The Belle Epoque exterior of the 30-room Relais & Château Grand House Hotel in Vila Real do Santo Antonio is supremely attractive – as you might expect from premises of this period. The property sits within the perimeters of a compact town in the Algarve with some nice bars where locals hang out. At least one is a sports bar with lots of shouting and cheering spilling onto the patio.
This three-story property faces the Avenida de República and is right across the road from the town’s marina on the Guadiana River creating the border with Spain. The Grand House ethos is obvious; we are greeted at the entrance by an enormous Portuguese water dog named ‘Grand’. Licking our toes, Grand ensures we immediately feel at home and welcomed.
The interior of the property speaks of a bygone period and gives a much older feel to the premises. The entrance beckons guests in and is adorned with an enormous chandelier. A short flight of stairs leads to a mezzanine and is adorned with large candlesticks and antique books. This then sweeps around and up to a winding staircase with another richly period decorated area tucked in front of the staircase. The first floor has two ‘bibliothecas’ for relaxing and each has a plethora of books and board games. The large dining room is further along the corridor and lushly decorated in dark wood with soft furnishings of blue and white. Breakfast is provided here, and there is a wide variety of choices which is topped off with excellent coffee. This is also where dinner is served with evening meals featuring regional dishes, often with a twist and organised as a set menu. Just off the dining room is our favourite spot: a tiny bar that has been recently refurbished and still has its original woodwork. There is also a spare room used for physio and massage treatments.
Right on time
While you’re Out There
It’s worth visiting the nearby Castro Marim salt pans and a business named Salmarim. Run single-handedly by Jorge Raiado, these salt pans have likely been in existence and in use since the Iron age. The method of retrieving this precious product hasn’t changed for a millennium and, up until about a decade ago, the salt was used by the tuna cannery business in Vila Real do Santo Antonio. These days, the rebranded artisan fleur de sel is being sold to the gastronomic enterprises of the region.
Our guest room is a suite, which we loved it. The hexagon-shaped main bedroom has a chandelier, floor-to-ceiling windows, and views out to the marina. Above the bed are detailed drawings of aristocrats and officials. Just to the side is a small living room with sofa, chairs and a closet where you find the mini-bar. The bijou bathroom is utilitarian but also gorgeously decorated, with a full glass-enclosed rain shower snuggled between the bathroom and the living room. There is a blind provided that can close off the glass wall from view of the living room.
Built in 1926, during its heyday the Grand House was a favourite of the upper echelon of society, but, after decades of neglect beginning in the 1960s, the only part of the building not in desperate need of repair was its lovely façade. Now, it has been brought back to its original gleaming condition and is welcoming discerning guests once again. The hotel has its own restaurant on the water, just a short jaunt down the Avenida de República. The Grand Beach Club, open from 10 am to 6 pm, serves brunch and incredibly fresh seafood. There is an infinity pool, relaxed seating and even a small beach. During the summer season, curated music is a backdrop for the proceedings until closing.
Just a further 1 km drive away is the vast golden sand beach of the Atlantic Coast. This is accessed via a boardwalk from the road. During the summer months, the hotel has a concession here so guests can have access to deck chairs and other amenities.