Go back in time at a luxurious historic palace nestled in nature
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The period features don’t easily lend themselves to luxury hotel standards and service wasn’t always seamless.
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
Sintra is home to brightly coloured buildings
Mealtimes are an elegant affair at Seteais Tivoli Palacio de Seteais