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January 2020

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Fit for nobility

1 January 2020

A restored palace in Portugal’s enigmatic Sintra offers an enchanted getaway

There’s something about staying in a hotel with royal history that makes guests sit up just that little bit straighter at breakfast. Such is the case of Tivoli Palácio de Seteais, a former palace set in the hills of Sintra, just 30 minutes from Lisbon. This place, of castles and Moorish invasions, where mist swirls and modern-day life can be temporarily abandoned, is the perfect place to indulge any monarchic fantasies. Built by a Dutch consul in 1787, the palace has changed hands over the centuries, now falling under the hotel brand Tivoli’s remit. But you would be hard-pressed to find any evidence of a heavy, company-led hand. A side parlour acts as a check-in for guests, as well as somewhat of a tourist attraction – it is said that a peace treaty was signed here during the Napoleonic wars. A romantic, sweeping staircase separates the bedrooms from communal spaces, which include a high-ceilinged dining room as well as reading room and conservatory, with views out onto the gardens and tennis court.

There are thirty rooms in total, eighteen in the old quarter and twelve in the new. There are benefits and downsides to all –the presidential suite has the grandest living space but a modest bathroom, for example. It is these kinds of idiosyncracies that are encouraged by the property, rather than stamped out. Floorboards are creaky, 19th century heritage carpets are left threadbare rather than replaced, and the charmingly roccoco piano is horribly out of tune (it is so rare even their normal tuner won’t touch it, I am informed). The place is pet-friendly – at the time of a stay, a gentleman and his greyhound were frequently found walking the grounds before breakfast – and known for its long-serving staff, some of whom have been at the propety for three decades.

Visitors to the property have included Johnny Depp and Agatha Christie, who, one imagines, made full use of the grand salon, which is covered with interesting water nymphs and mythological frescoes. For breakfasts, lunches and dinners, Seteais Restaurant is a useful and high quality experience of elevated Portuguese cooking.

In summer, guests can avail themselves of the outdoor pool or tennis courts, or stop to pick one of the lemons that fall so plentifully from the orchard. But on a cold winter’s day, the best place to be is situated as close to the fireplace as possible – coffee in lap, dreams of kings and castles as close-by as the curling mists.

In The Neighbourhood

Apple Beach
Grab a tram down to the Praia das Maçãs beach – it’s about a 30-minute ride. Locals say eating apples that drift from the river that flows into the sea encourages a long life. As well as preserving longevity, the beach has a saltwater pool, playground and picnic area, as well as rock platforms to fish from.

Pena Palace
Information placards are fairly scarce at this breathtaking palace, so it’s worth getting a guided tour. Commissioned by King Ferdinand II, the place holds tales of frowned-upon marriages to young opera singers, romantic love stories and interesting pagan-esque symbols – which remain something of a mystery even today.

Gong healing
Savour the charm of Portugal’s mountainside from the Anantara Spa Tivoli Palácio de Seteais. The resident therapist will educate on Reiki and semi precious stones as she delivers massages and other wellness treatments using herbs and oils sourced from Sintra, in a connective treatment practice that feels as spiritual as it does indulgent.

Words: Georgina Lavers

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