Occupying a neoclassical building in the heart of Porto, Maison Albar Le Monumental Palace, from French group Maison Albar Hotels, channels Thirties Paris with its dazzling art-deco design, modish brasserie and rakish cocktail lounge. Stepping inside this decadent grande dame feels akin to finding the Lost Generation – as soon as you pass through the art-nouveau entrance, you’re surrounded by Portugese marble, golden lamps and carpets embellished with bold patterns. Upstairs, you’ll bed down in rooms dressed with lacquered furniture, pastel fabrics and vast decorative-edged mirrors. Downstairs, choose from an elegant all-day brasserie or Francophile fine-dining restaurant, where choice Portugese ingredients are prepared with Gallic flair. After dark, find your poison at low-lit Bar Americain, confident that rejuvenation can be found at the luxurious Nuxe spa.
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Welcome basket with fresh fruit and pastries, plus a 10% discount on facial treatments in the spa
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £223.10 (€250), including tax at 6 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €2.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include a breakfast of muesli and fresh fruit, French and Portuguese viennoiseries, cold cuts and cooked-to-order items like eggs, bacon, pancakes and chia pudding.
The hotel’s interiors and layout may be new, but the café first opened its doors in 1923, making it the historic heart. If its early 20th-century styling has you hungering for more, stop for a drink at the Majestic Café on Rua Santa Catarina, where the interiors have been painstakingly restored.
Even the entry-level rooms have sumptuous art-deco furnishings and bathrooms decked in gleaming marble. If no expense is to be spared, book Le Suite Monumentale, spread over several rooms and styled like a lavish apartment. For something marginally less indulgent, try one of the Suites Audacieuses, each of which has a spacious bedroom and an adjoining lounge, both sporting polished furniture and striking prints.
There’s an indoor pool in the spa area, surrounded by walls clad in trompe l’oeil tiles and milky white marble. The loungers look more like chaises longues than pool furniture, and the lights are shaped like oversized seashells, adding a final art-deco flourish to this decadent grotto.
The spa is run by Parisian beauty brand Nuxe, so you know you’re in very good hands. Limber up in the Vichy shower, sauna or hammam before sampling one of a signature Nuxe massage, luxurious body scrub or glow-giving facials, all of which involve liberal use of the brand’s high-end products.
Tote a novel by a Lost Generation writer – who knows, perhaps you’ll get a literary salon going among a few fellow enthusiasts in the lobby.
All of the common areas are wheelchair accessible, and there are adapted rooms with larger bathrooms.
All ages are welcome, but under-16s won’t be able to use the spa or pool.
The hotel uses eco-friendly cleaning products, efficient lights and green bath products. Water saving measures and a recycling programme are in place and priority is given to local business partnerships.
In the café, go for a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows.
As you like for Monumental Café; Le Monument calls for a slightly sharper silhouette.
Trading since 1923, the Monumental Café is the hotel’s heart and soul. Recalling the elegant brasseries of Paris, this casual all-day restaurant is flooded with light thanks to its vast windows, mirror-clad walls and floor of gleaming tiles. The kitchen is helmed by French chef Julien Montbabut, who has created a classic brasserie menu that works as well for lunch as it does for late dinners. There are plenty of Gallic classics – Bourgogne snails, foie gras marinated in port, slow-cooked chicken breast with asparagus and aged beef entrecôte, best paired with the handmade French fries. Open for dinner, fine-dining restaurant Le Monument is a dressier affair, with cloth-covered tables arranged in and around the hotel’s central atrium. Here, Montbabut serves five or seven-course set menus, uniting French cooking with Portugese ingredients like suckling pig, Ria de Aveiro eel and aged Barrosã rib-eye steak.
Echoing the clandestine cocktail bars found in prohibition-era New York, Bar Americain is a rakish lounge with plush velvet booths and a soft jazz soundtrack. There’s a fine range of gins, whiskeys and wines, but it’s the shaken and stirred offerings that steal the show.
