The mere mention of a ‘themed’ hotel should be enough to make even the most travel-hardened Smith hotfoot it to the sanctuary of the nearest Four Seasons. Visions of custodial sentences in Disneyland are hard to erase (‘No, I would not
like a Donald Duck nightlight turned on in my Mouse House’).
Well, full disclosure: Hotel Teatro in Porto
has a theme, and as the name suggests, the theme is theatre. All the world’s a stage and we are merely players, carrying hand luggage and under-100ml liquids. On this basis Mrs Smith and I approached Teatro with trepidation, imagining we would be met at the door by a Portuguese Brian Blessed in a puffy shirt, followed by dinner served in three acts.
We needn’t have worried. Truth be told, the drama thing is a bit of a red herring – more of a dress code than a straitjacket – borne of the fact that Teatro is situated smack bang in Porto city centre, in theatreland. The references extend as far as the colour palette and some of the decor. The tones are all burnt ochre and oxidised metal, with, and floor-length heavy curtains throughout. By ‘theatre’ they mean mid-century Hollywood glamour, not jazz hands, masks and musicals: the walls of the restaurant are covered with a huge black-and-white mural of a cinema audience staring back at you; there are costume racks by the lifts and the carpets are patterned with silhouettes of old-school arc lights.
Too much? Nope, just about right. Because the big, overarching theme is offset by deft little touches like your own notebook to write down ‘O Que Es Mais Gostei’ (What I Liked Most) for highlights of your stay, and stage lights that come on as you shuffle past. Nothing about Teatro is overblown: yes, there’s a grand, statement bathroom but it’s statement is ‘nice bathroom’ rather than ‘if you dare try the wetroom in three minutes the sink area will look like a challenge from Celebrity Wipeout’. It all means that whatever you think of the Teatro’s style, you can’t doubt its substance.
Considering the hotel’s surrounds, it all makes sense; Porto in summer is why-did-I-bother-with-the-raincoat hot. So the autumnal lighting and tinted glass surfaces are actually welcome relief from 30 degree-plus temperatures outside. Mrs S, I should add, wasn’t entirely in agreement, saying the perpetual dusk meant it was hard to do her make-up. I pointed out that if the lighting was low it meant less need for cosmetics in the first place. We argued the toss over a complimentary glass of port in the bar.
Did I mention port? Whereas in Britain the viscous plummy stuff conjures up images of gout-ridden old duffers dozing in St James clubs, in Porto it’s the very lifeblood of the city. At night the far bank of the Douro is illuminated with the names of the age-old wineries – Graham’s, Croft, Sandeman – splashed on the rooftops like the titles of the week’s big new movies. The next morning we headed over to Gaia, on the South bank, where the port houses reside. The restaurants (we ate at Taylor’s) serve some of the best food in the city.
Not the best, though – a recommendation from Teatro’s wonderfully efficient concierge plus a hearty nod from a couple of taxi drivers took us to O Paparico that evening, which is about 10 minutes drive from the centre. As most of Porto is walkable a cab ride is a black mark, but for your trouble you’ll get exquisite, homely, Portuguese cuisine.
Now, a note: without sounding a complete culinary philistine, they do a thing here where a selection of small dishes are put on your table when you arrive. We presumed this was the starter equivalent of the dessert trolley – a beauty parade with one eventual winner. So with our absence of Portuguese the morsels sat and sat, until the waiter suggested maybe, what with this being a restaurant, we might like to eat something. He gracefully smothered our embarrassment with drink recommendations with every course, and seemed blithely unconcerned by how many glasses we had of each.
If you’ve been doing the maths (free port, more port, bottomless wine tab and did I mention that nice glass of after-dinner port?), you’ll understand my appreciation of one particular detail the next morning: a proper espresso machine in our room. ‘Proper’ meaning coffee that doesn’t taste like it’s been pipetted from a puddle on a garage forecourt. It gave us just the energy required to make it down to a no-limits buffet breakfast. Only fly in our ointment? Those tables in the courtyard that look like enticing sun-spots are just that – but they are also an enticing smoke-spot to those with a weakness for tobacco.
But this is the only flaw, and of course it’s not one to the puffers out there. Consulting my little Teatro notebook I noted that I only wrote down one other potential gripe: a lot of card-swiping was required. Entry to the room, the hotel and the lifts all demand a flash of plastic. And anyway, this micro-grumble was soon crossed out. The theatrical vibe started to take effect: I found myself swiping away with increasingly elaborate gestures, like a Shakespearean hero dismissing an idle courtier; or maybe Clint Eastwood, lightning-quick on the draw. And my leading lady, Mrs Smith? She just started taking the other lift.