You have to have a stash of good places to stay even when you live here. And they take some time to find, except if you’re lucky and you chance upon a sweet spot when you first land. I had that luck in Braga. The hotel francfort will probably always be my choice while Dona Eugenia’s doors remain open – which will not be forever.
The francfort is a old maid of a place and by old I mean about 100 years. Check out this postcard – that’s the francfort behind the tree on the right. She is a bit worn and tired and the hot water is crap but you will not find a better collection of furniture or bedspreads anywhere. And it’s a bargain. Don’t forget your earplugs.
Speaking of grand dames, the Viscondessa of Espinhal’s old house in Lousã – the Meliá Palácio da Lousã – is another of my favourites. I love a historic palace conversion, but they so rarely get it right – ripping out too much of the old character in favour of blandness and mod-cons. But this little countess of a place is a treasure. I confess that the rooms are a bit beige (and forget staying in the new wing) but the restaurant and the three salons are some of most charming interior design I’ve ever seen. I adore the white painted ornate doors, partly mirrored, subtley gilded. Gorgeous. Get married there, go on.
Also old and not renovated is a place in Porto whose name cannot be spoken. We are afraid, you see, that we will never be able to get in there if everyone knows about it. The castle, shall we say, is something unique. Of indeterminate age, this fabulous hotel is a pastiche of time-forgotten Portuguese splendour. It’s all wallpaper and tiles, obtusely decorated. Unlike the Meliá, you wouldn’t call it stylish. It’s probably a private home which the hoteliers have left just as they found it. Everything seems to work perfectly, so there must have been some discreet renovations, only you wont find them in the bathroom porcelain or door handles.
I don’t just like old hotels. I also like the Living Lounge Hostel in Lisbon. And the Lisbon Lounge Hostel. They are sister hostel/hotels both in the Baixa and both funky as all get out. The Lisbon Lounge is a hostel – it has dorm rooms and is more of a party place. Although the Living Lounge has it’s parties too… but they have very groovy little themed doubles and singles. It’s all modern and clean and very ipad friendly.
I feel like the concept of these hostels came from an ex-backpacker like me, who wondered why hostels worldwide had the charm like a mental institution. Someone clever here also realises that Stylish and Expensive are mutually exclusive things. Although I do know they spent some money on the fit out, it needn’t have cost a million. Take a nice old building with original stonework feature bits, add retro furniture, funky junk decoration, some wall decals and a whole lotta white paint and you have a hostel that puts all others to shame – and outclasses hotels of the same price range.
You have to book weeks ahead. It can be noisy, the bathrooms are shared (in concept, but not really in practice) and the luggage thing is a hassle. But if you’re not too decrepit, you only brought a small backpack and you always carry earplugs, you might be very happy here.
The Living Lounge is also fortuitously located across the street from a sushi place. And if you’re arriving late after a long train or longer flight there’s nothing better for it than a big plate of ricey fishy wasaby goodness. Oh and did I mention the pancakes in the morning. Mate, I am (still) a very happy backpacker.
Speaking of young people, you might have to be one (deep down in your heart) to get a smile out of staying in this rat-infested, cold and cranky creep-o of a hostel. No, the Pousada Juventude Gil Eannes in Viana do Castelo does not actually have rats, but it should. The Gil Eannes is an ex-army hospital ship part slightly-macabre hospital museum and part state-run youth hostel. And it is faithful to the rudimentary-institutional theme of most of the Pousadas Juventude, only here, floating on the water in a genuine rust bucket, the brutal austerity is appropriate. And rather fun.
On my first trip to Portugal I spent quite a while in Viana, looking a property in the Minho. I must have been young then as a youth hostel and a small joint were my poison. At the Gil Eannes there was usually just me and one other resident (hello daniel) staying there and we would sneak around the dark and sinister ship, freaking ourselves out a little. It was not just the ship’s long, narrow passageways and portholes, but the rooms. The girl’s dorm room is huge, but stacked with triple bunks – truly sardine like – but if you’re a sailor-boy-guest you get to sleep in a real metal hospital bed. As the only guests however, we had our pick of the officer’s quarters. I was a bit peeved that my friend would get the captain or first officer’s rooms and I would get the nurse’s. Still, that was preferable to the room for “infecciosos”.