Go back in time at a lux­u­ri­ous his­toric palace nes­tled in na­ture

The National - News - - ARTS&LIFESTYLE - Hay­ley Skirka

The wel­come

Ar­riv­ing at this 18th-cen­tury palace in the Sin­tra moun­tain­side in­volves a drive through the town’s nar­row wind­ing roads, pass­ing palaces, foun­tains and more. When you get to the palace, there’s a pri­vate road for ho­tel guests that cir­cles the per­fectly tended gar­dens and leads to the main re­cep­tion. A door at­ten­dant is on hand to greet guests, and check-in proves to be swift and ef­fi­cient. A tour of the sprawl­ing abode, which is spread over three floors and has 30 rooms, is of­fered to help guests get their bearings.

The neigh­bour­hood

Sin­tra has been de­scribed as a Dis­ney­land for adults, and it’s not hard to see why. The Por­tuguese royal sanc­tu­ary lies about 40 min­utes from Lis­bon and is a leafy green haven where around ev­ery cob­bled cor­ner is a point of in­trigue, whether that’s a ro­man­tic palace, Gothic mon­u­ment or cen­turies-old cas­tle. Tivoli Pala­cio de Seteais has a fan­tas­tic lo­ca­tion at the top of one of the town’s wind­ing hill­top roads, di­rectly op­po­site Quinta da Re­galeira – one of the re­gion’s must-vis­its. Jut­ting out of the hill­side, Sin­tra also catches the breeze from the At­lantic Ocean, which gives the town its own mi­cro­cli­mate, of­ten wet­ter and colder than Lis­bon. The place bus­tles year-round, with cu­ri­ous tourists in win­ter and Lis­bon lo­cals es­cap­ing the heat of the city in sum­mer. For the same rea­son, week­end traf­fic is of­ten very slow mov­ing, so visit with pa­tience in the tank.

The room

Some­times the jux­ta­po­si­tion of a his­toric build­ing and luxury five-star ho­tel stan­dards can be a hard bal­ance to strike, and the Tivoli Pala­cio de Seteais is a prime ex­am­ple of this. Orig­i­nally built as a res­i­dence for the King and Queen of Por­tu­gal, the ho­tel’s sprawl­ing lay­out, art-dec­o­rated cor­ri­dors, an­tiques-stuffed rooms and gor­geous gar­dens are un­de­ni­ably im­pres­sive. On the other hand, the flak­ing paint on the sash win­dows, creaky floor­boards and clunky, ill­po­si­tioned air-con­di­tion­ing units, while all en­tirely ex­pected in a pe­riod build­ing, prob­a­bly won’t sit well with luxury-ac­quainted trav­ellers. I’m stay­ing in a su­pe­rior room, which is spa­cious and has a gi­ant king-size bed. It also plays per­fectly to its pe­riod ap­peal with win­dows framed by thick drapes, chan­de­lier-style lights and ex­posed wooden floor­boards. Views of the man­i­cured gar­dens, hedgerow-lined swim­ming pool and tree-filled hill­side are amaz­ing, and lit­tle de­tails such as the in­tri­cately painted win­dow frames and rus­tic golden can­de­labras help to seal that sense of his­tory.

The ser­vice

Ser­vice at Tivoli Pala­cio de Seteais is def­i­nitely five-star stan­dard – the door at­ten­dant is po­lite, the house­keep­ing staff dis­creet and the wait­ers at­ten­tive. I’m also sent a wel­come tray with fresh flow­ers and re­fresh­ments shortly af­ter ar­rival. But I can’t help be a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed that I’m not given any as­sis­tance from the ho­tel when I ar­rive and in­form check-in staff that the air­line has lost my lug­gage. I would have ap­pre­ci­ated some as­sis­tance in ar­rang­ing trans­port to a place where I could re­stock on es­sen­tials, or an of­fer to lend me ba­sic items that I might need in the in­terim. This would have gone a long way to help­ing me set­tle in at the ho­tel when I didn’t have my own be­long­ings.

The scene

Guests should ex­pect to share their stay with day-trip­pers on the Sin­tra trail, as the palace and its grounds are one of Sin­tra’s high­lights. This means there’s an eclec­tic mix of groups of tourists wan­der­ing the gar­dens, fam­i­lies from Lis­bon pop­ping in for spe­cial oc­ca­sion lunches, the oc­ca­sional wed­ding group and, of course, well-heeled guests stay­ing in the ho­tel. While the palace is or­nate and stun­ningly beau­ti­ful, it’s also fam­ily friendly and children will love run­ning around in the maze gar­den. Down­time at the swim­ming pool is a must if the weather al­lows.

The food

Fine din­ing is the sta­tus quo at this pala­tial ho­tel and ev­ery meal is an el­e­gant af­fair. Ex­pect at­ten­tive ser­vice, gloved wait­ers, white table­cloths and even a live harpist at Seteais restau­rant. The menu is var­ied and the food is de­li­cious, if not par­tic­u­larly bound­ary push­ing. Try the veg­etable salad with or­ange vinai­grette and yo­ghurt (Dh55), it’s de­li­ciously tangy and packed with flavour. Af­ter­wards, go for a clas­sic Por­tuguese dish of thickly sliced oc­to­pus (Dh135). It’s served with creamed turnip-tops, pep­per, gar­lic chips and pa­prika sauce. Break­fast is avail­able in the same beau­ti­ful din­ing space and there’s a la carte op­tions, as well as an im­pres­sive spread of fresh juices, bak­ery items, fruit and vegeta­bles.

Loved

The gar­dens – it’s easy to while away an hour among the topi­ary; the fan­tas­tic mas­sage in the ad­join­ing Anan­tara spa; and the lo­ca­tion – Sin­tra is a trove of trea­sures wait­ing to be ex­plored and Pala­cio de Seteais is at the heart of it.

Hated

The pe­riod fea­tures don’t eas­ily lend them­selves to luxury ho­tel stan­dards and ser­vice wasn’t al­ways seam­less.

The ver­dict

Tucked away in the hills of Sin­tra, this is a fan­tas­tic op­tion if you want to feel like you’re liv­ing in a pe­riod drama, with days spent wan­der­ing gar­dens, vis­it­ing palaces and feast­ing like roy­alty.

The bot­tom line

Rooms at Tivoli Pala­cio de Seteais are from €280 (Dh1,139) a night, in­clud­ing taxes; tivoli­ho­tels.com

Wikimedia Com­mons

Sin­tra is home to brightly coloured build­ings

Meal­times are an el­e­gant af­fair at Seteais Tivoli Pala­cio de Seteais

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