Thursday, January 3, 2008

Staying at Pestana Palace

We’re back from Portugal, beginning to adjust back from the five hour time difference, and catching up on the work that piled up from before Christmas.

We got into Lisbon early on the morning December 28th and went straight to the hotel that Kathy’s brother-in-law, who is a travel agent, booked for us. It was called the Pestana Palace and it turned out to be rated as one of the top “Best Luxury Hotels in the World”. Located on a steep hill in the Alto Santa Amaro quarter of Lisbon, Pestana Palace overlooks the Tagus River. The Palace was built in 1904 for the Marquis de Valle Flor and his three daughters, whose portraits can be found in many of the rooms. It has ceiling paintings and portraits by Carlos Reis, a great 19th century Portuguese artist, and has been carefully restored to its former Romantic Revivalist glory with room after room of opulence to sit in.

From the lights on the huge pine tree (to the right in this picture) as we rode up the driveway through to the Grand Ballroom (now the Valle Flor restaurant where we ate most of our breakfasts and one dinner), the place was decorated for the holidays. Even the chapel, which seats about 40 people and served as the site of a wedding on the Saturday we were there, was decorated for Christmas.

Our bedrooms were located in the modern extension to the room and, while they had a great view of the large private garden filled with subtropical plants and trees (several of which were still in bloom), they were otherwise very basic, especially in comparison to the rest of the place. Fortunately, except for the afternoon I spent in the hotel because of an upset stomach, none of us hung out in our rooms.

The food at the hotel was a different story. While breakfasts were very good with many different choices in the daily buffet, the rest of the food didn’t live up to the “Portuguese cuisine of the highest standard” which reviews say it serves. On the night that we ate in the dining room, as we were surrounded by ornate ceilings, windows, and marbled columns, the best parts of our meals were the rolls and one of the desserts, a crème brulee. My cod was overly salty, the waiter confused orders several times, and none of us were very happy with the food that we were given in exchange for the large bill at the end. But we thought maybe it was a fluke, so we tried again and ordered room service another night when we were tired from a full day of walking around seeing Lisbon, only to find that the food was equally bad and equally expensive.

Other amenities were so-so. The spa had a very small Jacuzzi and, while it was great to swim several evenings, the pool was small for the number of people who used it, especially on the weekend. The internet in our room didn’t work right so Becca had to make numerous trips to the Business Center to stay in contact with her friends.

The hotel wouldn’t have been my choice of a place to stay—I’d rather spend the money on the actual travel than on accommodations—but I think Becca loved all the glamour of the place, from the rose petals placed in the toilet bowl during bed turndown in the evening to the chocolates and raisins delivered to each room on New Year’s Eve to capture a Portuguese tradition of wishes of fertility and abundance for the upcoming year.

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