Eastern Algarve Boutique Hotel With Belle-Epoque Furnishings

Photo courtesy of Grand House

Sitting in a cozy reading room at Grand House in the eastern corner of the Portuguese Algarve surrounded by artifacts from the Belle-Époque era, I felt I’d accidentally stepped through a time portal.

For this 26-room boutique hotel in the former fishing village of Vila Real de Santo António reflects the splendor of the Roaring Twenties featuring a façade straight out of that golden period with art deco, art nouveau and colonial furnishings to match.

Photo courtesy of Grand House

Overlooking a charming marina and the Guadiana River with Spain a mere stone’s throw away on the other side, this charming hotel, a member of Relais & Chateaux, boasts a rich historical heritage. A former two-storey fishing cooperative building, it underwent massive renovation in the 1920s at the behest of entrepreneur, Sebastian Ramirez, who became rich from the flourishing tuna-canning industry. Opened in 1926 as Hotel Guadiana after a design by Swiss architect Ernesto Korrodi, it became an icon in Portuguese hospitality and remains the only five-star hotel in a place where poetically, ‘the river meets the sea.’

Wander up its stone cantilevered staircase and around its rooms and you’ll be impressed by its ornate moldings, taupe rugs, linen couches, pale pink billowing curtains, geometric bathroom tiles and wooden bedside tables, not to mention a collection of crystal chandeliers, porcelain vases from China, 1920s privacy screens, and even textiles from the Louis Vuitton fashion house.

Photo courtesy of Grand House

I stayed in Room 210, a bright, airy retreat flooded with natural light, my balcony overlooking a pebbled promenade lined with palm trees and white and blue yachts bobbing in the water or sailing down the river to the Atlantic. Spain is so close, you can actually zip line to it. In fact, some people do (though not me). In white and pastel colors, mine was a comfortable room, complete with big screen TV, carpeted and polished wood floors, a mini-bar, a table big enough for me to work on my computer, two soft armchairs and bedside lamps granting enough light to read easily at night. Wood-framed pencil sketches of vintage doors with Doric and Corinthian pillars hung above my head-board. My bathroom featured a glass-paneled shower with 8950 branded toiletries. Thoughtfully, dental, sewing, vanity and shaving kits were provided.

Photo courtesy of Grand House

For relaxing evenings, I’d retire to my favorite room, the Map Room on the second floor, one of two reading rooms in the hotel. Carpeted, with leather armchairs and walls adorned with nautical maps, glass-fronted bookcases and a coffee table offered reading materials of all kinds including glossy magazines such as ‘East Algarve’ and 'Global Guide' and novels such as ‘Ghosted’ by Rosie Mullender, billed as ‘the funniest mystery you’ll read this year.’ Light from a lamp with an intricately carved wooden base helped create an intimate, Otherworldy atmosphere. I could almost swear my nostrils were filled with the aroma of old manuscripts. Here, I’d retire with a glass of dry port, kick off my shoes to give my tired feet some breathing space after long walks and settle back into the world of words.

Photo courtesy of Grand House

Dining at Grand House takes place in the colonial-style Grand Salon, with its cane chairs, linen tablecloths and potted aspidistras, with a discreet bar tucked away in one corner. At this restaurant, I enjoyed starters of pata negra (black foot or paw) cured ham (jamón ibérico) with white asparagus as well as Algarvian carrots with wasabi and caldeirada, a hearty Portuguese fish stew. 

Breakfast, with sunshine pouring gleefully through the windows, is filled with delightful surprises such as matcha pancakes with peanut butter and blueberries, as well as classic waffles, eggs Benedict and quinoa or oatmeal porridge.

The hotel also has a rooftop bar with striking river vistas across to Spain where guests can indulge in cocktails and a wide selection of wines. For a completely different ambiance, try the hotel's Grand Beach Club, a short distance away, free guest shuttles provided. With waterfront views, it features a large, decked terrace with white wooden sun loungers and an infinity pool. The menu here has a distinct seafood focus with a special tuna selection and dishes comprising clam and shrimp. It also serves roasted steaks, pizzas, burgers and salads. 

All hotel guests are provided with a Mobile Butler, a phone with a built-in system that allows you to order drinks or food, call a shuttle, or simply find out information you may need about the area. Being old-fashioned, I preferred meeting and talking to the friendly staff in person.

Photo courtesy of Grand House

Owners of Grand House have expanded their hospitality services to the Grand Café, fifty meters away. Here, within the original historic customs house, the town’s oldest building, soups, snacks and homemade pastries are served. 

Aside from its location away from the busier resorts of the Algarve, Vila Real de Santo António is surrounded by a natural park, the Reserve Ria Formosa, and close to charming villages such as Castro Marim, four kilometers away, home to a medieval Knights Templar castle, a salt-marsh and a charming medieval-style tavern, Velho Cavalinho Taberna, on its slopes with an engaging conversational owner who serves food and a delicious cider. The region is blessed with fine sandy beaches stretching for miles so there’s plenty of choice for sunbathing and swimming. In addition, the nearby Guadiana International Bridge makes for easy access to popular landmarks of southern Spain such as the royal palace of Seville and the Alhambra in Granada.

So, if you seek a quieter place away from the classic Algarve tourism destination, this may well be the one.

Sean Hillen

During an international media career spanning several decades in Europe and the US, Sean Hillen has worked for many leading publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Times London, The Daily Telegraph, Time magazine and The Irish Times Dublin, as well as at the United Nations Media Center in New York. Sean's travel writing for and has taken him across A...(Read More)

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