Over the past several years, Portugal has seen a boom in tourism—especially in the coastal cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, which mirrors Porto on the opposite bank of the Douro River. A favorable exchange rate and a slew of new low-cost airline carriers routing to the area have made the region a hot new destination.
But prior to this newfound popularity, one port wine company, Taylor Fladgate, defied the economic turmoil that was gripping the global economy and began luring visitors to the area with The Yeatman, a five-star resort destination.
By the 1700s, Porto was synonymous with Portugal’s wine industry. Boats known as barcos rebelos carried wine from the vineyards in the Douro Valley down to the port-producing lodges along the riverbanks. Porto’s accessibility made it a desirable trading post for other countries. Through the Methuen Treaty in 1703, England and Portugal established open trade relations that set the foundation for the port wine trade seen today.
Over 300 years later, Taylor Fladgate broke ground on a new international project: the 82-room luxury hotel now known as The Yeatman. In 2006, the local council relaxed restrictions on what could be done with the land on the Vila Nova di Gaia side of the river, a historic home to the centuries-old port houses. Adrian Bridge, CEO of Taylor Fladgate, seized the opportunity to build a new luxury resort. “The best hotel in town at the time was the Sheraton in the business district,” recalls Bridge. Longing to create something distinctive from the global brand—and to entice visitors for reasons other than business—Bridge drew from Porto and Gaia’s cultures and backgrounds to create the hotel’s identity.
Original plans were submitted in 2006, but after purchasing more land in 2007, Bridge “turned the project completely around,” and he reconfigured the entire layout. The journey starts off modestly; visitors drive through gardens and roll up to a single-story building. From there, the experience escalates. After they step inside, the large skylight illuminates the open foyer and casts a spotlight on the grand staircase; straight ahead sits an elegant fountain, framed by a wraparound balcony and city views in the distance.
Each floor carries a different theme: The fifth floor features maps of Portugal from 1550 to 2010, while another floor pays tribute to wine producers across the country. “These hotel corridors are our exhibition spaces, and instead of filling them with art that you buy by the square meter, [we use] the space to tell a story,” Bridge says.
These wide hallways don’t just offer history lessons; they exemplify a specific element that Bridge thinks redefines what it means to be a high-end hotel. “I think the new luxury is space,” he says. “We’re very fortunate. Not many hotels can build a hotel in seven acres of a city.”
Indeed, from the expansive bathrooms to brightly hued bedrooms, there’s a lot of breathing room. And every room offers a stunning view of the river and the city of Porto, another priority for Bridge: “How many times do you go to hotels [that say they’ve] got fantastic views and you find, yes, 10 rooms do. And the other 90 are looking the wrong way.”
Unsurprisingly, port wine—and wine, in general—figure prominently throughout the hotel. From a casual flight at Dick’s bar to a purchase at the wine shop to group master classes, which can be booked in advance, there are multiple opportunities to taste through the country’s oenological offerings. The hotel also boasts what it calls a “Wine Book,” a record whose depth and breadth of Portuguese wines—about 1,300 selections in all—is unparalleled. In total, the hotel’s wine cellars house about 30,000 bottles of Portuguese wine, which is quite possibly the world’s largest collection.
Within the port trade, there is a bit of a divide among producers around the use of port in cocktails; traditionalists believe the fortified wine should be appreciated on its own, but Taylor Fladgate embraces cocktail culture, as evidence through its libations menu. Drinks such as a Port Julep—a twist on the Kentucky Derby favorite—and the Canary—which contains lemon, honey, and egg white—show a more playful side to port.
The wine theme continues to the spa; Bridge tapped French beauty brand Caudalie, which grounds its skin care products in grape extract and the fruit’s antioxidant properties. Treatments such as a Divine Massage combine a 30-minute, grape-based body scrub with an hour-long massage—and leave you looking and feeling like a younger vintage.
Upscale culinary experiences round out the vision for The Yeatman, with the idea that “if people like wine, they like good food,” Bridge surmises. The hotel restaurant Gastronomic, under the tutelage of executive chef Ricardo Costa, originally earned a Michelin star in 2011 and received its second in 2017 for its esteemed tasting menu. Less formal—but no less satisfying—is The Orangerie, serving dishes such as creamy rice with fish and seafood broth or a lobster salad, with large chunks of the crustacean nesting on greens.
Given the level of service throughout the hotel, it’s surprising to learn that many employees did not come from hospitality backgrounds. “When I set out to staff this hotel, only about half the staff had been in the hotel industry before,” Bridge explains. “What I didn’t want was everybody else’s training. We’re doing something completely different here. We wanted people from different businesses and different industries who’d come in with different ideas.”
Since its inception nearly a decade ago, The Yeatman has defied expectations. “If you could go back to January 2009, which is four months after the Lehman [Brothers] crash, the stock markets were tanking,” recalls Bridge. “[People said], what are you doing building a five-star hotel. The world is collapsing; you must be mad.”
But the hotel flourished, even expanding to 109 rooms from the original 82, and today this Relais & Châteaux member continues to define luxury in Portugal.
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