Porto may be one of Portugal’s mainstay tourist cities, but it’s always been lacking in luxury hotels. Thanks to Hotel Infante Sagres, that’s finally changed.
A local entrepreneur, Delfim Ferreira, opened Hotel Infante Sagres in 1951 and claimed that it was Porto’s first five-star hotel. It attracted an elite crowd from the outset and was where many international celebrities stayed whenever they were in town. The property eventually slipped into disrepair and fell out of favor with the see-and-be-seen-crowd, but the Fladgate Partnership, a wine company, bought the property from Thema Hotels and Resorts in 2016 with the vision of bringing it back to its original glory.
Infante Sagres closed in the fall of 2017 for a $10 million restoration and reopened its doors in April 2018 with 85 rooms. I visited last summer. Much of the work on the hotel preserved the building’s original details, such as the multicolored stained-glass windows that flank the staircase and can be seen from the lobby. The ornate 19th-century chandeliers and lamps and carved wood ceilings throughout were also restored, but the new owners have added 17th- and 18th-century wood furniture bought in recent auctions, Wi-Fi, 15 additional guest rooms, a restaurant and a sun deck with a plunge pool; they’ve also put custom-built replicas of 17th- and 18th-century furniture in the guest rooms.
The most challenging part of the renovation project, according to Rui Silva, the property’s head of sales, was restoring the stained-glass windows. “We had to remove 1,000 pieces of glass, transport them to Lisbon where they were restored and reinstall them. The process took over a year,” he said. The effort was worth it, Mr. Rui said, because the windows are one of the hotel’s standout features.
The property is in the heart of Porto’s medieval old town, which is compact and easy to explore by foot. Popular attractions such as Bolhao market and the more than century-old Lello bookshop are within a five-minute walk as are plenty of locally-owned restaurants and stores; the lively bars and restaurants that line the Douro River are about a 10-minute stroll. Taxis are readily available at the hotel and are an inexpensive way to venture further a field.
There are eight room categories, ranging from six classic rooms to the royal suite. They face either the interior courtyard or the street and are all similarly decorated. Our spacious light-filled junior suite (€295, or about $328), the fifth room category, overlooked a side street that was full of bars. We heard a bit of noise from the street but not enough to keep us awake at night. (If you like it pin-drop quiet, an interior room might be best.)
The room included a dark wood king-size bed with crisp white sheets, two wood chairs with red brocade upholstery and as mall wood desk. We also had a 42-inch flat-screen television and could imbibe for free on the port wine that was in a decanter on the desk. Our welcome amenity was two custard tarts, which are a typical Portuguese dessert and baked daily in-house.
The roomy bath was bright and had white Italian marble floors and walls. Our sink was white,too, and made of Portuguese ceramics. We had a walk-in shower with strong water pressure and liked the citrus-scented Claus Porto bath amenities, which come from Porto. Amenities include a breakfast room; a Mediterranean restaurant, Vogue Café, that serves a large variety of gluten-free and vegan dishes; and a plunge pool and sun deck.
Dining is a winner. The breakfast spread was expansive and tasty. It included an array of fresh fruit, meats, baked goods, egg dishes and cheeses. I tucked into a bowl of incredibly sweet melon and strawberries, a pot of thick yogurt and a slice of gluten-free bread slathered with butter.
We stopped by Vogue Café that night for pre-dinner drinks and enjoyed the vibrant scene, which seemed to include a lot of socializing locals. Entrees at the restaurant, which include salted cod with chickpea purée and grilled veal loin, cost between €12 and €22, or around $13.50 to $25, and are in line with other high-end restaurants in town.