B&B and Beyond: Casa do Conto, Porto, Portugal
When a fire destroyed this B&B just before it was to open, its owner swapped concrete for wood. Mick Webb took a look
Sunday 09 December 2012
Over the past few years, Portugal's second city, Porto, has been steadily adding to its stock of upscale accommodation. Outstanding among the newcomers is Casa do Conto (The House of Tales), which has a dramatic story to tell. A 20-minute walk from the city centre, but conveniently close to a metro station (Carolina Michaelis), it was originally scheduled to open in 2010. But the first Casa do Conto, a meticulously refurbished version of the original 19th-century house, caught fire 48 hours before it was due to receive its first guests. The wooden interior was completely gutted but the owner, undaunted, started again, trading wood for concrete, and swapping tradition for modernism.
Number 703, Rua da Boavista, on the western side of Porto seems indistinguishable from the other terraced suburban houses with their tiled façades. But open the front door and you're immediately transported into a 21st-century world of white geometric spaces and unexpected shapes. Light passes through interior window openings, offsetting the coldness of the concrete, while vintage furniture from the Fifties and Sixties and some large and extraordinarily beautiful 19th-century mirrors add texture. Arranged across the three upper stories are the six bedrooms. These are sparsely but stylishly furnished, with luxurious beds and en suite shower areas. The two top-floor rooms (NG and FL) have balconies, the former giving a fine view over the city. Those letters are a clue to the rooms' most surprising feature. They are the initials of the six writers whose short texts, inspired by the architecture of the house and the city, are artistically carved in bas relief into the ceilings of the rooms.
The buffet breakfast is served in the downstairs dining room or, when the weather is clement, on the patio, with its avocado tree. Alongside the teas, coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice is a spread of croissants, breads, hams, jams, yoghurts and fruit. Lidia, who prepares the breakfasts, will cook pancakes and eggs on demand. If you can't wait until breakfast for your caffeine shot, all the rooms have Nespresso coffee machines and kettles.
It won't come as a surprise to find that the owner, Alexandra Grande, is an architect. For her, the Casa do Conto is as much an artistic as a business project. She is a regular visitor at the Casa and delighted to talk about it, while the manager, Tito Carvalho, is a constant presence and a fund of information about Porto and its attractions. A fluent English speaker, he will offer advice and book everything from museum visits to port tastings and restaurant meals.
A stay in the Casa do Conto will put anyone in the mood to appreciate Porto's varied architecture. Just beyond the garden is the Romanesque church of Cedofeita, and a five-minute walk takes you to the Casa da Musica concert hall (00 351 220 120 220; www.casadamusica.com), a breathtaking and controversial piece of 21st-century architecture. The highlight is a visit to the Fundacao de Serralves (00 351 226 156 500; serralves.pt), the city's contemporary art museum. The minimalist building is set in parklands which showcase Portuguese trees and plants. It hosts temporary exhibitions, currently a retrospective of Juliao Sarmento, one of the country's best-known modern artists.
The Pit Stop
For a foray on to the adventurous side of Porto's foodie scene, you should head for the Ribeira (the Old City) where at Largo de Sao Domingos 18 is the restaurant, DOP, which stands for Degustar e Ousar no Porto – Taste and Dare in Porto. This is the second of local chef's Rui Paula's innovative restaurants. (The other, called DOC, is to be found 80km away in the village of Folgosa). Classic ingredients get a modern makeover in dishes such as brill with crayfish sauce, oyster sauce and ham. The main courses cost about €30 (£24); the tasting menu is €70 and for a bottle of delicately flavoured Alvarinho from the comprehensive list of local wines, you'll pay €20 (00 351 222 014 313; ruipaula.com).
Casa do Conto, Rua da Boavista 703, Porto, Portugal (00 351 222 060 340; casadoconto.com). Doubles start at €98 (£80), including breakfast.
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