Discovering new places and spaces fills my soul with joy. Some places even make my heart skip a beat. Such was the case with Porto!
Without any particular expectations, I couldn’t help but fall head over heels with the authentic charm of this historic city on the river Douro. It’s hard to say whether it was the city’s unique architectural style, the ‘chic meets patina’ feel, the friendliness of the people, the food or all of the above. On second thought, maybe the M Maison Particulière also had something to do with it… as it sure set the tone for a memorable stay in Porto!
As I was standing on Largo de São Domingos, a small square right in the heart of the historic centre of Porto, I was taking in my surroundings. A man was playing the violin, a steady stream of people was walking past, tourists were snapping away selfies and sounds of laughter were coming from the terrace of a nearby café. It was a hot and sunny day and the place was buzzing with life.
I was told to look for a red building and there it was. A narrow historic building with a red façade, white window surrounds and a big wooden door. As I approached the building, I noticed the golden door bell and pushed the button. The massive door opened and a tiny young lady welcomed us into another world. Hiding behind this beautiful, yet rather discreet façade was an oasis of calm. It was as if we had been swallowed by a big fish and the noise of the outside world had never existed. The décor is best described as ‘otherworldly’. Elegant, mostly classic design with influences from across the globe. A cognac Chesterfield sofa, various types of antiques and a red onyx fireplace are set against stone walls and walls painted in red. A bronze chandelier with crystals and red lampshades draw attention to the beautiful plaster mouldings on the ceiling. Actually, it is how I’d imagine the house of an explorer, filled with treasures from travels to far lands.
With only 10 rooms M Maison Particulière is a boutique hotel in the true sense of the word. In fact, it feels almost like staying in a private home. The size, the décor and the fact that you need to ring the bell, create a very intimate and exclusive ambiance. This feeling is further emphasized by a personalised breakfast service. Guests are asked the night before about their preferences and the time they wish to have their breakfast, which is then served on hand painted china at a family style dining table in a secluded area at the back of the house. Home made jams and fruits from the owner’s garden only add to that personal touch.
Each of the 10 rooms is different and unique in design. Starting with the size and shape of the room, but also the colour scheme and décor. Our room was decorated with light coloured shabby chic style furniture and a steel blue and dark rose colour scheme. Beautiful antique maps and artwork adorned the blue walls. The headboard was upholstered with a floral fabric whilst the curtains featured a plaid pattern. The unusual mix of styles, colours and patterns, nonetheless create a harmonious overall look.
The historic building that houses M Maison Particulière dates back to 1542. Located at the end of the famous Rua das Flores, a street that was originally built to connect the merchant’s area on the Douro river with the Roman Cathedral, the building is part of the UNESCO World Heritage. This area once buzzing with merchants, is once again rising to its former glory after decades of neglect.
Speaking with the owner of the hotel it soon became clear that M Maison Particulière is a labour of love. Passionate about history, the history of styles, travel and interior design Maria has poured her heart and soul into this project. In search of a property that she could convert into a small boutique hotel she came across the building and immediately fell in love. Not only did Rua Las Flores evoke memories of her buying a wedding ring, but she was also able to see the potential of the building. Although it was in an advanced state of degradation, she recognised its architectural beauty and the many details including granite walls from the 16thcentury, tiles dating back to the 17thand 18thcentury as well as stunning moulded plaster and wooden coffer ceilings. She knew she could bring it back to life. She purchased the building and embarked on a five year journey of research, restoration and renovation. Working closely with the Urban Rehabilitation Society, the Archaeology and Heritage Company as well as other dedicated and passionate professionals, she managed to preserve much of the original features, but also integrate modern day technology. The furniture, lighting and décor was handpicked by Maria. Some antiques and lithographies by Miró, Picasso and Dalí were family inheritances, others were memorabilia from Myanmar and other exotic places from her own travels. Today the M Maison Particulière boasts with its unique beauty and a high level of comfort. An oasis amidst the buzz of central Porto.
In line with the spirit of M Maison Particulière, we ventured out to discover the city of Porto, a truly special place that strongly resonated with the explorer within me. It may have been my first visit, but it surely won’t be my last…
Happy stylish discoveries,
P.S. If you love hotels filled with history as much as I do, then you may also like Beau-Rivage Genève (Switzerland), Les Trois Rois Basel (Switzerland), the Andaz London Liverpool Street (UK) and Penha Longa Sintra (Portugal).
