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TravelReview: Hotel Casa Palmela, Parque Natural da Arrábida, Portugal

Review: Hotel Casa Palmela, Parque Natural da Arrábida, Portugal

Hotel Casa Palmela is a gem of a hotel with so many wonderful attributes that it’s difficult to know where to begin. A member of Small Luxury Hotels, this exquisite retreat can be found in the heart of the stunning Arrábida Natural Park, just south of Lisbon and 10 minutes from Setúbal, a charming coastal city with stunning views of the Sado Estuary. In fact, it is the only five star hotel in Portugal to be located inside a natural park.

Originally a 17th Century farmhouse, the property has remained in the same family since 1826, making its debut as a luxury hotel in 2016. And it retains a traditional family feel to this day, adorned with period furniture, photographs, paintings and sculptures, as well as intricate tiles that are emblematic of Portugal’s artistic legacy and cultural identity.

The grounds of the hotel include 170 acres of vineyards and rolling forested hills that are protected land within the Arrábida Natural Park. This includes cork oak trees that are native to the Mediterranean and an important part of the local ecosystem. For centuries, Portuguese ‘tiradores’ have harvested the bark of these trees in a sustainable way, on an approximately 10-year cycle, actually promoting the longevity of the trees which can live for over 200 years.

The welcome

A delayed flight and a broken down bus at Lisbon Airport were not the perfect start to our trip to Portugal. Thankfully, Hotel Casa Palmela saved the day by arranging our 40-minute transfer from the airport which was, in contrast, smooth and seamless. The 24-hour reception was an added bonus, ensuring that our 1.30am arrival was not a problem and we could check-in quickly and still be well rested for the next day.

At that time of the morning we had not fully appreciated the two sculptures that flank the entrance to reception, the impressive work of famly member Maria Luísa de Sousa Holstein Beck, dating back to the late 19th Century.

The room

We stayed in Room 21 of the hotel on the corner of this historic building, with views north down the tree-lined entrance to the hotel, and west over the vineyards – perfect for watching the setting sun. The room blends its period charm with modern comforts, featuring a delightful mix of traditional decor and contemporary amenities.

The twin beds, adorned with a floral bedhead, ensure a restful night’s sleep, while a central table and chairs provide guests with a place to dine or work in comfort. Modern fitted wardrobes harmoniously complement a period chest of drawers, providing ample storage space.

Guests can enjoy the room year-round with air conditioning for the hotter months, and a Pur Line fireplace offering warmth and ambience for those chillier evenings out of season. Meanwhile, a decorative coach ornament on the mantelpiece serves as a nod to the intricate craftsmanship and artistic heritage of Portuguese coach-making.

There’s also free WiFi throughout the hotel, a room service menu, DeLonghi coffee machine, plush bathrobes and slippers, a safe and complimentary bottled water (even though the tap water is safe to drink), while laundry and ironing services also help to ensure a hassle-free stay.

The bathroom

The en suite bathroom blends modern amenities with classic elegance. Adorned with high-quality fixtures and a spacious layout, there’s an ample supply of fluffy towels, expansive mirror and separate shaving mirror. The walk-in shower, enclosed with a glass panel, provides both rain and handheld showerheads.

Premium Rituals toiletries mean that fresh eucalyptus and rosemary scents permeate the shower with the provided shampoo and shower gel, while the hand basin is stocked with organic mandarin and mint soap and hand lotion.

Guests will also find a Hotel Casa Palmela branded box containing a variety of other amenities, including a sewing kit, conditioner, shower cap, shoeshine sponge and vanity kit.

The facilities

Guests can unwind at hotel’s bar and lounge, the former being open from 11am to midnight.

For us, the hotel’s Zimbral restaurant – which draws on Portuguese, African and Asian cuisine – was a true highlight, with a relaxed and informal ambience complemented by exceptional delicacies.

The Salmon Tartar and the Partridge, Foie Gras and Apple both made for excellent starters, the former bound with guacamole and topped with delicate crostini.

