), a golf clinic, four tickets to Pena Aventura Park and a bird-watching Session. Guests have free access to the Thermal Spa (Turkish bath, sauna, indoor/outdoor pool and gym), parking and a transfer from Oporto airport to the hotel (extra cost may be applied). This offer is valid from October, 2014 to December 30, 2014 at a of rate of €14,000 when booked 48 hours in advance.
Getting to Porto
easyJet flies regular services to Porto from London Gatwick. Luton, Manchester and Bristol from £33.95
Gatwick Express, the non-stop rail-air service between Victoria station and Gatwick Airport, departs every 15 minutes with a journey time of 30 minutes. Gatwick Express is the fastest and best way to travel between central London and Gatwick Airport with return tickets starting from £27.40. With an ongoing 10% discount, it is always cheaper to buy your ticket online at www.gatwickexpress.com