Though it's long been a popular transatlantic escape, the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, has always lacked the five-star hotel treatment found in abundance in European getaways such as Paris or Rome.
Not anymore. This charming, waterside city is today dotted with some of the most luxe lodging in Europe, elevating one of the world's great port cities into a holiday hotspot.
"There has always been hotels in Lisbon with a bit of luxury," says Anabela Bartolo, general manager of the Altis Belem Hotel & Spa , a sleekly designed five-star hotel that straddles the Tagus River in Lisbon. "But today the city has added a great many places where one can really enjoy luxury during a visit."
Stylish and innovatively designed, Altis Belem is spearheading a surging trend in Lisbon: luxury hotels that seamlessly inject a cosmopolitan, contemporary aesthetic into a 500-year old capital that's packed with old-world charm.
The theme of Portugal's proud history of nautical discovery is threaded throughout Altis Belem's 50 deluxe rooms, including its sprawling five suites. All rooms have absorbing river views and artist-created illustrated wall panels, giving each room a unique, almost bespoke atmosphere.
The hotel also has a tranquil Karin Herzog spa with a heated indoor pool, sauna and a Turkish bath. A spacious gym and Vichy shower rooms are offered along with treatments and therapies.
The hotel, designed by the noted Portuguese architectural firm Risco, is part of Portugal's Altis Hotel chain. It's one of the largest hotel groups in Lisbon, with six hotels in the capital, including the newly redesigned Altis Avenida Hotel in the city centre.
"The idea for these hotels is fairly simple," adds Bartolo. "We wanted a mix of luxury and history that easily incorporates modernity."
Other hotels have joined Altis in offering travelers luxury and design. At the Internacional Design Hotel, vibrant, colorful interiors offer a triumph of style without losing sight of substance.
Housed in a century-old building that's been newly renovated, the hotel hovers over one of the busiest squares in Lisbon. Each of its floors is decorated to represent a different interior design motif. "Pop" is inspired by Andy Warhol right down to the pink toilet paper. "Tribu" rooms feature animal prints.
The Fotana Park is as luxurious as it is cosmopolitan. It's located in the center of Lisbon's business and shopping district. The early 20th century building has been re-imaged into a clean, modern structure designed by the creative team of architect Francisco Aires Mateus and interior designer Nini Andrade Silva.
City of Seven Hills
Despite its troubled economy Lisbon hasn't lost its appeal as a popular travel destination. The city on Seven Hills, and the birthplace of Fado, Europe's westernmost capital is cheaper than Paris and faster to reach than Rome for many Americans. (It's a seven-hour direct flight from New York.)
Hailed for its seamless mixture of tradition and modernity it's quickly become one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe. Surrounded by the Atlantic, Lisbon has long been one of the world's top maritime locations. Its maze of narrow streets, restored cathedrals and castles help it effortlessly cultivate an air of art, history and modernism.
An increasingly inventive food scene, international art galleries and all-night nightclubs are also attracting hordes of younger Europeans to the city.
"Lisbon has a tremendous sense of style," says the Portuguese fashion designer Fatima Lopes. She's been living in Lisbon since 1990 and has watched the city grow into a major European style hub. "The hotels, the fashion, the food scene are all coming together in this city in a way that has become very appealing to visitors."