LAZING in a decanter-shaped infinity pool, contemplating what to choose from the bar’s 80 top Portuguese wines-by-the-glass. Not the Port this time. Sun not over the yardarm and all that. Perhaps a Bairrado white from Luis Pato or his innovative daughter Filipa? Across the great Douro river rises a cityscape so beguiling you rub your eyes in disbelief as you slide onto a lounger. Then to add to the surreal appeal a rainbow appears.
'Or you can soak up the vinho a different way at the wine spa – Portugal’s first. Expect merlot wraps and barrel bath immersions'
Welcome to The Yeatman, self-styled Luxury Wine Hotel. Five stars, Relais & Chateaux, Michelin-starred restaurant, Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa. Oh and one of the world’s great wine lists, naturally. It took a while, but I’m finally staying here – and rather enjoying the experience.
Each of its 82 rooms has a terrace facing Oporto’s UNESCO World Heritage Status Old Town. The sprawling six-storey hotel is set in the hillside high above Vila Nova de Gaia, the Port-shippers’ town. And it is those fortifying folk from Taylor who run The Yeatman. The full name of the company, which also produces Fonseca and Croft Ports, is Taylor Fladgate & Yeatman. Their Port lodge is across a cobbled lane from the hotel, handy for cellar tours to help you tell the difference between ruby and tawny.
I first encountered The Yeatman – brainchild of Taylor’s CEO Adrian Bridge – when the paint was barely dry two years ago. I was on a visit promoting the red table wines of the Douro, notably those made from Tourigo Nacional, the opulently fruity grape once used primarily for Port blends.
I’d been mooching round the Ribeira, the must-see ramshackle old dockside area, and on a whim decided to trek across the two-level Ponte D.Luis to Vila Nova. That was just before they opened the cable car that whisks you from river level to the bridge’s vertiginous upper span. Back then to get to the hotel I had to climb through sleepy back lanes. I liked what I found.
This time a late evening taxi was needed to get us from the airport to our lodging – and a welcoming run through some of the bottles on a list chosen by legendary wine director Beatriz Machado. There are 250,000 bottles in the cellar. We also tasted one of the Yeatman brand vintage ports, selected from unnamed parcels and remarkable value.
The hotel has 72 wine partners. Each producer has a room or suite named after it, whose decoration they are allowed to personalise. Even the basic rooms are large and packed with wine paraphernalia and appropriate reading material.
You can understand why The Yeatman has garnered a raft of awards in a short space of time. Essential for its credibility as a wine AND food destination is its rapidly acquired Michelin star. Much is down to the reputation head chef Ricardo Costa brought from his previous billet at the Largo do Paço.
Or you can soak up the vinho a different way at the wine spa – Portugal’s first – based on the original Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte in Bordeaux. Expect merlot wraps and barrel bath immersions.
The Yeatman has so much to offer in its own right, but don’t neglect to immerse yourself in Oporto itself. Cross the bridge at the river level and take the Funicular dos Guindais, which brings you out above the towering Se Cathedral and the medieval maze of the Barredo district. But before meandering down to the Ribeira and its quayside cafes head north to view two of the city’s special wonders (the third, Jose Mourinho, is plying his trade elsewhere the these days).
First there’s the Belle Epoque era railway station Sao Bento where azulejos tiles run rampant floor to ceiling, illustrating episodes of Portuguese history. Close by you’ll find one of the world’s most beautiful bookshops, Lello, which has a jolly little cafe on the top floor reached by ornate staircases.
Oporto’s modern architectural gem is the Casa Musica (House of Music). It’s worth trekking up to the Avenida Boavista to see this striking concert hall designed by Dutchman Rem Koolhaas.
For sheer wow factor, though, look no further than the Gothic church of Sao Francisco on the Rua do Infante D Henrique. It was begun in the 1300s, but it is the 18th century Baroque interior that amazes – a riot of gilt and intricate carving, culminating in the figurative biblical tableau of Tree of Jesse on the north wall and, opposite, some gory images of martydom. The ticket includes a visit to the Catacombs that survive from a monastery on the site. Real memento mori stuff, carved skulls atop tombs and a well-stocked ossuary.
It’s a relief to stroll back across to Vila Nova and stroll past the barcos rabelos bobbing on the Douro quayside. These are the traditional flat-bottomed boats once used to transport barrels of port from the vineyards up river. I’m so impressionable. Time for a restorative of 20-year-old Tawny, I’d say.
The Yeatman, Rua do Choupelo (Sta. Marinha), 4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto www.the-yeatman-hotel.com/en/
It holds a Michelin star and is a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux association of the world’s finest hoteliers, chefs and restaurateurs, which today has 520 members across the globe. www.relaischateaux.com
Ryanair fly from Liverpool Oporto. Service restarts March 26 2013. www.ryanair.com
Oporto-Gaia Cable Car www.lusa.u-net.com/opoteleferico.htm
Lello (Rua das Carmelitas 144 http://lelloprologolivreiro.com.sapo.pt/
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