During my visit to Porto last year to attend the OIV International Conference, I was captivated by a horizontally spread out modern building in the town of Vila Nova de Gaia across the Douro river from Porto and I kept on shooting it as a part of the beautiful landscape. When at a lunch in the charming restaurant owned by the Taylor- Fladgate Partnership Port group one day, I decided to visit the adjoining hotel which was then only 8 months old-it was inaugurated in September 2010. After a quick tour, I decided I must return and spend a night to enjoy the property.
I got an opportunity last month as I visited GuimarÄes, a city near Porto (known as Oporto in English) to judge at Concours Mondial du Bruxelles. I decided to extend my trip and spend a day at the beautiful hotel only to regret that I had not planned for a couple of more days stay.
Porto is a city that takes you by surprise every time, especially the old part near the Douro River flowing through the city with bridges connecting the two cities across the river, making it picture perfect. No wonder, several buildings are Unesco World Heritage sites,Â some of them featuring beautiful Â Portuguese ceramic time art with the old world charm-the railway station is one of them.
Location and View
The best views of Porto are from The Yeatman Hotel located in Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river, on the sloped hillock and built on terraces like many of the vineyards in Douro Valley. It gives you the look of a beautiful building in an Indian hill-station like Shimla or Manali. Each room and suite in the hotel, swimming pool, Spa, The Restaurant, and the Dickâ€™s Bar, have a private balcony overlooking the historic centre of Portugal. I could even catch the view of old Porto from the comfort of the bathtub in my room.
Although Porto is known as the Port city, it is Vila Nova de Gaia where the gold liquor used to be stored for ages in the warehouses known as lodges, many of them owned by the British, the ancestors of the current owners included. Porto is where the customs offices were only located.Â The Yeatmans entered the Port trade in 1838 and were one of the distinguished Port families. Their descendants maintain this tradition as owners of Taylors, Fonseca and Croft Port companies. They had bought a property that had a barren hilly track at the back of the lodge, which has now been converted into the luxury hotel.
Being in the Port capital , it is natural for a hotel to be interested in wine but Yeatman is the ultimate wine destination. Â It has an impressive cellar that stores the highest collection of Portuguese wines and also has sufficient wines from throughout the world. The cellar stocks 25,000 wine bottles of 1100 labels; 86% being from Portugal.Â The guests can walk into the cellar everyday between 4-6 pm Â with any of the trained sommeliers Â and choose the wine for their dinner, says Beatriz Machado, the charming Sommelier and Wine Director with years of international experience. â€˜At Yeatman we want the guests to have a memorable wine experience. There is a wine shop as well as a wine club and one can buy wines at reasonable prices. There are wine dinners every Thursday where about 40 paid guests are invited. The producer has to be present at this dinner, immaterial of how far he is from Porto. His wines are displayed at the shop window for a weekâ€™, Beatriz informs me.
In fact, as she puts it, she is not from the hospitality industry but from the wine circle and can thus infuse lots of different and fresh ideas that one can see in various programmes. Working since June 2010, she looks after the wine service, selection, pricing, wine education and training. She even conducts a Master class in Port wine at the hotel with a tasting of 18-20 Ports for as few as 2 persons in a 90- minute programme, which is a crash on course on Ports. Of course, if there is interest she conducts the course on Douro wines and in fact the whole spectrum of Portuguese wines with several hidden gems in their cellar.Â
For â‚¬37 you can have a wine tasting flight of 5 wines paired with tapas made especially for you by the chef. Before the wines are selected, there is a 5-point questionnaire that the guest fills in and goes to her as she fits the best selection of wine and tapas for each guest separately.
Each room or suite has a unique look and is named after a wine label. For instance, I stayed in the Fonseca Room which had information about the Fonseca Ports-some rooms have displays, objects and interesting artifacts from the winery.Â The hotel works with wine partners, 67 of whom are already represented in the 82-room hotel. Costing them a very nominal amount a day, two-thirds of which may be paid by wine, the partners are entitled to showcase their products-besides getting their name on the room. 'In wine fairs all our wine partners take part with us. We take the producers with us as this is our core business. We promote Portugal as it brings strength to the project,â€™ says Machado, adding, â€˜the clients are really buying food and wine pairing from us. We are creating a product which is robust and makes it a sensory experience.â€™
Just like the rooms, Â each elevator has a theme and so does each floor.Â Wine partners, Â Portuguese wine regions and the wine cellar are on Floor 0 (Ground floor is not used as due to the terraced construction it might create confusion). Â Maps of regions of Portugal, old maps and new maps are on Floor 1.Check out the History of Porto and Gaia on Floor 2, while Floor 3 is dedicated to various discoveries including India and Macau. The Event room is situated on the 4th floor whereas the reception, Dickâ€™s BarÂ etc are Â on the 5th floor, which appears to be the ground floor as you enter the captivating lobby with Porto as the backdrop for a sculpture of Bacchus in the middle of the stairs going down.
8Equivalent of a 24-hour coffee shop in a 5-star hotel in India, the expansive bar has a casual but elegant look where one can relax or have meetings with the delightful view of Port across the river and is open all days of the week not only for the hotel guests but outsiders as well. Casual food at affordable prices is served with wine that may cost as much by the glass as a coke or beer, all of which start at â‚¬ 4 a glass.Â Signature cocktails are available-categorized generally by colour â€“pink with Pink Port, purple for LBV (Late Bottled Vintage Port) andÂ scarlet with Tawny Port. Usually a new set of cocktails is launched every season. On Tuesdays the wine is sold at the same price as at the wine shop which has some exclusive wines in its portfolio and all at very reasonable prices. â€˜We have exclusive labels and if we donâ€™t have it, it must be only with the producer,â€™ says Machado with a smile of confidence.
Christmas Wine Experience â€“ First wine weekend of December is Christmas time for all the wine lovers who can come to the hotel in the afternoon by pre- paying just â‚¬ 15. All the partner producers bring two labels each, selected by Machado. Portuguese ham, cheese and olive oil are also served at the tasting where the clients can also buy the wines they like as part of their Yeatman Experience. The programme has already grabbed attention and Â around 400 people came last year.
The (Best) Restaurant
If you seek culinary ecstasy, nowhere else could you find such an experience at such a reasonable price. The Restaurant became Michelin starred last year â€“a year after it opened. But a month ago, it was chosen as the Best Restaurant in Portugal by Expresso, the Portuguese national news paper whichÂ awarded it the ultimate â€˜Platinum Forkâ€™.Â For a mere â‚¬ 100 (taxes included) you can savour a 10- course Degustation MenuÂ which will take you through molecular gastronomy and several culinary delights, courtesy the awarded star Chef Ricardo Costa who at the young age of 31 years has several awards for his modern approach to cooking and is considered a leader of the young generation of chefs.
For an extra â‚¬ 44 you could get 4 wines selected by MachadoÂ or a member of the staff trained by her. The service is impeccable, warm and unobtrusive.Â A similar experience at Le Cirque at the Leela Delhi will set you back by 2-3 times as much, depending on the wines you order.
If you donâ€™t want to eat at the Restaurant every day, there is a casual restaurant owned by the same management, a few steps down the building and right across the road. For less than half the price, you can have a wide selection of food and wines. The gorgeous view from inside the restaurant and the heavenly sight from outside, weather permitting, are gratis.
For those who like to laze around the surrounds of the hotel only, Dickâ€™s Bar offers an excellent selection of casual food, priced fairly reasonably and the choice, though limited, is enough for you to go there a few times.
Spa- One of the big attractions is the Vinotherapie Spa run by Caudalie of France which runs only 8 such spas in the world-in Â Italy, Spain, New York, Brazil, Turkey, France and Portugal (2). All the treatments are with vines or grapes or their derivatives. Naturally, all the cosmetics used and sold in the spa as well as those in the hotel rooms are made with these anti-oxidant rich ingredients.
The spacious Spa, spread over 2000 square meters, has ten treatment rooms where guests can relax and enjoy a programme of unique therapies and treatments. These signature body and facial treatments feature the range of acclaimed Caudalie beauty products. Guests may enjoy naturally lit treatment rooms and the relaxation room with the stunning views of the city.Â Barrel baths and a Vichy shower room are interesting additions where you walk through the showers accompanied by different music. A Roman bath, hammam, sauna and tepidarium are also part of the Spa, which also includes the indoorÂ swimming pool with a gorgeous view and an expansive gym. There is an outdoor pool also, in the shape of a decanter.Â Various spa treatments are available to cleanse your body and perhaps your soul of toxins.
Weddings and Honeymoons
Itâ€™s a great destination for weddings and those of our denizens who are tired of destination weddings in Goa or Bali could find the hotel a perfect stop. Event planners will see a lot of opportunities especially if the clients are wine lovers or potentially so, with the close-by divine Douro Valley offering plenty of sunshine, beauty and exploration opportunities.
The honeymooners can have the usual candlelight dinner in the room. Couples are presented with a wine bottle from the year they first met.Â
Unique and Dynamic Library
It may be a great place to relax after dinner but anytime is a good time to walk into the library with a horde of books. This is the only place in the hotel where one can smoke a cigar or whatever.Â Finished your book and donâ€™t know what to do? You are welcome to keep your book in the almirah and pick up another one for yourself. There has been no loss of books, asserts Machado as she takes me on a tour through the facilities.
Obviously, the best hotel in Porto cannot be expected to be cheap but by Indian standards it is not outrageously expensive either; one may find a room as low as â‚¬220 a night though expect to spend around â‚¬300-400 a night including a lavish breakfast that includes caviar. As with any other hotel, packages are available, with or without the Spa. And as the General Manager of the hotel, Miguel Velez tells me as we have breakfast together (wearing the same â€˜uniformâ€™ as the restaurant manager, I saw him get silverware for a guest who was looking for it-thatâ€™s the standard level of service at the hotel) that the Chinese have already discovered it and are increasingly frequenting the place though the maximum guests are from the US. It has not yet been on the radar of discerning, affluent Indian travelers who will sooner or later become frequent visitors to the place.
I know I will surely stay there next time when I go to Porto and I will look for an opportunity to go to Porto to enjoy the beauty of the city and Hotel Yeatman again.
Porto is unbelievably accessible from India with a flight to Brussels by Jet Airways connecting seamlessly to the city. On return, one may even come to Milan in Italy. So whether you are off to Italy, Europe or even the US and want to have â€˜zara hatkeâ€™ break, or maybe a second honeymoon or want to gift your newly married son or daughter a fabulous honeymoon, Porto is the place to go and if you are looking for a little paradise, stay at the Yeatman, into the lap of luxury that would naturally include wine and spa for rejuvenation - and a culinary experience you might want to talk to your children about.