A faded stately home in Porto is transformed into Vila Foz

A faded stately home in Porto is transformed into Vila Foz

It’s easy to imagine why Avenida de Montevideu was once such a choice address for Porto’s well-heeled upper class. A breezy 20-minute drive from the city’s considerably more dense centre, the long esplanade in the Foz do Douro neighbourhood featured an ornate necklace of 19th-century palatial mansions whose grand fin de siècle Empire facades and sprawling gardens serenely faced the broad stretch of beach and the Atlantic beyond.

Only a handful of these stately homes have survived Porto’s gentrification, but the debut of the 68-room Vila Foz shows how a thoughtful and light-handed architectural intervention can so vividly rejuvenate a faded pile.

For this, full credit goes to the architect Miguel Cardoso and interior designer Nini Andrade Silva who faithfully realigned the building’s old bones to create imposing room-sets, especially in the public areas. Under their watchful eyes, a squadron of artisans scraped away a century of accretions, painstakingly reguilded pilasters, restored elaborate cornices and mouldings, whilst reworking iron gratings in curling staircases, and polishing gorgeously retiled walls and ornate Baroque fireplaces.

The result of this almost maniacal obsession with historical and aesthetical accuracy is that, from the moment one rolls in through the garden and pulls up at the stone steps, the hotel feels wonderfully out of time.

The momentum of the restoration also meant that it is only in the bedrooms that Silva has felt freer to experiment and be more playful in her palette of green hues, travertine, beveled mirrors and brassy hardware. Here, the eye is drawn especially towards the bed where the quotidian headboard has been replaced by an organic cut-out whose curved ridges evoke a rivulet curving upwards to the ceiling, the angles quietly counterposed by the asymetrically cut carpets and sharper lines of the stone flooring.

If additional privacy is required, the Manor House features a clutch of suites with bracing views of both sea and garden, alongside easy access to the in-house restaurant. And set deeper within the garden is a spa stocked with the usual suspects of Turkish bath, sauna, and indoor pool – though, to our mind, the rolling waves of the Atlantic, a few minutes walk away, are an equally compelling diversion. §

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