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five cool hotels

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”.



  1. Isabel February 21, 2012 8:35 am Reply

    Excellent, Emma!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: February 21st, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    thanks isabel!

    [Reply to comment]

  2. Richard Galas February 21, 2012 9:22 am Reply

    Great post Emma!
    Any recommendations for Cascais??

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: February 21st, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    I’ve never stayed in Cascais… but I’d think finding a secret treasure there would be something of a challenge…

    [Reply to comment]

    Sandy   Reply: March 15th, 2012 at 10:42 am

    @Emma, I don’t stay in Casais, rather in Estoril at Hotel Inglaterra. It too is a manor house conversion, very well run and well decorated, sea view available, also a pretty pool and garden. Location close enough to walk down to the train station, yet fringing on a lovely residential area of charming and stately older homes. And much less expensive than Casa Pergola.

    [Reply to comment]

    Isabel   Reply: February 22nd, 2012 at 7:37 am

    @Richard Galas, here’s a classic in Cascais (never stayed there myself):


    [Reply to comment]

    Allison Wlater   Reply: February 22nd, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    @Richard Galas,
    Casa de Pergola was a wonderful old manor house when I stayed there with my daughter. This b and b is centrally located and delightful. Give it a try. I will use this place again! Have fun!Here is the address. Avenue Valbom nº 13Cascais, 2750-508, Portugal

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: February 22nd, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    thanks allison (and isabel!)

    [Reply to comment]

  3. Emma February 21, 2012 8:22 pm Reply

    Oh, I have to put in my 2 pennies for ‘A Favorite’ in Porto. A little more pricey than I would usually pay, but oh so worth it. Huge rooms, incredible styling and a to-die-for brekkie. They also have a garden & terrace which is perfect for those moments when the site seeing gets tiring, but you don’t want to go back to a bog-standard hotel room & watch crappy cable. http://www.pensaofavorita.pt/

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: February 21st, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    oh yeah that looks gorgeous! there are more pics here http://oportocool.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/a-favorita/

    [Reply to comment]


  4. Vern February 22, 2012 10:56 am Reply

    Loved these comments and reminded me of my hitch-hiking days in 1949, wandering around Europe. Hostels were often primitive in those days. In France all showers and toilets were uni sex, and there were many squat toilets.

    However, there were great get togethers in the evenings with masses of spaghetti and sauce, accompanied with lots of fresh bread, the only food we could afford in those days.

    In the UK they even had chores everyone had to carry out before leaving the hostel.

    I am astounded that Portugal still seems so old world in so many ways, must be great fun dining in such old world charm.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: February 22nd, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    oh you are way cool. I hope you have all those adventures written down. Even what you say there reminds me of 1989 (chores!) … perhaps the geography matters more than the time 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

  5. Emma Ruiz February 22, 2012 12:00 pm Reply

    Hello Emma, I just opened your e-mails and never thought that you would respond, since we don’t know each other. Anyway, I like your website, I don’t remember what took me to it, but if and whenever you feel like chating there’s my e-mail. Have a wonderful day! A friend from Texas.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: February 22nd, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    I try to respond to everything genuine. Sometimes I cant help with info requests, but I try at least. What’s the point in writing if it just goes out into the ether? And I make a point of replying to emmas in particular 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

  6. Hanna February 22, 2012 11:16 pm Reply

    Just found your blog. Seems to have lots of good advice for when we go back to Portugal! I lived in Australia for a while and to me Portugal is “mini-Australia” but way closer to Europe which suits me. Thanks for sharing!

    [Reply to comment]


  7. Horatio February 23, 2012 9:15 am Reply

    Great piece of work, you really dig into your material eloquently.
    A long time ago I translated Gil Eannes’ whole history written by Dinis Nazaré who was trying to drum up support to restore the ship into an “ambassador vessel” that would sail the seven seas spreading goodwill and all that stuff…thus preserving the ship’s mission. The project flopped.
    But I’m a real farm boy because I visited it later on and didn’t even realize it housed a youth hostel, or maybe I just forgot.
    I’m also into character hotels but all I seem to stumble on are 2-star dives with frayed linen.
    I guess that’s why I’m reading your blog!!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: February 24th, 2012 at 5:23 am

    Finding joy in the 2-star-dive category does require dedication but as you can see, it is a worthy pursuit. “Faded” is the keyword to look for in out of date guidebooks, and “grandmotherly” could indicate a bonanza find.

    [Reply to comment]

    Isabel   Reply: February 25th, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    @Emma, a few years ago (more than I care to remember) I stayed at a pensão in S. Martinho do Porto that still had corn husk mattresses with wool “over mattresses” (enxergas and colchões), a WORKING standing washbasin with enamel bowl and jug in the room, a common bathroom at the end of the corridor where you could have a ball, and a pervasive scent and shine of wax… all for less than nothing.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: February 27th, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    sounds like a hotel-museum 😉

    [Reply to comment]


  8. Jen February 24, 2012 9:48 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for this recommendation, and the great pictures to go with it! I live in Lisbon, and we are planning a trip “up north” later in the spring… I think the hotel francfort will definitely be on our list of places to stay, now. You are much more reliable than anonymous guidebook folk!! 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: February 27th, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    Reliably subjective, jen. Love the blog name, must visit. x

    [Reply to comment]


  9. Rosa Maria February 28, 2012 7:14 am Reply

    Breat post Emma !
    Rosa Maria

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: March 1st, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    Rosa Maria, great to hear from you again!

    [Reply to comment]

  10. kitchenvoyage March 1, 2012 5:39 am Reply

    I am planning to go to Lisbon again for make a special for my blog I take note of your hotels. Thanks

    [Reply to comment]


  11. Patrick H March 1, 2012 8:28 am Reply

    Hi Emma,
    Spent a night on the Gi Eannes two weeks ago and pretty much had it to myself. One thing – as on many boats you need to be tolerant of the slight aroma of diesel. Braga is a great city and if the Francfort is full, may I suggest another hostel? The pop hostel is bright and friendly.(http://bragapophostel.blogspot.com/)
    I know exactly what you mean Emma when you say a hostel
    is a backpacker concept. But as an old backpacker I never had it as comfortable as this!
    Another great hostel (newly opened) is Hostel prime in guimaraes. (http://www.hostelprimeguimaraes.com/).
    Both places are defined by the friendliness of the people who run them. Love your blog. Pao d’Avo gets my vote

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: March 1st, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    excellent research there mr patrick thanks for the contribution

    [Reply to comment]

  12. Lynn Salt March 7, 2012 11:12 pm Reply

    pssst. please whisper to my email address the name of the place in Porto

    [Reply to comment]

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