The guest room corridors of the Intercontinental Porto are lined with black and white photographs of the ancient city; each one is captioned and illuminated with a small picture lamp overhead. As a group, they reflect the rich history of Porto and the seminal role it played in fostering international trade and commerce. These hallways could easily be mistaken for wings of a museum.
History buffs will love staying at this five-star hotel. Now beautifully renovated and restored by the Intercontinental Hotels Group, the 18th-century building is known to locals as the Palacio das Cardosas, the house of the Cardosas sisters.
Originally built as a monastery in the 15th century, it was later sold to a wealthy businessman, Manuel Cardoso dos Santos, who turned it into a palace while maintaining its stunning neoclassical façade. He planned to live at the Palacio with his family but tragically died only a few years later, leaving it to his wife and three daughters.
The Intercontinental group purchased the property and hired Russian architect Alex Kravetz to spearhead the building’s restoration before it opened as a luxury hotel in July 2011. The hotel is intimate in scale with only 89 rooms and 16 suites. But its elegant interior décor with high ceilings, chandeliers, and plush carpets make it feel palatial.
Location, location, location
For those hoping to explore the city, no hotel is better situated. The Intercontinental Porto is located in the city’s historic center, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It sits at the base of Freedom or Liberty Square (Praca da Liberdade) that stretches to the municipal building at the far end of Avenida dos Aiados (Street of the Allies), one of the widest and most important streets in the city.
From the front door of the hotel, it’s only a short walk to the Porto Cathedral (Se do Porto), the oldest structure in the city; the breathtaking Sao Bento train station whose walls are covered with more than 20,000 ceramic tiles; the iconic Clerigos Tower, a baroque bell tower on a hill that overlooks the city; the celebrated Livrario Lello bookstore; Mercado do Bolhao, the old city market; the Ribeira riverfront, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Porto; other monuments and museums; and a wide array of restaurants, cafes, night clubs, and shops. Although you’ll be able to walk everywhere, the square is also a major public transportation hub.
Mirror images of the crystal chandeliers hanging above the hotel lobby shine on the polished marble floors. Public spaces are beautifully maintained and tastefully furnished with a blend of contemporary and period pieces, impressive moldings and a gracious turned staircase.
Our room rate included breakfast from a sumptuous buffet table in the airy breakfast room laden with fresh local products and wonderful home-baked breads and pastries. In case you are wondering…Yes, freshly-baked pasteis de nata were available each morning. We only had time to peek at the menu of the more formal Astoria Restaurant (once called the Astoria Café) at the corner of the building.
Even if you are a teetotaler in a city that built its reputation on port wines, you’ll want to stop by the Cardosas bar off the lobby to admire the plasterwork on the curved ceiling, the ebony baby grand piano, and beautiful mahogany bookcases with faux books. Small tables and congenial bartenders make it a comfortable spot to unwind.
We stayed in Room 309, an Executive guest room on the third floor of the four-story building.
Our spacious, light-filled room had a high ceiling, impressive moldings and two sets of windowed French doors opening to wrought iron French balconies overlooking the square. The very comfortable king bed sat on a herringbone patterned wood parquet floor with an armchair, desk, and large armoire closet. Twice-a-day housekeeping services were impeccable.
The well-appointed room had every modern comfort including a minibar, self-serve coffee bar, complimentary bottled water and wide-screen TV with several English-language stations. The free wireless Internet connection was as fast as any we’ve experienced in a hotel.
The modern marble bathroom had a separate water closet, walk-in glass-enclosed stall shower with rain shower head, and large bathtub. There was always a fresh supply of fluffy towels and lemon verbena toiletries from Agraria of San Francisco.
The only limitation of the room was that at night, lighting wasn’t bright enough for aging eyes like ours, a problem common in many hotels.
Of course, a fine hotel is defined by the quality of its service. Here, it was virtually flawless.
The multilingual front desk reception staff, housekeeping staff and phone operators were great but we were bowled over by the knowledge and attentiveness of the Clefs d’or concierges, Rogerio and Goncalo. They gave us terrific ideas about what to see, do and eat. When we asked about the length of the line to visit Libraria Lello several block away, one of them sent a bellman to purchase tickets for us. Everyone seemed to work together as a cohesive team.
After our stay, we learned that the hotel is currently rated #1 of 101 hotels in Porto on TripAdvisor. That’s not surprising.
The setting, location and service make it truly difficult to leave. Yet, we are confident we’ll return. After all, we still haven’t checked out the spa or restaurant!
IF YOU GO
Intercontinental Porto hotel website
Praça da Liberdade 25, 4000-322 Porto, Portugal
- Unless you are skittish about any street noise (which was minimal), request a room facing the square.
- Two lovely jewelry shops off the lobby, one specialized in silver and the other in fine jewelry, have a selection of pieces at different price points that make a perfect keepsake of Porto.
Disclosure: The property extended a media rate to us for our four-day stay at the property. Any opinions expressed in this post are our own.