For all its grandeur and beauty today, Vidago Palace, a lavish resort in Portugal’s far north, didn’t get off to the most auspicious start. In the early 20th century, when spa resorts were all the rage, King Carlos I wanted a luxurious palace to retreat to with his entourage and welcome nobility from around the world. He commissioned a palace – on par with the best spas in Europe – in 1908. Shortly after, he was assassinated.
The palace was completed as planned and the inauguration was scheduled for October 6, 1910, in the presence of his son and successor, King Manuel II. But Manuel II was deposed during the Republican Revolution on October 5, so he never saw the place either. The opening went as planned, but now with the hotel as a symbol of the establishment of the Portuguese Republic.
In the years that followed, there were still many elites without royal titles, and the resort quickly became a draw for Portuguese and European high society. He was known for his grand parties, as well as the magnificence of the hotel and its surrounding gardens.
But then people discovered that going to the beach could be fun, and spas fell into disuse. The Second World War did not help matters. The palace remained open throughout the century, but the luster has fallen. (Although alkaline water, bottled as Vidago, remained popular everywhere.)
It came back strong in 2010, after being bought by the Super Bock group (drinks distributor) and underwent a spectacular four-year restoration. This not only restored its turn-of-the-last-century grandeur, but surpassed it. It starts with the pastel pink facade, with its 365 windows and glass doors.
Inside, it’s all Belle Époque glamour, with many details preserved from the original incarnation, including fine materials and bespoke furnishings. But the restoration, led by Portuguese architects José Pedro Lopes Vieira and Diogo Rosa Lã, introduced a new range of gorgeous fabrics, silk wallpapers with dramatic garden motifs and carefully selected contemporary lighting. The typical Portuguese dark woodwork goes well with the Venetian chandeliers and the handmade wool carpets.
They also reduced the number of rooms to 70 (a small number considering all those windows) to give them more space, especially in their bathrooms. They live comfortably, with all the fussy little things people demand today, like convenient power outlets, fast Wi-Fi, and on-demand hot water.
The Salão Nobre (Grand Ballroom) seems untouched by time, though it now houses a gourmet restaurant where the cuisine is considerably more contemporary than it once was. Nearby-born and Michelin-starred chef Vitor Matos at his restaurant Antiqvvm in Porto oversees the menu, and he’s clearly aiming for another star here, with his seven- and ten-course tasting menus (as well as the menu section, increasingly rare but welcome in the world of gastronomy) emphasizing local ingredients and recipes. They didn’t blink when two pesky pescatarians asked if they could mix and match dishes from the two menus. (The area is known for its meat dishes, especially pork.)
The resort also includes a casual restaurant in the wine cellar, with an emphasis on Portuguese petiscos and Spanish tapas, and an upstairs lounge that offers light lunches for anyone not on the golf course or dining at the clubhouse that day. (Or isn’t too full from the sumptuous breakfast, served in a lovely conservatory.)
While most of the hotel, as well as the small hamlets around the property which house the various mineral springs (you can drink from them at certain times of the day, but beware, a little water can go a long way ), appear sheltered from time, the spa is another matter.
Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira during the early 2000s renovation, it’s all about straight, clean lines, natural light streaming in through large windows, and simple white marble. It’s quite large — 27,000 square feet — but has a variety of intimate spaces, including two pools and ten treatment rooms, where services are performed with local mineral water and with Clarins products focused on people. results and all-natural essential oils. based on Aromatherapy Associates.
It all adds up to a property ‘fit for a king’ (to use a common metaphor) but open to anyone who wants to travel to a remote corner of Portugal to step back in time.