The Grand House Hotel in Portugal is about to get even bigger
To be honest, when I first visited Grand House in early 2019 (it’s a lifetime ago!), I didn’t quite get it. Of course, I saw that the hotel was beautiful. I tasted the food delicious and felt the service and activities to be second to none.
But what I didn’t really get was how different it was from the rest of the hotels in the Algarve (where charming little farm hotels still exist between the big resorts and condo complexes) and the rest of Portugal, for that matter. The country is resplendent with historic palaces, convents and rural estates transformed into hotels. Corn Big house embodies another moment in history.
The oldest hotel in the Algarve, it opened in 1926 to serve as a staging post for merchants who bought and sold canned fish from the 27 canneries in Vila Real Santo AntÃ³nio, a small town on the Spanish border. It lives up to its name with its grand staircases and marble columns, but then it fell into disrepair.
Now, after a multi-year restoration project, it’s a little gem of a hotel, with 30 bright rooms packed with period details like ornate moldings and crystal chandeliers. It is also the great jewel of the career of the hotelier of Portuguese origin and international race Luis Fernandes.
He had wanted to be a diplomat, he tells me over a lunch of fresh fish and seafood at the Grand Beach Club, a seaside restaurant a short walk from the hotel. But he didn’t want to study law in South Africa, where he was living at the time. And that’s how he became a hotelier, which, come to think of it, is quite similar.
He started working with Sol Kerzner, the legendary hotelier behind Atlantis and One & Only, then worked with Orient Express, Rosewood and Ty Warner on projects all over the world. âI was like a Portuguese navigator,â he jokes, âgoing from South Africa to Mozambique to Brazil to the Middle East, to Indonesiaâ.
At first he was not interested in Vila Real Santo AntÃ³nio, he admits. But his business partners insisted and he went to see it. âI fell in love with the building even though it was dilapidated,â he recalls. âI thought to myself: How can we allow this to happen? So I bought it and fixed it.
As for the decoration, especially in the beach club, with its blue and white stripes, palm leaf patterns and colonial touches, he says he thought: What if Ralph Lauren designed a hotel in Portugal but gave it a Portuguese soul? ? For starters, this means that almost everything in the hotel has been made in Portugal.
âPortugal must be seen as a luxury destination,â he says simply.
To this end, he works for the expansion of the Great Empire. The first is the Grand Conservaria, a tribute to the history of Vila Real Santo AntÃ³nio, which will open in March with a restaurant specializing in canned fish (a delicacy in Portugal), followed by a members’ club and an event space.
Later next year, the Grand Beach Club Porto will open, followed by another Grand House hotel in Lisbon. They will all be “grandiose,” he says, “with grandiose style, interior design and service” and located in buildings preserved from various moments in history (not just the obvious palaces).
And they will be “authentically Portuguese, in spirit, culture, tradition, values, handicrafts and handmade items from the Minho to the Algarve”. Because in the end, he wants the Grande Maison to be seen as an ambassador to Portugal, diplomacy after all.