The mains were equally delicious, and included the most tender octopus, served with vegetables, green peppers and sweet potato.

The monkfish rice is also to die for.

Other dishes we can heartily recommend are the Wild Sea Bass, Roe and Coriander and the Lamb Rack with Curry, plus don’t miss out on the delectable Chocolate Mousse with River Mint for dessert!

The restaurant is not to be missed and combines exquisite flavours with a commitment to sustainability at the same time, since the produce is sourced from the hotel’s own vegetable garden and local suppliers.

Beyond its culinary delights, the hotel also houses a charming chapel on the first floor – a place of prayer that is open 24 hours a day.

Then there are also two outdoor pools and a spa.

The spa goes by the mantra of “Inhale happiness, exhale stress”, promoting slow wellness and the opportunity to simply be in harmony with nature, surrounded by the Sierra d’Arrábida. In addition to an array of massage treatments, you can also enjoy other activities such as Pilates, Yoga and stretching.

As part of the Once Upon a House Group, the hotel also enjoys the luxury of being able to organise activities through its own Destination Management Company, Once Upon a Day (more on this in another post). For example, though the neighbouring Quinta do Esteval estate, guests can ride on horseback though Arrábida with experienced bilingual guides from Cavalos Na Serra, taking in outstanding views as well the unique aromas of the forests.

The location

Enjoying a picturesque setting within Arrábida Natural Park, Hotel Casa Palmela finds itself in a privileged location amidst rolling hills and lush vineyards, where grape varieties include Syrah, Castelão and Touriga Nacional, the latter considered by many to be Portugal’s finest red grape variety.

As well as vineyards, the estate covers an expansive area of forest which is easy to explore via marked paths.

There are breathtaking views of the Arrábida Mountains and a real sense of peace and solitude, making it the perfect location for relaxation and rejuvenation, and the ideal surroundings for outdoor activities such as birdwatching, horse riding and cycling.

Beyond its natural splendour, Hotel Casa Palmela is just a short drive from the historic town of Setúbal, renowned for its rich cultural heritage. Guests can explore the town on foot and visit the historic 16th Century fortress, Castelo de São Filipe. From Setúbal, you can also take the ferry to Troia, known for its pristine beaches and archaeological sites dating back to ancient Roman times.

Other nice touches

A stay at Hotel Casa Palmela is not without an array of thoughtful extras. Guests are invited to have a complementary drink at the bar on arrival, whilst in our room we were greeted with fresh juice, a warm welcome note and a basket of local farm produce. An evening turn-down service includes some sweet treats.

The hotel’s commitment to sustainability is also evident in a number of ways, such as through its use of renewable energy for heating water and the provision of an electric vehicle charging point, reflecting its mindfulness of its location within the Arrábida Natural Park.

The cost

The hotel’s Arrábida Rooms start from 182 euros per night out of season, and from 400 euros per night in peak season, inclusive of breakfast.

The hotel’s only Master Suite, which includes a balcony, garden and Serra da Arrábida view, is available from 455 euros out of season, if booked via their website using their Early Booking Offer, and in peak season from 609 euros on the same basis.

The best bit

Whilst there are so many positives to share about the hotel, the overriding feeling of being made to feel truly welcome, in a way that was seemingly so effortless and unobtrusive, stood out to me. But make no mistake, every effort is going on behind the scenes to ensure your stay is a memorable one, with no detail left unturned.

The final verdict

My utmost respect goes to everyone involved in the management of Hotel Casa Palmela. Creating an ambience that is so inviting and relaxing, and a hotel experience that is so flawless, is no small feat. And to make it all look so effortless is nothing short of remarkable.

This is a shining example of what five star hospitality is all about. If our visit is anything to go by, anyone who is also fortunate enough to stay here will be sure to be left with cherished memories and a lasting impression of unparalleled excellence.

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Dislcosure: Our stay was sponsored by Hotel Casa Palmela.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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