TOP THREE: Porto’s Ruins Turned Riches, Design Hotels Rising From the Rubble
Porto is fast picking up the pieces of its formerly ramshackle cityscape to become one of Europe’s hottest destinations, and three crumbling ruins now serve as the city’s most beautiful hotels. Writer Emily McAuliffe ventured through the streets of Porto for Design Travel to uncover the stories behind the exquisite facades.
Marco Leite de Faria and his mother Maria Irene Schultze have stamped their initials on this opulent beauty in downtown Porto, which opened its doors in March 2016. After 23 years abroad working with high-end hotel brands, Leite de Faria decided to apply the five-star concept to a dilapidated 16th century building in his home city.
“When we bought the building in 2011 the street looked like it could’ve been a war zone – it was totally destroyed,” says Leite de Faria. But the hotelier saw hints of a city transformation and his prediction was on point, as today Largo de São Domingos and the adjoining street Rua das Flores pulse with colour and energy.
Despite the rundown state of the building, the duo wanted to retain the original character, so took impressions of the stuccoed ceilings to replicate the original design work. Then, when the ground floor ceiling was dismantled for restoration it was discovered that lashings of white paint disguised a magnificent woodcarving. The handcrafted ceiling was therefore stripped back and refitted in Room #1 to form one of the residence’s most outstanding features.
Each of the ten spacious rooms carries a unique design and layout - none would look out of place on a Great Gatsby set. Colours are bold, thick stripes painted on the walls are emphatic, and art and knick-knack collections are motley, but it all ties together like an elegant bow.
On a practical level, good looks are paired with comfort, as the guest experience was paramount during the design process. “We scoured Portugal from A-Z to find the best mattresses,” says Leite de Faria of the cloud-like beds. These go hand-in-hand with soft linen, oversized fluffy towels and robes, and quality toiletries. Top it off with great service and you’ve got a prize pad in Porto.
Largo de São Domingos, 664450-545, Porto, Portugal
+351 227 661 400
Another ruin turned design house is the work of Italian fashion and interior designer Gianfranco Fenizia, who, between consulting to labels such as Bulgari and Valentino, began coming to Portugal in the 80s to exhibit his work. After a six month hunt for the perfect property, he settled on an ‘almost, but not completely destroyed’ building that once housed a powerful butcher’s association during Portugal’s dictatorship. A trace of the building’s past can still be seen around the grand skylight, which is encircled by paintings of livestock.
An element retained from the original building is a series of patterned azulejo tiles, which were buffed up to create a striking entranceway. Gleaning tiles were then carried through to the exterior to create a blue and white façade that sits pretty on the street like a dollhouse.
Inside, Fenizia has incorporated a fusion of art deco, classic and contemporary styles, which work together to create a rustic glam look. For instance, modish mirrored cabinetry and modern lamps from Fenizia’s own collection contrast rough antique timber floors, while chandeliers dangle from five-metre-high stuccoed ceilings.
As an adjunct to the spacious rooms, the rest of the guesthouse is primed for lingering, with 24-hour tea, coffee, fruit, cookies and freshly squeezed OJ available in the kitchen. Furthermore, a glass-panelled winter garden leads onto a manicured lawn and is the perfect spot to pop a bottle of Portuguese vinho.
Rua Fernandes Tomás 215, 4000-215, Porto, Portugal
+351 225 371 303
“A long story” brought husband and wife André Malarte and Brigitte Aurran to Portugal from France, but the couple are now happily settled with their accommodation project that was a lifelong dream.
“We bought a piece of sky,” jokes Malarte, referencing the roofless state of the building upon purchase. While the structure was little more than a shell, it meant the couple had free reign to redesign the interior in a contemporary style.
It turns out the couple also decided to hold on to that piece of sky, after constructing an A-frame glass ceiling to flood the central atrium with sunlight. “Being from Marseille we’re used to lots of light,” says Malarte. “Porto’s narrow buildings can be very dark, especially in winter, and we couldn’t stand to live like that.”
The bright common area is given a fresh and modern look by tangles of vines that drape from the railings, and the greenery carries through to the long back garden, where Brigitte picks fresh flowers for the rooms.
In each of the four bedrooms these florals sit artistically alongside a stylish collection of furniture and ornaments, and designer cushions add a pop of colour. The tiled bathrooms are also built for comfort with large shower recesses and rain showerheads, and in the twin room, the bathroom is so roomy it could almost double as a dance floor.
In addition to overall spaciousness, the guesthouse has a comforting lived-in feel, with the waft of baked goods emanating from the open-plan kitchen where the couple whip up homemade breakfasts. When sitting on the terrace with a warm muffin, slice of bruschetta and pot of coffee, it’s hard to think of a better way to kick-start a trip to Porto.
Rua do Almada, 539, 4050-039, Porto, Portugal
+351 225 492 142
Images by Emily McAuliffe.