Making Vila Real Grand Again: The restoration of H...

Making Vila Real Grand Again: The restoration of Hotel Guadiana

By: Ana Tavares

Photo: Tiago Paula de Carvalho

The grande dame of Algarve tourism, Hotel Guadiana, has been restored to its former glory. In true Portuguese fashion, this is the first five-star hotel in Vila Real de Santo António

The tile panel of the façade reads “Grande Hotel Guadiana,” and the letters G and H in wrought iron only add to the beauty of the entrance door. Lest we forget, this is in fact the old Hotel Guadiana, which is said to be Portugal’s first hotel south of the Tagus. This Art Nouveau masterpiece was inaugurated in 1926, designed by Swiss architect Ernesto Korrodi, ordered by the tycoon of Ramirez canned goods (conservas), Manuel Garcia Ramirez.

Nearby, a couple of guests who had just arrived — and were still getting over the splendour of the revamped exterior and the view towards the Guadiana river — perfectly summed up the magnificent interiors of the Grand House: “Wow, this is gorgeous!”

It truly is gorgeous. With 31 rooms, including a wellness suite where you can have a massage, it is easy to understand why hotelier Luís Fernandes and his three partners, who remain in the shadows, fell in love with pier (the hotel has also requested a beach concession), this “river club,” restaurant and bar has an idyllic infinity pool, surrounded by sunbeds and two esplanade levels, where there is also a kiosk-bar in the summer.

Just like the hotel, which only serves breakfast and dinner (besides a room-service menu with light snacks), the kitchen is led by German chef Jan Stechemesser, an Algarvean veteran who came to Portugal 17 years ago, straight into the kitchen of Vila Joya, with stints at São Gabriel, Lisbon Marriott Hotel, Longevity, Praia Verde boutique Hotel and Vilalara. He explains the extensive work that was done with local producers and that is reflected “in the superior quality” of everything that is served: “There’s bread from a bakery in VRSA, the butcher is in Manta Rota, we have olive oil, fruit and vegetables from Moncarapacho, organic tomatoes from Tavira, salt from Castro Marim, requeijão [cottage cheese] from São Brás de Alportel,” he lists.

According to the chef, the concept of the Beach Club focuses on comfort food: there are pizzas (rectangular and with delicious combinations, such as requeijão and dried figs with Port wine or presunto and artichoke) and hamburgers, but the stars are the fresh fish of the day, octopus — a dish Jan is especially proud of, and justly so — or the excellent cataplana. All this can be paired with a wonderful wine selection, the delicious house sangria or one of the many signature cocktails that will have you stay there all day and enjoy the view.

At the Grand Salon, the chef uses the same high-quality ingredients to create gourmet dishes that are indulgent but not ostentatious, with an unusual freshness and full of flavour. “It’s all using the right cooking techniques for good produce and blending in Algarve flavours. It’s not all truffles or caviar, which we also do sometimes, but rather the real flavour of the produce we know,” he explains.

There are two degustation menus, one with three dishes (€52 plus wine pairing for €32) and another with five (€75 plus wine pairing for €42). The menu changes every three months, according to the season, but the degustation menus are updated every week. We highlight the aromatic Thai broth with a variety of mushrooms and the veal loin (aged for 25 days), perfectly complemented by the pairings from sommelier Marta Dores, which included a Quinta da Pedra Alvarinho 2013 and a red Post Scriptum Douro 2016.

Before dinner, stop by the bar and marvel at the original, impeccably restored wood work, and enjoy one of the many classic cocktails inspired by the Roaring ‘20s. With the clock frozen at 6pm — the perfect time for a cocktail — mixologist Miguel gave us a full masterclass, explaining the recipes and the history behind three drinks: negroni, Tom Collins and dry martini.

In fact, this is only one of the Grand Moments available at the hotel — 13 experiences carefully designed by the staff of Grand House that take guests on a true journey, from a guided tour to VRSA (see page 36) to a horse ride on the beach, a visit to the Castro Marim salt pans, a gyrocopter trip in the air and, for the more adventurous, swimming with tuna.

Although it is not on the list of Grand Moments, one of the hotel’s most notable experiences is its service, which is sincere and discreet, as true luxury should be. “A bottle of Champagne is a luxury, but it can be bought anywhere. Luxury for us means providing care, love and attention to guests. It means having a space with every detail, having time. It means sleeping and eating well,” says Marita Barth. All of that is part of Grand House, and it is truly grand.

Prices start at €200 per night during low season.

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