Majestically standing in the heart of Old Porto's most vibrant perimeter, opposite the monumental São Bento Railways Station, a stone's throw from the Sé Cathedral, Dom Luis I bridge, and Douro River banks, within the remnants of Porto's walls, the InterContinental Porto Palacio das Cardosas is regarded by the locals as a landmark more than a hotel.
This aristocratic, alluring building, makes forget that, in the 15th century, it hosted the severe St. John the Evangelist monastery. After falling into disrepair, it hosted the Cardosas family in the 19th century who restored the gothic facade under its present aspect. The modern, neo-Baroque interiors, have been lovingly redesigned in 2011 by Russian interior architect Alex Kravetz. It has no bling, but the classy touch of a boutique hotel; though, during our stay, we rather felt like the “je ne sais quoi” characterizing a palace hotel. It has much of it. Rich marbles, a long gallery with luxury shops, a confidential lobby with exuberant bunches of flowers, the most impressive rooms in all Porto, a fine-dining restaurant, and a most distinguished five-star service.
Despite the strict measures set to eradicate the Covid 19, our check-in by masked staff, standing behind a plexiglass window for extra security, was warm and courteous. We booked in an Executive Suite, without the privileges of the Club InterContinental Lounge; this is one of the few properties of the brand not offering this noticeable bonus. That wasn't a problem: we had been informed about it, and the extra services provided in the suites and executive-rooms were similar to those in a lounge.
We found snacks, sweets, complimentary mineral water, and a daily bottle of Porto in our room each day of our stay. We enjoyed the intimacy of our 35 sqm Executive Suite: it looked even more spacious, thanks to the high ceiling. All rooms, from the smaller 28 sqm Deluxe Room until the largest suites (there is no Presidential, but some duplex / corner suites), show the same generous volume. Comfort at Palacio das Cardosas is comparable to palaces like Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, or Plaza in New York. Yet, old photographs and drawings throughout the communal spaces and guestrooms give the hotel a local touch. That's the boutique concept of the romantic, pleasantly nostalgic Palacio das Cardosas.
What makes a difference between the standard and higher category of rooms is the size of the bathroom, and its toiletry. Anne Semonin, a renowned brand launched two or three decades ago from Hotel Le Bristol Paris, comes as a bonus in the ritzy marble bathrooms, with a separated tub, shower, and toilet. Agraria, which is also excellent, is the InterContinental favorite brand provided in the rest of the rooms. Until... Maybe 2021, when any IHG hotel is scheduled to be stocked with large, refillable bathroom amenities. The announcement, which makes IHG -currently using 200 million miniature toiletry products a year- the first global hotel company to commit all of its brands to removing those miniature toiletries. Let's see how it concretely finalizes with the turmoil of Covid 19.
IHG is a leader in term of bedding quality. We slept like a stone, using one of the four of five pillows available over our bed. Softer, harder, with or without goose feather? Just contact housekeeping, it has more in stock.
The tall windows are 99,9% soundproofed. Praça da Liberdade can be animated in the evening, echoeing the notes of nostalgic fados or more aggressive techno music; leaving the windows closed gives the impression to travel back in time, when the Palacio das Cardosas was a still a silent monastery. By day, we usually opened them to let in the cheerful, still popular atmosphere of the Old Porto. And to observe the square, looking like a Spanish “paseo”, the vintage trams, with the beautiful city hall in the background. This is something that only this hotel can provide.
Due to Covid 19 restrictions, we couldn't access the Wellness Center by CC, with sauna and massage. The nicely equipped 24-hour fitness could be used by appointment.
The meeting room was still opened, with a social distancing setting. The InterContinental Porto is also a corporate hotel, sharing this function with its sister IHG property: The Crowne Plaza Porto, which is the sole hotel of this brand awarded a fifth star.
We experienced it a couple of nights, and it was interesting: the service was top notch. Ideally designed for a business stay, it has a larger, pleasant conference center with bay windows. An advantage compared to Palacio das Cardosas, it has a Club Lounge (closed due to Covid 19). Located in a residential area, five minutes by car from the Old Porto, it has large rooms with an ocean view. It takes a five-minute taxi ride to get to the surprisingly wild Ingleses Beach and its elegant corniche.
