At Porto’s five-star The Yeatman hotel, there’s a new, laid-back approach to wine tourism. It’s refreshing stuff.
Surely one of the best things about staying in a luxury hotel is the moment you open your eyes in a blissfully silent, pitch-back room. Maybe it’s to do with the many mornings I’ve been woken up with a start by my two sons and the chaos that then usually ensues. But, in my book, if a hotel gets this right you’re normally ensured a good trip ahead.
The Yeatman in the Portuguese wine capital of Porto scores highly on this front. Having arrived late at night, I emerge the next morning chrysalis-like from my slumber spent in an unbelievably comfortable bed (it turns out that it costs an eye-watering £12,000). You can hear a pin drop. I pull the curtains back in the dark and am immediately dazzled by the spectacle in front of me.
Stepping out on to the veranda, I take it all in: ahead is a jumble of rustic terracotta roofs, church spires and the characterful river warehouses of Old Porto, a World Heritage City. To my right is the imposing metal Dom Luis Bridge, inspired by the Eiffel Tower, and below is the flash of life that is the Douro River. Here boats chug past, cable cars swing above it, seabirds swoop and there’s a clatter of noise and energy that is all-consuming. I have to tear myself away.
The Yeatman is a topsy-turvy kind of place. Built terrace-style into the hills, the reception and restaurants are found on the top floor with rooms, suites and spa on the five floors below. Outside, the hotel is unremarkable, but inside it’s a different story. The sparkling marble floors and impressive sweeping staircase that’s straight out of Gone with the Wind give it a palatial feel. Wide corridors feature rolling exhibits: think antique maps and a collection of glassware, which has a vessel dating back to 800BC. The grand proportions belie the relatively small number of rooms – just 82 in total. Consequently you often feel like you are on an ocean liner, except there’s no ‘below deck’ at The Yeatman. Each of the rooms have their own terraces, cheerful, bright décor and are big enough to hold a small cocktail party in, particularly if you’ve bagged Suite 008 which features a bed carved out of an enormous wine barrel and is wonderfully decadent.
The hotel is based on the rather more unfashionable Vila Nova de Gaia side of the Duoro, home to the historic port wine cellars and privy to those marvelous views across to Porto. The location is no accident: The Yeatman was conceived by CEO Adrian Bridge, who is also the English MD of renowned port wine maker Taylor’s, which has its own cellars just steps from the hotel. He wanted his designated luxury wine hotel to be at the heart of a locale that dates back hundreds of years.
This whole region of north Portugal is in fact dominated by the port and wine industry and has garnered a growing reputation for producing excellent vintages, far removed from the Mateus Rose that Brits associated Portuguese wine with in the 1970s. From a stunning decanter shaped infinity pool to the vinotherapy treatments in the standout Caudalie spa – it offers the ultimate wine experience.
Giving it gravitas is, of course, the ports and wines found here – 27,000 of them to be precise. While traditionally oenology has been regarded as a largely male arena, The Yeatman offers another, progressive twist in its tale. Its wine director is a woman. Beatriz Machado’s aim is to shine a light on Portuguese wine and also to bring a ‘lightness of touch’ to the industry. Under her guidance the hotel also has a female sommelier, Elisabeth Fernandes, a bulging list of accolades and awards and attracts serious wine buffs from all over the world.
For the less knowledgeable, like myself, I was pleasantly surprised by the unstuffy approach to it all. In Dick’s Bar, for instance there’s a shortlist of suggested wines (as opposed to the blockbuster you can also peruse) as well as a quarterly magazine detailing an edited selection of 82 wines (to tidily match the number of rooms). There are also regular wine dinners hosted by one of the hotel’s many wine partners, which give guests insight into the region and specific labels. “I want the world of wine to be accessible to all,” she says.
On our last night we dined in the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant. The exceptional menu, put together by chef Ricardo Costa, had an avante-garde style giving classic French and Portuguese dishes an experimental twist. Highlights included chocolate covered foie gras with raspberries and velvety sea urchin on a bed of pebbles (the latter, we found out a little too late, were “not to be eaten, Madam”). Best of all were Beatriz’s choice of wines to match each dish – from the refreshing Alvarinho to the Taylor’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port. I drank it all in.
The Yeatman costs from £204 per room, per night, www.the-yeatman-hotel.com
TAP Portugal flies from London Gatwick to Porto, with return fares starting at £120 including all taxes and surcharges. For further information, visit www.flytap.com or call 0345 601 0932.