24-Hour Room Service: Aquapura, Douro Valley, Portugal
Saturday 20 June 2009
Northern Portugal's Douro region might be most widely acclaimed for its luscious port wine, but this is not the only thing that visitors to the area will want to soak up. Drive inland from the city of Porto, tracing the river Douro upstream, and upon entering the Unesco-listed Alto Douro region, the landscape really begins to take your breath away.
The crumpled narrowing valley, sliced in two by the river, is a staggeringly beautiful mosaic of almond and olive trees and vertiginous vineyards folding into the distance. Some say the Douro takes its name from duro, Portuguese for gold, because it brought wealth in the form of fresh water to irrigate the estates, or quintas, that dot this section of the river.
Douro is also the oldest regulated wine region in the world and the first-ever DOC. On one of these wine-producing estates is the handsome granite and deep cherry-coloured Quinta de Vale Abraao, which forms the heart of the Aquapura Resort & Spa. Divided from the port centre of Peso de Regua by the river, the quinta was built in the 19th century. It is tucked down the end of a meandering, cobblestone driveway and is surrounded by vineyards and gardens.
Bolted on to one side is an audacious modern wing designed by Portuguese architect Luis Rebelo de Andrade, which houses the reception, guest rooms, a library and spa as well as a restaurant and bar. While perhaps not to everyone's taste, this paean to cutting-edge style sits comfortably next to its historic counterpart. A total of 21 residential villas have recently been completed a short walk from the hotel.
The gorgeous spa has interior dry-stone walls and comes replete with thermal suites, a large indoor swimming pool, and in keeping with the vinous theme, offers treatments harnessing the antioxidant properties of grapes. The crowning glory is the outdoor pool, surrounded by bursts of agapanthus flowers; with stunning views of the river this is the perfect place to unwind after a visit to one of the local port estates.
Aquapura's main Almapura restaurant has a magical setting, spilling out on to an atmospheric granite flagstone courtyard. Dishes are a contemporary interpretation of traditional Portuguese dishes such as roasted kid goat. There is also a more casual restaurant next door and a slick bar in the newer wing. The sommelier guided me towards trying one of the many locally produced red wines on the list, which are increasingly commanding attention from oenophiles.
Aquapura Douro Valley, Quinta do Vale Abraao, Samodaes-Lamego, Douro, Portugal (00 351 254 660 660; aquapurahotels. com; slh.com).
The hotel is in the heart of Douro's port-producing terrain on the south bank of the river.
Time from international airport: Porto is about one hour and 20 minutes' drive. The hotel can arrange transfers for €207, but a hire car is useful if you want to get out and explore the region.
There are 50 rooms, nine of which are suites. Rooms are spread throughout the old quinta and the contemporary wing, with the majority of the suites set in the historic, older building.
Given the layout of the quinta, all of these are unique and decorated with more of a nod to their heritage, while the rooms in the new building are uncompromisingly modern, decorated in dark hues of plummy reds, muted greens and greys, echoing the vines and grapes of the surrounding landscape. There are dark wood floors, black lacquered furniture, chrome light fittings and snowy-white beds. Some rooms have terraces with views of the river, others have vineyard views.
A large bath dominated my bedroom, but there was also a separate bathroom partitioned off by smoked glass walls with granite wash basins and iridescent green mosaic tiles.
Freebies: Divine-smelling Aromatherapy Associates toiletries.
Keeping in touch: Direct-dial phones, flat-screen TV and Wi-Fi. If anything, the rooms suffer that modern hotel malaise of being over-technological – you almost need an engineering degree to work out how to switch off the lights.
The Bottom Line
Doubles start at €250 per night, including breakfast.
I'm not paying that: The nearby Quinta Nova (00 351 254 730 430; quintanova.com) has doubles from €120 including breakfast.
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