Crowne Plaza Porto is the place for soMos Restaurant & Lounge. Highly reputed inside and outside Portugal, with a branch in Neuilly-sur-Seine (next to Paris), it serves an authentic Portuguese / Mediterranean Cuisine by Chef Jorge Sousa. We enjoyed a typical lunch there, with classics like creamy “Mushroom Risotto”, “Shredded Cod with Chickpea Purée and Low-Temperature Egg”, “Roasted Octopus with Tomato, Onion, and Parsley” (from the restaurant organic urban garden), “Grilled Gambas”, and yummy desserts like “Crème Brûlée”. All paired with a local, powerful Tavedo Duro DOC 2018. Perfect for lunch, sitting at the sunny terrace, it has one competitor at Palacio das Cardosas where we had a memorable dinner.
Dining at Astória is a bit of a privilege. Not because of the bill, which is as soft as silk with an average of EUR 50 per person (we spent EUR 173 for two, with wine, for our gourmet evening), but for the glamourous setting of the restaurant. Expecting a solemn room, with Regence furniture, we have been pleasantly surprised by the cool design with deep banquettes, intimate tables (the dining room what quite full, yet we couldn't catch the conversation next table), fully stocked cocktail bar, and anticipating waiters. A lounge atmosphere, in a five-star historic hotel. Bossanova-jazz piping discretely gave the impression of dining in a fashionable restaurant in Rio de Janeiro. This is the city where Chef Paulo Leite used to work for a few years: at renowned Eleven Rio. His cuisine was awarded one star in Rio de Janeiro & São Paulo Michelin Red Guide.
Paulo doesn't describe his cuisine as “gastronomic”. We found no fuss, no extra sophistication in the plate. It's all about prime quality, savor and flavor, of the ingredients: imported from the organic farms, fishing ports, and vineyards, located at a short-range (maximum 100 kilometers) from Porto.
We started with richly iodized “Fresh Oysters from Aveiro Region”, enjoyed with some drops of Cartola organic olive oil over freshly home-baked bread, and ideally paired with “Soalheiro Alvarinho”: a brut version of Vinho Verde, which any wine lover should experience. We discovered the treasures of the Northern Portuguese vineyards, where cepages are almost all different from the French ones. White “Maria Mansa, Douro DOC” is a mixture of Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Roriz. It paired ideally the creamy “Bacalhau Kokotxas (cod tongues!), with fresh Peas & Olive Oil”, tasty “Cockles” from the Ria de Aveiro coastal lagoon, and legendary “Bisaro Pork Ham” with Tomato chutney and “Ewe's cheese Brulée”. The unmistakable savor if this boar is reminiscent of the Spanish “Pata Negra”.
Alentejo produces another distinguished black pork meat. The neck is a most refined cut, and a chef's signature main dish. Served a bit rosé, as we like, with Port wine sauce, it was paired with “ Esporão 2016” (Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Trincadeira, Cabernet Sauvignon): one of the preferred Alentejo wines. Strong, 12 months aged in French and American oak barrels, it was fine also with “Black Angus Sirloin” accompanied by exquisite, homemade “Mash Potato with White Truffle”. Beating Joël Robuchon world-famous Purée. “Migas of Spinach, Black Eye Beans, and Corn Bread” is also served with grilled meat; thus, we preferred the more appealing potato.
The limited offer of succulent desserts featured “Sever de Vouga” blueberries soufflé, with yogurt ice cream, interesting “Mushrooms Crème Brûlée with Nectarine Sorbet”, and excentric “Charcoal Grilled Pineapple from Açores, Basil Sorbet & Coconut”. This was a good opportunity to taste sweet Ports wine: “Porto Niepoort, 10 years old”, with its honey color and essence, great structure and a long finish, tastes dried fruit, and reminds of Tokay Aszu 3 Puttonyos. The barman / sommelier is extremely professional, as he had one bottle of this scarce Hungarian wine in his stock, and we could compare both liquors. “Graham 40 Years, Tawny” was even more impressive, with a most distinctive signature. For a perfect, five star digestion, we recommend the richly aromatic “Mavem Real, 40 Years”. Aged in wooden barrels in the Tage Valley, this is in Portugal the king of wines, and wine of kings!
INTERCONTINENTAL PORTO PALACIO DAS CARDOSAS (& ASTORIA RESTAURANT):
Praça da Liberdade, 25 , Porto ,4000-322, Portugal
CROWNE PLAZA PORTO (& SOMOS RESTAURANT LOUNGE):
Avenida da Boavista, 1466, Porto 4100-114, Portugal