Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hotel Britania, Lisbon

I'd never been to Lisbon before this trip, but it seems I was lucky with my choice of hotel. The Britania is just the right type of boutique hotel I appreciate-- small and intimate, uniquely designed, has a a historic background,  and is perfectly located. As I said, I was lucky--I didn't see this review until after our stay.

The hotel is part of the Heritage group of hotels that has five properties in Lisbon, all centrally located with three in the Avenida de Liberdade, Lisbon's equivalent of Park Avenue in New York. The Britania doesn't face Avenida Liberdade, but opens up to the street right behind it, making it a more peaceful property than its sister hotels.

The design of the hotel is pure Art Deco. The interiors reminded me of a pre-war Manila home in Malate--high ceilings, simple clean lines, curved edges, frosted glass doors. The color scheme was subdued and relaxing.

 Art Deco is a movement that started in the 1920s. In the Philippines, it was the prevailing design in the 40's, when design was moving away from the traditional curliques and borloloys.

The hotel is proud of its original cork floors (Portugal is the world's leading producer of cork), and the history of the floors it's detailed on a bookmark inserted into a pocketbook thoughtfully left for bedtime reading.

This is not a "luxury" hotel in the Shangri-la or the Four Seasons sense, but a property that is luxurious in its character, history and service. Its history dates back to the 40's when it was known as the Hotel do Imperio. Now, the structure is recognized as a historic building, and its total refurbish a few years ago won an award as being a "sensitive" renovation.

The bedroom furniture consists of complete art-deco bedroom suites: matching headboard, night tables and bureau. The drapery and upholstery are luxurious, and the sheets are of a very high thread count.

I liked the living room/library where they served complimentary ginger tea and pastries every evening from 7 pm onwards. We were also welcome to pour ourselves  a glass of Port or Ginjinha (sour cherry liqueur) any time of the day or night, as though we were guests in a good friend's home.

 Don't you love this circular wooden trolley?

The living room displayed vintage photos of famous people who used to hang out in the hotel during the war. Portugal during WWII was neutral, and many politicians, exiled royalty and other personalities came to Lisbon to wait out the war, or to seek passage to the "free world", America. Remember this scene in Casablanca between Rick and Renault? Omg, can't believe I found this link online. I can watch Casablanca over and over, forever!

Renault: The plane to Lisbon.
Renault: You would like to be on it.
Rick: Why, what's in Lisbon?

Renault: The clipper to America. I've often speculated on why you don't return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Did you run off with a senator's wife? I like to think that you killed a man. It's the romantic in me.
Rick: It's a combination of all three.

Anyway, back to the hotel--the marketing of the hotel is genius. They play up their "role" during the war, and it all sounds so mysterious and Humphrey Bogart-ish. How can anyone who likes history not like this place? In one small area of the lobby they even display the tableware used in the old Imperial Hotel, and they've preserved the old barber's chair that used to service the Imperial's guests. Coolness factor is high here.

Right around the block from the hotel are high-end boutiques, and a couple of hip bars and restaurants. The "elevator" (what they call their funicular) to Bairro Alto is also a few minutes' walk from here. And as icing on the cake,  the service is impeccable. As soon as we checked in, Joao at the front desk handed us a postcard--"to write anyone you wish, and we will post it!" ('old world' effect, right? who sends postcards?) then pulled out a map and gave us our bearings, drawing out routes to places he felt we should check out.

I really enjoyed my stay here and I would definitely stay here again. And that's saying a lot because I'm the type who likes staying in different hotels all the time because it gives me a chance to scope out interesting interior design.

Hotel Britania
Rua Rodrigues Sampaio, 17 - 1150-278 Lisboa - Portugal
Tel.: (351) 213 155 016 - Fax: (351) 213 155 021

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