Two singular hotels with soul in Portugal

A grand old palace in Lisbon has been turned into an oasis of calm, while a derelict estate in Alentejo has been magnificently revived

The approach to the bar at São Lourenço do Barrocal, in Portugal’s Alentejo, is an example of the reinvented estate’s stunning architecture
The approach to the bar at São Lourenço do Barrocal, in Portugal’s Alentejo, is an example of the reinvented estate’s stunning architecture

The hotel as statement – those small, independent one-offs that reflect not just their owners’ style but also, to some degree, their world view – remains among the most gratifying of travel discoveries. Portugal is rich in these; in June I stayed at two such places – lenses on a country that’s recapturing its heritage with world-beating results. At Santa Clara 1728 (silentliving.pt; from €400) in Lisbon’s Alfama district, owner João Rodrigues has taken a grand old palace and carved out striking, contemporary volumes of calm and quietude, without excising even a modicum of its soul; my suite here was one of the most subtly beautiful and peaceful I’ve ever stayed in. And in the hilly heart of the Alentejo, José António Uva worked with Pritzker Prize-winner Eduardo Souto de Moura to bring São Lourenço do Barrocal (barrocal.pt; from €241), his family’s derelict 780-hectare estate, into the 21st century with stunning architecture and eight generations’ worth of community ties remade. There are 10,000sq m of kitchen gardens, a knockout restaurant in the former kennels, a Susanne Kaufmann spa, stargazing in the old bullring and abundant estate olive oil and wines. But again, soul is the prime commodity here.

Lisbon’s Santa Clara 1728 is an oasis of calm carved out of a grand old palace
Lisbon’s Santa Clara 1728 is an oasis of calm carved out of a grand old palace

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