Only an hour from Lisbon, Areias do Seixo makes the perfect beach break after exploring the Portuguese capital. Pine groves and sand dunes rub up against each other on the hotel's driftwood-strewn shoreline, which makes up a hush-hush stretch of Portugal's whisper-quiet Costa de Prata (Silver Coast). The futuristic concrete-and-glass exterior is the type to make architects go weak at the knees, and inside, romantic rooms feature suspended fireplaces, sheepskin throws and sea-facing terraces where you can soak up the sea breeze. All that, and daily treats such as just-baked cakes, home-made teas and and evening bonfires with acoustic music and wine... It's the stuff barefoot beach holidays are made of.
Get this when you book through us:
For stays of up to two nights, you'll get an edible treat; for longer stays, an in-room Jacuzzi ritual (or garden goodies if you book a villa)
15 rooms, including two tented hideaways, and 19 villas and townhouses.
Noon, but flexible subject to availability. Check-in, from 4pm.
Double rooms from £265.66 (€315), including tax at 6 per cent.
Rates include buffet breakfast (organic produce from the vegetable patch, bread and cakes baked in a wood oven), access to the spa and cinema room, and plenty of extras, including snacks, local wine and bicycles to borrow.
Almost every night, the hotel hosts drinks where guests mingle around a fire on the terrace or on the gazebo by the pond (free wine lubricates conversations). Keep on eye on the blackboard in the lobby for other activities; the bonfire in the grounds with nibbles and native Lusophone folk music is not to be missed.
The hotel is closed annually from mid-November to 25 December.
At the hotel
Gardens, spa, cinema room, grocery store, stash of DVDs, free WiFi throughout, bikes to borrow. In rooms: fireplace, fresh fruit, Damana bath products. Every room comes with a wooden patio: step out and enjoy the views.
Our favourite rooms
Rooms are graced with one of four design themes: Gold, Land, Tree or Love. Our favourite of the former is Love-category room Nha Cretcheu, which has an elevated four-poster bed with a frame hewn from slender wooden boughs, a seductive fireplace by the bed (with a stash of logs so you can stoke the flames), a Jacuzzi bath tub and an invigorating outdoor shower. Chandelier lights with spaghetti-thin crystalline threads add glitter, and there’s a huge bath tub overlooking the gardens. Terra is a cosy Tree Room with a wooden four-poster, a desk overlooking the garden, a Jacuzzi, his and hers showers, a fireplace and a terrace deck. Families will have plenty of space in the hotel's villas and townhouses; please note, guests staying in these categories must have a booking at the restaurant or spa to access the main hotel.
Flanked by a four-poster day-bed and sunloungers, the ink-green infinity pool overlooks the gardens, where grapes, tea, fennel, cabbage and beans flourish in the fruit and vegetable patches. It's heated by solar power from April to September (it can get quite toasty, so dip a toe in first). Please note, only children aged 10 and over are allowed in the pool between 9am and 12 noon, with adult supervision.
Indulge in treatments at the spa (for over-16s only). There are two massage rooms, a sauna, Turkish bath and relaxation room. Expect delicately perfumed essential oils, deliciously hot pebbles and expertly executed Asian methodologies.
Gardening gloves; a tambourine/guitar/song book for the bonfire – the perfect place to showcase your musical talents. Flammable attire is best left behind.
While rooms use an Earth-kind heating and cooling system, fans can be provided on request.
Welcome, but under-16s can only stay in the villas or townhouses, and must be supervised in the swimming pool, which they can use 9am–noon. The restaurant has a menu for tots, extra beds are €80 a night, and babysitting can be arranged.
Sustainability issues shape the hotel, rather than being a secondary consideration. An abandoned chicken farm once occupied the hotel’s perch – when Areias was built, the farm was ground down and its materials reused. Rather than air-conditioning, the hotel uses geothermal energy and solar power, and recycles as much as possible. Guests can even add green ‘experiences’ to their stay, including a tour of the organic garden or an informal agricultural lesson with local farmers.
Every table has garden views, but we recommend sitting opposite the kitchen so you can watch the vegetables you picked earlier be dressed for your plates. For a romantic evening meal, stake out seats close to the terrace and gaze at the bonfire and stars.
High-class hippie: ethereal Ghost layers in stone and putty hues, or gem-bright Matthew Williamson to spice up the neutral palette.
