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Inside the abandoned Lisbon palace re-born as a hotel fit for aristocracy

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One November morning in 1755, Lisbon was seized by a violent earthquake. The tremors spurred a tsunami, which engulfed the city’s harbour and downtown area, and for six days after the tragedy, fires burned across the Portuguese capital.

One of the casualties of this domino effect of disasters was the Palacio da Anunciada, a 16th-century palace in the heart of the Baixa district. Any trace of the destruction, however, has vanished today, with the palace transformed into The One Palacio da Anunciada, a five-star hotel that revives the grandeur of the original building.

I arrive in the midst of a heatwave, but the lobby is cool and breezy, with glossy marble floors, a striking stone ‘royal staircase’, and a coffered ceiling – features of the old palace that have been painstakingly restored.

Ailbhe MacMahon checks into The One Palacio da Anunciada (above), a five-star hotel in Lisbon’s Baixa district. It’s housed in a former palace that was destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 and was subsequently rebuilt 

'The lobby (above) is cool and breezy, with glossy marble floors, a striking stone 'royal staircase', and a coffered ceiling - features of the old palace that have been painstakingly restored,' says Ailbhe

‘The lobby (above) is cool and breezy, with glossy marble floors, a striking stone ‘royal staircase’, and a coffered ceiling – features of the old palace that have been painstakingly restored,’ says Ailbhe

Founded in 1533, the property was formerly the residence of the Counts of Ericeira, a Portuguese noble family. Prior to the earthquake, it was said that the palace held a library of 18,000 books and artwork by revered painters Rubens and Titian. 

Though it was completely destroyed in the earthquake, it was brought back to life later in the 18th century by the Count of Rio Maior, who bought the land and constructed a brand-new palace in place of the old one. The building was occupied by various high-society families throughout the centuries and most recently served as the headquarters for the Ateneu Comercial de Lisboa, a cultural association that organised events in the city.

Sadly, over the years the residence fell into a state of disrepair and was essentially abandoned by the time the Hotel 10 group came to own it, enlisting the help of the Chilean designer Jaime Beriestain to return it to its original glory.

Throughout the hallways, there are subtle allusions to the palace’s former state of decline, with framed photographs showing the building before its restoration – its frescoes and paintwork peeling, the exterior shabby and neglected. 

More frames display the newspaper clippings, documents and banknotes that were found in the vacant rooms during the overhaul.

Since its opening in 2019, the 83-room hotel has already attracted a cool calibre of clientele. I’m told that a famous U.S band checked out four days before my arrival. 

Chilean designer Jaime Beriestain was recruited to transform the residence into an 83-room hotel

Chilean designer Jaime Beriestain was recruited to transform the residence into an 83-room hotel

Throughout the hallways, there are subtle allusions to the palace's former state of decline, with framed photographs showing the building before its restoration

The residence was essentially abandoned before Hotel 10 group came to own it

Throughout the hallways, there are subtle allusions to the palace’s former state of decline, with framed photographs showing the building before its restoration. The residence was essentially abandoned before Hotel 10 group came to own it

The hotel's wine bar (above) is crowned by a chandelier lamp made of a hundred lights

The hotel’s wine bar (above) is crowned by a chandelier lamp made of a hundred lights

One look at my room, a ‘Cosy Room’ on the fourth floor, and I can see why it’s proving so popular. It’s a decadent affair – Portuguese ceramics painted in swirls hang over the bed, which is wrapped in Egyptian cotton sheets.

It’s the bathroom, however, that’s the standout. 

The shower and floor tiles are cut from a beautiful blush pink marble from Vila Viçosa, a town in Portugal’s Alentejo region. It’s stocked with rosemary-and-white-tea-scented toiletries from Natura Bisse Barcelona, a brand favoured by the likes of Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Gwyneth Paltrow.

These fragrant lotions are used in the ‘personalised treatments’ at the spa, which has a heated ‘experience pool’ and a Finnish sauna. 

There’s also an art gallery, a restaurant, a cocktail lounge and a wine bar (crowned by a chandelier lamp made of a hundred lights), as well as a laid-back outdoor bar by the pool.

Come morning time, I sit down for breakfast in a room by the wine bar. Waiters deliver an a la carte buffet fit for an aristocrat, piling the table high with freshly squeezed juice, a portion of eggs Benedict, syrup-doused waffles, tropical fruit, meats and Portuguese cheeses. The setting is just as grand – we sit under an ornamental ceiling, with light spilling in from French windows.

