Taste the tipple of kings...and Fidel

Portugal - This hotel overlooking Porto is perfect for wine lovers. It has an Iberian heart with an English accent, writes Sarah Donnelly

'So," says Adrian Bridge. "Fidel Castro leant forwards, raised a thin finger up to my face and asked: 'And where do you buy your sugar?' Of course, we don't add sugar to our port."

Adrian is showing me a photograph of several world leaders jammed, just as we are now, between colossal port casks. Without a hint of pretension, he adds flatly: "That's the king of Spain next to him. He was translating."

Well, Adrian is the kind of man who could talk a king into providing translation services. He heads the company behind the Taylor's, Croft and Fonseca port brands, and has just completed his most ambitious project yet: a luxury hotel dedicated to the philosophy of wine.

The Yeatman Hotel's balconies concertina down the hillside above us, but to get its true measure you must start here, in the dark caves of Taylor's port lodge. Adrian turns his attention to a dusty map of the wine-growing region, on which locations of unspecified importance are marked with hundreds of pinpricks. He speaks lovingly of his lush vineyards, nurtured in a gentle climate and fed by the Douro River, which rises in Spain and meets the Atlantic here in Porto. He tells how his wife Natasha's ancestors were early port producers, and how she, the master blender, can sense just how long each wine should be aged in these barrels.

This family business has a British accent but a truly Portuguese heart: a fact borne out in every detail of the Yeatman Hotel. Its wine cellar, which opens for two hours daily, is arranged like a map of Portugal. As you enter from the north, the complex flavours of the cooler Douro region merge into the ripe aromas of the hot south. It also holds a fine collection of other European and New World wines, but you will find these only once you have safely cleared Madeira.

Then there is the view: from every room, central Porto's chaotic mountain of red roofs is seen rising out of the river. On the near bank, the cavernous whitewashed warehouses of Vila Nova de Gaia bear illuminated names of familiar port brands: Taylor's, Sandeman, Cockburn's. Even the bronze Bacchus in the lobby has his back to arriving guests in order to survey this view and, should you open your eyes while submerged in the terrace pool, you will still see the city glimmering through a glass porthole.

The hotel's restaurant, presided over by Michelin-starred chef Ricardo Costa, has strong regional influences. I find Natasha Bridge conferring in fluent, unaccented Portuguese with the sommelier. She tells me she was born in England but grew up here. I learn how fellow hoteliers thought her and Adrian mad for turning half of this prime city real estate into green space, and they admit that it could have been built for half the cost.

The sommelier moves with telepathic attentiveness between tables and returns to fill our glasses with a 1977 vintage port. I watch Natasha swish it in her glass then inhale deeply with a frown of concentration. On my turn, I become nervous. These grapes, ripened in a world that existed before my birth, when Portugal was a nascent democracy and an unbuckling colonial superpower. Surely their purpose was not to end up on my undiscerning palate. But, as I take a sip, I am transported for a moment to a warm summer in the Douro Valley, immersed in the unique alchemy that made that harvest just right.

In the morning, I wake to a clear sky and a foggy head, and I make for central Porto, which is just a short walk across the Luis I Bridge. Over the river, the terracotta metropolis reveals its winding, shadowy streets lined with blue-and-white-tiled townhouses. Bars and restaurants along the Unesco-protected waterfront cater for the tourist trade and emerging youth culture. I stop by the neo-Gothic Lello bookshop, which allegedly inspired J K Rowling's descriptions of Hogwart's school, and the Art Deco Majestic Café, where intellectuals of the Belle Epoque whipped up revolution over tea and cake.

After an arduous climb to the top of the Clerigos Tower, the view does not disappoint. This Baroque campanile, which pokes its grey head above the rooftops, was once a landmark for returning ships. Porto's seafaring spirit brings with it a certain melancholy, described in Portuguese as saudade. It has no direct counterpart in other languages, and evokes longing for lost times and lost loves. Soon the howling wind drives me back down to terra firma, and the prospect of an afternoon amid the sweet smells of the spa is calling me back to the Yeatman. But that evening, as I sit in the bar watching Bacchus ponder a starry sky, the thought of saudade comes back. I look out at the river, making its final push into the ocean, and picture the vines in the valley, whose fruit will soon ripen for some generation other than my own.

Compact Facts

How to get there

The Yeatman (00 351 22 013 4200; theyeatman.com) offers B&B in a double room from €256 per night. A special spa package is available from €886 per couple, including two nights' accommodation, buffet breakfasts, one tasting menu with drinks, two Caudalie Vinothérapie® spa treatments, access to the panoramic indoor pool, gym and well-being area.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable