Vila Foz Hotel & Spa review: a luxurious palace in Porto
This hotel boasts remarkable interiors and two fantastic restaurants
Take a 15-minute drive from Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, Porto’s main travel hub, and you reach the striking Vila Foz Hotel & Spa; it takes its name from the locale in which it sits, one of Porto’s swankier districts.
We arrived under cover of darkness but as the morning light crept across the sky, the hotel’s majestic setting revealed itself. Miles of sprawling coast, a perfect mix of smooth rock and the tiniest of barefoot-friendly pebbles, stretch out just in front of the palatial building.
Why come here?
There are two parts to Vila Foz; the older, 19th century central building which was originally a wealthy family’s home and a newer section; renovations were completed in 2019 which involved a sensitive redesign of the interior of the “palace”, including all seven suites, and the construction of the new building housing 61 sea-facing rooms. They all face east and the floor-to-ceiling windows create a living picture of the sun descending over the horizon and into the dark waters of the Atlantic.
Madeiran designer Nini Andrade de Silva is responsible for the hotel’s remarkable, unique interiors, all calming earth-tones with onyx as the recurrent theme. There are some Giger-esque touches here and there – of particular note is the organically shaped sofa in the subterranean corridor that runs between the two parts of the hotel, lit by an angular skylight. The devil really is in the detail here – every last bit has been thought through.
One of the most striking features of the hotel is the indoor swimming pool in the basement of the hotel. A great swathe of earth has been carved out in front of it and rebuilt in stone, steps and succulents, creating a private sun-trap and making you feel a little like you’re in a luxurious Bond villain’s lair.
Eating and drinking
Vila Foz has two fantastic restaurants; it’s got a high flying gastro dinner-only spot in the villa itself, Restaurant Vila Foz – the room is exquisite, airy, cool and spacious. There are a couple of particularly special “ring-side” seats (well, kitchen-side) so you can watch the chefs working your dinner. Seafood takes centre stage with exciting dishes like lobster, Trás-os-Montes olives, turnip and Mayer lemon and squid, roasted garlic, daikon and iodized broth. The restaurant has just been awarded a Michelin star.
Flor de Lis is the slightly more pedestrian restaurant that pushes out more traditional Portuguese dishes with a few bells and whistles. Seafood, again, is the hero – clams, octopus, sardines and salt cod all come to the party.
You can’t spell Porto without spelling port; the exquisite wood-panelled bar in Vila Foz does an upmarket take on a white port and tonic and you’ll find it used in all manner of different ways across town – in chocolates at Chocolataria Equador, in dishes both sweet and savoury in most restaurants, in pastelarias and bakeries.
There are constant debates over the best place to get a pastéis de nata – Manteigaria is on every list; don’t forget to do it like a local and sprinkle on some cinnamon.
The late, great Anthony Bourdain visited Porto in an episode of his Parts Unknown series; he visited some great spots; a couple of favourites would be Cervejaria Gazela for a cachorrinhos, a sort of “hot dog sandwich” (but that description does it a great injustice) and O Afonso for a the infamous francesinha, a megalith of meats, cheese and bread coated in a tomato and beer gravy. Susana, CCO of Vila Foz, recommends an alternative, Cafe Santiago. Wash it down with a SuperBock Stout and have some unmissable Portuguese fries on the side.
While Porto does sit right on the sea, good fish and seafood still command a premium. If you want to eat more like a local, head out to the nearby enclave of Matosinhos to O Gaveto – a pick-you-own fish or shellfish joint. They have a great range of crispy white Alvarinho to accompany.
What to do
If R&R is a priority, head straight to the hotel spa for some unwinding treatments in soothingly designed rooms; there’s a hammam and a sauna for those so inclined. For a bit more zen, to overlook a walk along this wonderful stretch of coast would be a mistake. Early evening is the time to go, stopping at any of the bars that run along the coast. They’re far enough apart to make it feel unspoilt and have spectacular views from which to sip sundowners.
For the brave, the sea makes for a bracing dip – it’s cold all year round but we managed a (quick) swim in November along with some locals. If you want a quieter walk, take a bus or taxi up the coast and you’ll find plenty of small fishing villages to stroll through.
A short walk from the hotel lies the old tram route into Porto itself which makes for a much more entertaining, jangly journey into the city than by road. It’s a bit touristy but hey – you’re a tourist.
Vila Foz Hotel & Spa, Avenida Montevideu, 236, 4150-516 Porto, Portugal. Rooms from £200; vilafozhotel.pt