With its dark wood floors, polished concrete bar and sinuous wood stove, Areias do Seixo could pass for an edgy New York gallery – one softened by a sparkling chandelier, mismatched colourful chairs and chunky wooden tables. All three meals are served here: relaxed, unfussy food lovingly prepped by chef André Jesus from Portugal’s bountiful larder. The wood oven and charcoal grill do wonderful things to Iberian black pork and market-fresh fish, served alongside vegetables and herbs picked straight from the garden and greenhouse. And, the Sol & Lua menu has a tasty array of dishes (including vegetarian and vegan choices) for around €65 a meal.
Some artfully placed furniture distinguishes the bar from the dining area. Bosa Nova beats provide a background for conversations over rum-sloshed, garden-herb-addled cocktails, and despite all the concrete, glass and stone, there’s plenty of comfy furniture to kick back on. Panoramic windows open out to a sleek terrace, the gardens and the sea beyond; snuggle up by the firepit with a warming glass of Port.
The restaurant is open (by reservation only) from8.30am to 12 noon for breakfast, 1pm to 3pm for lunch and 7pm to 11pm for dinner. A menu of light bites is available from 1pm to 11pm.
Staff will whip you up a snack or drink around the clock – just let them know what you have a yen for.
Praceta do Atlantico, Mexilhoeira
Povoa de Penafirme
Set on a clifftop overlooking the Atlantic, Areias do Seixo is in a sleepy village a short drive from Santa Cruz.
The closest airport is Lisbon International, an hour's drive from the hotel, with flights to many destinations in Europe, particularly in the summer months from June to September.
Torres Vedras train station is 15 minutes away by car. The Portuguese national train service is Comboios de Portugal.
It's worth hiring a car to explore the coast and vineyards of this pocket of Portugal. From Lisbon airport, take the A8 towards Loures and Leiria. At exit 9, head towards Lourinha, then follow signs to A dos Cunhados, Santa Cruz, Povoa de Penafirme and finally Casal do Seixo. Areias do Seixo is signposted on the left about 800m after the last roundabout. There’s plenty of free parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Get green-fingered in the garden, and help pick the juiciest vegetables for dinner, or stroll across the protected dunes and collect fresh mussels from the beach. There are various other experiences on offer, including ‘feel green’, where guests help keep the hotel’s (eco) conscience clear. Recover from all these exertions in the sanctuary of the spa, where a sauna, Turkish bath, two massage rooms and a relaxation room await. There are no TVs in bedrooms, but couch potatoes can get their digital fix with a trip to the 7th Art Room, which has a big screen, around 90 titles and some tempting home-baked snacks. Take the boat across to Berlengas island (the hotel will ensure you make the hour-long jaunt in style). Learn to surf at the closest beach, Praia do Seixo. The hotel works closely with a surf school, but if you’re an experienced boarder, staff can help arrange rental equipment so you can set out on your own. Borrow bicycles from the hotel or rent one of the electric bikes to explore the undulating hills and dazzling seaside scenery; nearby Vimeiro has a golf course, riding school and adventure centre.
Tras d’Orelha in Ponte do Rol serves some of the area’s most succulent lamb, pork and duck dishes – unsurprisingly, since the owner is a butcher (he also bottles his own wine). Vela d’Ouro at 30 rua Jerónimo Vilarinho Lote, in Santa Cruz, is a wonderful place to sample the area’s succulent fish. Pão Saloio at 27 rua da Guerra Peninsular, Toledo, serves the best cod, a staple part of any Portuguese diet.
Sample a local red or three at Manel Bar on Esplanada Antero Quental.
‘Luxury’ is a word nowadays often debased as executive – and even ‘design’ itself. Teams of international experts have been recruited to find a meaningful new definition. They are still at it, locked in a stuffy room with ankle-deep carpet, chandeliers and horrible gilt doodads. Their midnight sandwiches are served under silver cloches by belligerently obsequious waiters.
Meanwhile, Areias do Seixo is new-generation luxury, with no bed-facing plasma televisions, no room service, no minibar. The front door of the boutique hotel on the Costa de Prata is locked and you have to ring a bell to get access. As Mrs Smith put it, beaming with delight in the austere grey concrete bathroom that looked like the wash house of a 1927 Viennese socialist housing project, ‘Imagine explaining to our parents that we like this!’