Monumental Café serves from 9am to midnight; Le Monument is open for dinner from 7.30pm to 10pm Tuesday to Saturday. Bar Americain serves from 3pm to 1am (2am from Thursday to Saturday).
The room service menu includes light bites like smoked salmon, foie gras and bísaro ham, and heartier dishes like beef tenderloin, cod and burgers. There’s also a kids’ menu.
Maison Albar Le Monumental Palace occupies an impressive neoclassical building on a broad, leafy boulevard in the centre of Porto. The Douro River and city’s historic quarters are within walking distance.
Porto’s Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport is closest, and can be reached directly from London Gatwick and most European hubs. It takes around 20 minutes to drive to the hotel; transfers for up to two people can be arranged for €40 each way.
Trains from Lisbon, Guimarães and Aveiro arrive at Porto’s São Bento station, 2km from the hotel.
You won’t need a car if you’re sticking within the city – there’s a comprehensive public transport network. If you do want to drive, the Smith24 team can arrange it for you. Valet parking is €25 a day.
Worth getting out of bed for
Many of Porto’s best pockets – including its historic neighbourhoods – are within walking distance, so you’ll likely want to make the most of the hotel’s enviable location. That said, it has stayed true to the spirit of Jazz Age excess by ensuring you could spend hours within its walls – not least in the historic café, an ode to the French capital that stays open until midnight. Those looking to find their inner Hemingway should make a beeline for Bar Americain, though you’re equally likely to hit your creative zenith after a few hours in the sumptuous Nuxe spa.
The hotel sets the bar high when it comes to transportive interiors, but century-old bookshop Livreria Lello is just as capable of whisking you from one world to the next. Founded in 1906 by José and Antonio Lello, this art-nouveau landmark looks like it sprang from the page of a fanciful novel, regularly making it onto lists of the world’s most beautiful bookshops. The neo-gothic façade gives way to the cavernous shop floor, flanked by ornate shelving and capped by a stained glass ceiling. The pièce de résistance is the ornate staircase, which swoops from either side of the atrium down to the ground floor. For more feats of engineering, consider a stroll across the Dom Luís I Bridge, designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel. Arching over the River Douro, this double-deck bridge not only affords some of the best views of the city limits, it also leads to Vila Nova de Gaia, home to Graham’s Lodge. Overlooking the old city and the bridge, the lodge has been producing W&J Grahams port since 1890, and now runs tours and tastings by appointment. If you’re looking to cool off after a morning’s sightseeing, try the Marés Swimming Pool in Leça da Palmeira. Designed by Pritzker-winner architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, this set of concrete tidal pools are set into a stretch of rocky coast, uniting man-made shapes with rugged nature.
If your after a second breakfast, swing by Época Café, serving homemade pastries, cakes, brunch classics and craft coffee. For lunch, try Mistu, which has taken up residence in an old locksmith’s workshop behind the Stock Exchange Palace. The circular marble tables, rattan chairs, tiled floors and potted palms give the dining room a worldy lean, which suits the globe-trotting menu to a T – expect dishes influenced by Asian and South American cuisine (but still retaining classic Portugese roots). Italian eatery Puro 4050 doubles as Portugal’s first mozarella bar – the idea is to mix or match various varieties with vegetables and Italian delicatessen. There’s a proper menu too, of course – some of the standout dishes are the octopus risotto and moreish mushroom pasta. Former pharmacy Traça is the place for a traditional Portugese dinner, served in a charming dining room with a tiled floor and wood-beam ceiling. If you’re stuck for choice, try one of the game dishes – stewed partridge, boar loin and venison are among the offerings.
Open-air bar Base is surrounded by clipped lawns and manicured greenery, making it a choice spot for an afternoon tipple or sundowner.