The shower and floor tiles in the bathrooms of the guest rooms are cut from a 'beautiful' blush pink marble from Vila Vicosa, a town in Portugal's Alentejo region

The shower and floor tiles in the bathrooms of the guest rooms are cut from a ‘beautiful’ blush pink marble from Vila Vicosa, a town in Portugal’s Alentejo region

Above is the hotel's grand Condes de Ericeira restaurant. 'It's a suitably historical base from which to explore the history of [Lisbon],' Ailbhe says of the property

Above is the hotel’s grand Condes de Ericeira restaurant. ‘It’s a suitably historical base from which to explore the history of [Lisbon],’ Ailbhe says of the property 

Rosemary-and-white-tea-scented toiletries from Natura Bisse Barcelona, a brand favoured by the likes of Beyonce and Kim Kardashian, are used in the 'personalised treatments' at the spa (pictured)

Rosemary-and-white-tea-scented toiletries from Natura Bisse Barcelona, a brand favoured by the likes of Beyonce and Kim Kardashian, are used in the ‘personalised treatments’ at the spa (pictured)

Pictured above are the palace's gardens, which hold an ornate fountain and a hundred-year-old dragon tree

Pictured above are the palace’s gardens, which hold an ornate fountain and a hundred-year-old dragon tree

The 59ft- (18m) long pool at The One Palacio da Anunciada looks out over the palace gardens

The 59ft- (18m) long pool at The One Palacio da Anunciada looks out over the palace gardens

Ailbhe's breakfast - 'an a la carte buffet fit for an aristocrat'

Above is Ailbhe’s breakfast – ‘an a la carte buffet fit for an aristocrat’

It’s a suitably historical base from which to explore the history of the city. After the earthquake, the Marquis of Pombal ordered the reconstruction of Lisbon’s streets, apparently telling the King: ‘What now? We bury the dead and heal the living.’ Lisbon soon became home to some of the world’s first earthquake-resistant buildings, and many of the city’s most treasured businesses and vendors were born in the wake of the disaster.

One such vendor is the Casa das Velas Loreto candle shop. Established in 1789, the tiny, dimly-lit store is lined with wax sculptures shaped like painted flowers and busts in an array of colours. 

Another gem is A Ginjinha, an even tinier shop that sells €2 (£1.70) shots of Ginjinha, a Portuguese liqueur made from Morello cherries. Open since 1840 and run by the same family for generations, the shop’s counter is sticky with the ghosts of shots past. Locals and tourists cluster in small groups at the entrance, as there’s no room to drink inside.

The tiny Casa das Velas Loreto candle shop, pictured, was established in 1789. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons

The tiny Casa das Velas Loreto candle shop, pictured, was established in 1789. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons 

Ailbhe peruses the bookshelves at Livraria Bertrand (above) which - dating to 1732 - holds the Guinness World Record for the world's oldest operating bookshop

Ailbhe peruses the bookshelves at Livraria Bertrand (above) which – dating to 1732 – holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s oldest operating bookshop

Pictured is the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, a museum in a 16th-century convent that tells the story of Lisbon's iconic painted tiles

Pictured is the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, a museum in a 16th-century convent that tells the story of Lisbon’s iconic painted tiles

'A Ginjinha', pictured, a shop selling the Portuguese liqueur Ginjinha, has been open since 1840 and run by the same family for generations

‘A Ginjinha’, pictured, a shop selling the Portuguese liqueur Ginjinha, has been open since 1840 and run by the same family for generations 

Shots of Ginjinha cost €2 (£1.70) at A Ginjinha

Shots of Ginjinha cost €2 (£1.70) at A Ginjinha

While Lisbon’s architectural rebirth is a sight to behold, many significant buildings predate the earthquake. I flick through the bookshelves at Livraria Bertrand which – dating to 1732 – holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s oldest operating bookshop. Despite this title, it’s curiously contemporary inside. 

Later I while away an afternoon at Museu Nacional do Azulejo, a museum in a 16th-century convent that tells the story of Lisbon’s iconic painted tiles. It’s tricky to get to, in a quiet part of town by the sea, but it’s worth the mission.

To truly soak in the history of Lisbon, however, there’s perhaps no better spot than the 59ft- (18m) long pool at The One Palacio da Anunciada. 

It looks out over the palace gardens, which hold an ornate fountain and a hundred-year-old dragon tree. From the poolside, you can see the red rooftops of Lisbon set against a blue sky. A mesmerising view across one of Europe’s most beautiful and fascinating cities.

TRAVEL FACTS

Ailbhe was hosted by The One Palacio da Anunciada. Double rooms are priced from £201. For more information visit www.h10hotels.com.

Pros: Elegant guest rooms, a truly special swimming pool, stellar breakfasts, and a location smack bang in the centre of the city.

Cons: The hotel’s layout is a bit labyrinthine and confusing. Ailbhe writes: ‘To reach my room, I needed to take a lift to the second floor, weave across the building, and then take a second lift to the fourth floor.’

Rating:

 

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