You have to pay to go on a trip to pick the mussels they serve you at lunch. On the other hand, there are no grim flunkies loitering for a €20 tip for lifting a handbag; and, here, while you are having dinner, countless candles are lit in your room. The views of the dunes and the awful crashing Atlantic rollers are thrilling.
Areias do Seixo is an hour north of Lisbon. The name can be roughly translated as ‘pebble beach’. It opened in Spring 2010 and is a rarity on the over-developed and under-charming Portuguese Oeste coast: a new building of outstanding character. The Portuguese have generally been reluctant to participate in contemporary Euro culture, but architecture is an exception. Eduardo Souto de Moura and Alvaro Siza are respected international figures and the architect of Areias do Seixo, Vasco Vieira, and his interior designer, Rosario Gabriel, make their own distinguished contribution to the language of late Modern design.
On a seven-hectare sloping site, 10 generous bedrooms, each a little different, are arranged facing the sea and the dunes at ground level. Above them and set back, a vast duplex penthouse and the smaller, but extremely appealing, room where we stayed. So, a mere 12 rooms in a building with a footprint of over 3,000 square metres. Put it this way: a regular tourist hotel would have 50 rooms in the same area. Senses of privacy and privilege are a reality here, but so too is a vast, exciting public area.
If I say ‘concrete and glass’ you will get the wrong impression because the unapologetic modernist materials are handled with taste and intelligence. Even for a worldly observer of new buildings, there is a measure of surprise in the spaces and ingenuity in the details that are very pleasing. What about garden lights made from plumber’s plastic conduit? They work! But architecture is, most of all, about arrangements of space and light. Here they are arranged beautifully.
Besides, the polished concrete and raw metal surfaces are relieved by plenty of fabrics, water, gnarled mature olives, wood-burning stoves and souk-sourced artefacts. Maybe the latter trend a little too much towards cuteness, but that’s an insignificant flaw. Normally ‘design’ when applied to hotels is an insulting travesty, but here it is worthy. After years of thinking about it, I know exactly what comprises a good building: it’s one that makes you feel engaged, optimistic, pleased, flattered. Areias do Seixo does all of that. And its capacious showers with two huge drenching heads, sunken bath, obscenely snuggable duvets and very private terrace contribute to other things as well.
But even Mr and Mrs Smith have to eat. Lunch and dinner at Areias do Seixo are not much different in content or style and, for anyone who remembers the Portuguese tendency towards old, wet cabbage, revelatory. The very visible open kitchen serves starters of morcilla with fried potatoes and egg, beetroot couscous (much, much better than it reads) and mussels as big as your fist. Followed by unctuously stewed octopus in parsley and garlic or cataplana, the local fish soup. This area is stiff with vineyards and the hotel has a wine list to prove it. Afterwards, your own virtually private beach.
Areias do Seixo is so beguiling that there is not much reason to leave. But in the land of Vasco da Gama, exploration is a nagging moral imperative. Half an hour south is Ericeira, as charming a village as you can expect hereabouts. We ate at Furnas, a restaurant on the wave-battered rocks. You choose your fish on entry and it arrives at the table after the first glass of vinho verde has expired. Half an hour north in picturesquely fortified, but tourist despoiled, Obidos, a stately lunch at Castelo, Portugal’s very first pousada. Or borrow a hotel bike and ride up the coast, reminding yourself, head down in the gale as you puff past the enormous praias and vast horizons, that Portugal is much more an Atlantic than a Mediterranean country.
At this point I am going to write something that nearly makes me wince. Areias do Seixo is a very personal project of proprietors Goncalo and Marta Alves. The essence of their concept is that this is an ‘experience hotel’. Hence, the mussel-hunting and an invitation on our first night to eat a bacalhau and local wine feast in a neighbour’s private cellar. And, every night before dinner, a bonfire is lit near the dunes and guests are invited to sit around and drink agua pe (the first pressing, or ‘foot wine’) while Marta strums a guitar. Now, Mrs Smith and I are not very clubbable and what I have just described would once have driven us screaming to the airport. But it says everything about the intense charm of Areias do Seixo that a circle of fire, a guitar under the stars and rough peasant wine seems absolutely correct.
One morning when we woke, we found simultaneous fog and rain swirling and splashing on a very wet, grey terrace. Again, instead of wishing we could flee, we thought: ‘That’s fine. We won’t go anywhere. We’ll stay here and enjoy the hotel.’ Now that is luxury.