One of my favourite things about travelling is the element of leaving not just space, but time. Hear me out on this: visiting a city that’s steeped in history makes it easier to imagine you’re in another era, following in the footsteps of countless others down cobbled streets, and trying local delicacies made using ancient original recipes. Not only does Porto as a whole have old-time charm in spades, but luxury hotel Maison Albar Le Monumental Palace has its own feeling of time travel, too. Here, you’re transported to a glamorous Thirties Paris (albeit one with plenty of discreet mod-cons) thanks to sumptuous velvet upholstery, highly polished metal fittings and charming staff (which can too often, sadly, feel like a bygone part of city breaks).
The entrance hall – all marbled surfaces and offerings of fruit-infused water – has a particularly elegant fragrance (I’m bad at these things, but I want to say amber?) that somehow encourages your shoulders to drop an inch. Check-in is smooth – we’d already completed most of it at home – and our suitcases are taken up to our room. This isn’t just any room; it’s enormous, with a desk, sofa, large bed, and plenty of negative space that screams luxury. The marble bathroom is equally impressive, boasting two sinks, a bath and separate shower. We’re also charmed by the smaller touches: a box of macarons on the bed each night as part of the turn-down service is particularly welcome.
If you stay here, promise me you’ll rise before breakfast to investigate the spa. We are the beneficiaries of other guests’ lie-ins, having the green-tiled pool, sauna, steam room and gym to ourselves for a good 30 minutes. It’s Instagram catnip. Refreshed, it’s time for breakfast, which combines a mammoth buffet (everything from fresh fruit and cereal, to cold cuts, cheeses, honey comb and cakes) with hot options. I have an, admittedly niche, appreciation for the variety of juice on offer too – why anyone would choose orange when pear or passionfruit is on offer is beyond me. My husband plumps for the chef’s daily recommendation (today it’s smoked-salmon toast with crisp cucumber) while I fill up on temptations including the nation’s favourite egg tarts pastéis de nata, dusted with chocolate powder (not my first, or last, of our Portuguese holiday).
For any pastry-lover unafraid of weight gain, Porto is ideal for a gastronomic break, and just round the corner from the hotel is low-key café Leitaria da Quinta do Paço which is renowned for its delicious éclairs. Other nearby delights include world-famous bookshop Livraria Lello, which – even this early in the day – has attracted a crowd, thanks to its dramatic sweeping staircase and eye-catching wooden shelving. It’s so popular, in fact, that entrance is ticketed, but you do get the ticket price redeemed against any book purchases. And frankly it’s hard to limit shopping to just one book, especially as they have their own special editions of classics in various languages. It’s basically my idea of heaven (aside from the infuriating influencers trying to stage photo opps in a crowded shop, that is.) When it starts to drizzle with rain we take shelter in the lavish church Igreja do Carmo, and are delighted to find a narrow house hidden seemingly in its walls (entrance is included in the ticket price) where various clergy lived right up until the 1980s.
We spend the rest of our all-too-brief trip exploring the cobbled streets of the old town, Ribeira, walking over the iconic Dom Luís I bridge, and whizzing through a (now, thankfully) blue sky in cable cars. We drink prosecco and eat overpriced pancakes covered in chocolate sauce – it’s pancake day, after all – by the river, watching flocks of gulls and tourist boats go by. I’ve never taken so many photos of tiled or pastel-painted buildings in my life. In the delightful way that sometimes happens on city breaks we stumble into an exhibition of work by Henri Cartier-Bresson at the strange, spacious venue Alfândega do Porto. We’re completely captivated by the sheer range of work on display – from portraits of famous figures, including Marilyn herself, to reportage from around the world – it’s utterly inspiring and we leave resolved to buy a camera on our return home.
As for nightlife, there’s a great range of drinking spots local to Le Monumental. The Royal Cocktail Club, which has a fabulous experimental menu, is within staggering distance from the hotel, as is popular pub Bonaparte Downtown. Our visit coincides with Carnival (the start of Lent) and the streets are busy with young people in elaborate masks and costumes: Pikachu and the Pope, to name just a few. But, post-people watching, our favourite bar to prop up is the American Bar within the hotel – with smoked-salmon-topped blinis, expert cocktails made to order, and a supremely glamorous feel, what’s not to like?
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