Take a 15-minute drive from Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, Porto’s main travel hub, and you’ll reach the remarkable Vila Foz Hotel & Spa; it takes its name from the place in which it is located, one of the most chic areas of Porto.
We arrived under cover of darkness but as the morning light crept across the sky the majestic setting of the hotel revealed itself. Miles of sprawling coastline, a perfect blend of smooth rock and the tiniest of pebbles suitable for bare feet, stretch right out in front of the lavish building.
Why come here?
There are two parts to Vila Foz; the old 19th century central building which was originally the home of a wealthy family and a newer part; the renovations were completed in 2019, which involved a significant overhaul of the interior of the ‘palace’, including the seven suites, and the construction of the new building housing 61 sea-facing rooms. They all face the sea. east and floor-to-ceiling windows create a vivid image of the sun sinking over the horizon and into the dark waters of the Atlantic.
Madeiran designer Nini Andrade de Silva is responsible for the hotel’s striking and unique interiors, all of which are soothing earth tones with onyx as a recurring theme. There are a few Giger-esque touches here and there — especially noteworthy is the organically shaped sofa in the underground hallway that connects the two parts of the hotel, lit by an angular skylight. The devil really is in the details here – every detail has been thought of.
One of the hotel’s most striking features is the indoor pool in the hotel’s basement. A large strip of land has been dug out in front and rebuilt with stone, steps and succulents, creating a private sun trap and making you feel like you’re in the lair of a luxurious Bond villain.
Eat and drink
Vila Foz has two fantastic restaurants; there is a high-flying place reserved for gourmet dinners in the villa itself, the Vila Foz restaurant – the room is exquisite, airy, cool and spacious. There are some particularly special “ringside” (well, kitchen side) seats so you can watch the chefs work on your dinner. Seafood takes center stage with exciting dishes like lobster, Trás-os-Montes olives, turnip and lemon Mayer and squid, roasted garlic, daikon and iodized broth. The restaurant has just been awarded a Michelin star.
Flor de Lis is the slightly more pedestrian restaurant that offers more traditional Portuguese dishes with a few bells and whistles. Seafood, again, is the hero – clams, octopus, sardines and salt cod all come to the party.
You can’t spell Porto without spelling port; Vila Foz’s exquisite wood-paneled bar offers an upmarket take on a crisp, white port and you’ll find it used in many different ways across the city – in chocolates from Chocolataria Equador, in sweet and savory dishes in most restaurants, in pastelarias and bakeries.
There are constant debates about the best place to get a pastéis de nata – Manteigaria is on everyone’s list; remember to make it like a local and sprinkle with cinnamon.
The late great Anthony Bourdain traveled to Porto in an episode of his Unknown parts series; he visited great places; a few favorites would be Cervejaria Gazela for a cachorrinhos, a sort of “hot dog sandwich” (but that description does it a great injustice) and O Afonso for the infamous francesinha, a megalith of meats, cheeses and bread coated in a tomato sauce and beer. Susana, COO of Vila Foz, recommends an alternative, Cafe Santiago. Wash it down with a SuperBock Stout and have some must-have Portuguese fries on the side.
While Porto sits right by the sea, good fish and seafood still commands a premium. If you want to eat more like a local, head to the nearby enclave of Matosinhos at O Gaveto – a takeaway fish or shellfish joint. They have a great range of crisp white Alvharino to go with.
What to do
If rest and relaxation are a priority, head straight to the hotel spa for pampering treatments in soothingly designed rooms; there is a hammam and a sauna for those who are interested. For a little more zen, neglecting a walk along this magnificent coast would be a mistake. It is at the beginning of the evening that it is necessary to leave, by stopping in one of the bars which line the coast. They are far enough apart to feel unspoiled and offer spectacular views to sip an aperitif.
For the brave, the sea is ideal for an invigorating swim – it’s cold all year round but we managed to swim (quickly) in November with locals. If you want a quieter walk, take a bus or taxi to the coast and you’ll find plenty of little fishing villages to wander through.
A short walk from the hotel is the old tram line to Porto itself, making for a much more entertaining and noisy journey through the city than by road. It’s a bit touristy but hey, you’re a tourist.
Vila Foz Hotel & Spa, Avenida Montevideu, 236, 4150-516 Porto, Portugal. Rooms from £200; vilafozhotel.pt