Anyone with an appreciation of design and architecture will be in their element at Four Rooms, a converted 19th-century townhouse entirely reconstructed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Eduardo Souto de Moura. Tucked away on a quiet residential street in Porto’s former fishermen’s district of Foz, its discreet, unmarked exterior conceals a modern and immaculately designed space inside.
Natural materials – marble, wood, granite – dominate, and the decor is a relaxing palette of soft greys, whites and lilac. After the hustle and bustle of central Porto, Four Rooms is a calm, homely and visually gratifying place to come back to.
As the name suggests, there are four separate suites. Upstairs in the main house are two double rooms with good-sized bathrooms. At the back is a separate Garden Loft, with double bed, small living area, shower room, floor-to-ceiling glass doors, a private entrance and courtyard. Across the road, in a converted charcoal house, is the stunning Sky Loft apartment.
The comfortable beds are made up with Egyptian cotton bedlinen, Portuguese wool blankets and Gant cushions, with toiletries by Clarins. Each room has an iPod dock and the lofts have wall-mounted 27-inch Apple iMacs for watching TV and DVDs, as well as Lavazza coffee machines. Macaroons are left by the bedside each day and guests can also help themselves to complimentary homemade cake, water and bottled beer.
Co-owner Caterina runs the guesthouse and is originally from Foz. She studied graphic design in Porto, so is well placed to tell you about some of Porto’s other architectural and design gems, of which there are many. Another equally friendly and professional Caterina helps out, and both speak fluent English. They have connections with all the best places around town and organise surprise treats for guests, such as booking the best table at a local restaurant or organising a welcome drink.
As with everything here, great care is taken with presentation at breakfast. Food is served on small white plates on a silver tray, either in the conservatory or in the main house. A former Relais & Chateaux chef, Pedro Lemos, is in charge of catering, and many of the ingredients are organic and change daily. I had a buffet of cereals and cheeses, followed by fresh rolls and strawberry jam, natural yoghurt with berry compote, a mozzarella omelette, a selection of melon and two little cakes. Tea arrived in a beautiful carafe and coffee was of the highest quality.
Foz is very much a local’s town. Perched above the mouth of the Douro river and Atlantic ocean, it has a far more relaxed feel than central Porto. You could happily spend hours wandering its narrow streets, browsing the antique and design shops, or sinking sundowners at one of the many beach bars.
Well-marked bike trails run along the coast, while Portugal’s largest urban park and several blue-flag beaches are close by (porto-tourism.com). Surfers will find waves at the neighbouring town of Matosinhos, or better swell further south. The old-fashioned No 1 tram snakes its way along the waterfront from Foz in to central Porto, from where you can explore the Unesco World Heritage historic centre on foot.
The Fundacao de Serralves (00 351 226 156 500; serralves.pt) and its contemporary art museum, designed by another Porto-based Pritzker prize-winner Alvaro Siza Vieira, is a short walk from Four Rooms; along the way you can see other examples of Souto de Moura’s work. The geometric Casa da Musica (00 351 220 120 220; www.casadamusica.com) by Rem Koolhaas is also nearby and stages a varied programme of concerts and events.
Of course, no trip to Porto would be complete without a visit to one of the famous lodges across the river to sample some port wine. Taylor’s and Graham’s are good options. The guesthouse can also arrange bespoke tours of the area by boat, car or train.
The pit stop
There are many excellent places to eat in Foz. The fantastic Casa de Pasto da Palmeira (00 351 226 168 244) is just around the corner on the riverfront and serves tapas-style dishes. Sushi fans should head to Shis (00 351 226 189 593; shisrestaurante.com) or Ichiban (00 351 226 186 111; ichiban.pt). Across the river is Porto’s only Michelin-starred restaurant at the wine-themed Yeatman hotel (00 351 220 133 100; the-yeatman-hotel.com).
Four Rooms, 1015 Rua do Padre Luis Cabral, Porto, Portugal (00 351 929 190 406; 4rooms.org). Doubles start at €88 (£75), including breakfast.