Mini Bar – José Avillez: buckle up and enjoy the ride!
Speaking of discoveries, are you ready for a culinary adventure with lots of surprises? If yes, then the Mini Bar by acclaimed Chef José Avillez must be on your itinerary! Their slogan: “Mini Bar offers an unforgettable gastronomic experience, where nothing is as it seems.” is an understatement. The truly unique restaurant concept will not only take your taste buds on a journey, but create an overall one of a kind experience. Without giving away too much, you will find a great ambiance, friendly and competent staff and of course an outstanding cuisine and creative cocktails. Imagine comfort food reinvented and theatrically presented, cocktails that will make your taste buds tingle and wines that will make you wonder why you never considered a career as a sommelier.
José Avillez is one of Portugal’s rising stars. His goal is to put Portugal on the map as a gastronomic destination and also bring Portuguese gastronomy out into the world. As a multi-award winning and Michelin starred Chef he has created several restaurant concepts, runs restaurants in Lisbon and Porto and recently opened his first international restaurant in Dubai.
The somewhat dramatic interiors of the Mini Bar reminded me of an elegant night club. Red velvets, black tables and neon writing casting a red glow across the entire space create a sensual and intimate ambiance. The colour red not only stands for love, sensuality and excitement, but in colour psychology it is also said to increase one’s appetite. I can now confirm this to be true! We ordered the tasting menu ‘Epic’ and were served more courses than I can remember (maybe a dozen?), accompanied by a variety of beverages. To our great surprise, nor did we feel stuffed, nor did we suffer any type of discomfort the next morning (despite the generous servings). This to me is true art!
River views, beaches and sunsets
When it comes to beaches, you are spoilt for choice in Porto. You will find a long stretch of beaches north of the mouth of the river Douro as well as south of it. As we were running out of time, we headed to the coast between Matosinhos (apparently also a nice area to discover) and Leça do Palmeira and walked along the boardwalk before grabbing a cocktail at one of the beach bars watching the sun set on the horizon… Exploring more of the coastline is definitely on my to do list for my next trip to Porto!
Intrigo: splendid river views
Another great place to enjoy a nice view is only a few minutes walk from M Maison Particulière. Up a hill, around a couple of corners, across a small square and hidden away down some unassuming stairs you will find Intrigo, a small restaurant serving Portuguese cuisine in a casual setting. Vintage furniture alongside some quirky wall decor create a relaxed ambiance. Its main attraction, however, is the terrace overlooking the Douro, making it a great spot for a nice glass of (port) wine overlooking the river Douro and the many port wine cellars across the water.
Sandeman Port Wine: Tasting Tour with ‘The Don’
Speaking of port wine, south of the historic centre of Porto, across the river lies an area called Vila Nova de Gaia. Even though it does attract a large number of tourists, visiting one of the cellars is a must on anyone’s list. Getting to the other side is an adventure in itself, especially if you chose to walk across the upper deck of the famous Dom Luís Bridge (those afraid of heights, beware…). Here on the bank of the Douro you will find numerous cellars inviting you to enter into the world of port wine making.
We opted for a tour at Sandeman’s Wine Cellars. The large white granite building and the logo of the famous cloaked man are hard to miss. Sandeman was founded by Scotsman George Sandeman in 1790 and is considered one of the oldest global brands. Exporting its wines and branding its barrels since the early 19th century as well as running advertising campaigns with the iconic logo (one of the world’s first brand images) created in 1928 make Sandeman a pioneer in the industry.
Since it was an extremely hot day, we welcomed the drop in temperature as we entered the cellars. Once again it felt like stepping back in time. Exploring the massive cellars, which Sandeman purchased in 1811 and where more than 2000 barrels of wine are kept was a unique experience. Our tour guide ‘The Don’ led us through a maze of corridors telling us about the traditions and mysteries of Sandeman and the production of Port wine. At the end of the tour we got to indulge in the pleasure of tasting a white, a ruby and a tawny port, nicely rounding up three fabulous days in Porto.
Simone Aïda Baur of Global Inspirations Design
Courtesy of M Maison Particulière
Courtesy of Boa Onda/ Mini Bar José Avillez
Note: This blog post was created in collaboration with M Maison Particulière Porto, Minibar, Restaurant Intrigo and Sandeman Port Wine/ Sogrape Vinhos (press trip).