"THROUGH THE ENTRANCEWAY, OVER OLD STONE STEPS AND BETWEEN SPLAYING POTTED PALMS, AN ACT OF DISCOVERY OF ITS OWN UNFOLDS."
mbued with the spirit of the European Age of Discovery, each floor of Torel 1884 alludes to a continent reached during Portugal’s exploratory voyages of the 15-17th centuries. Through the entranceway, over old stone steps and between splaying potted palms, an act of discovery of its own unfolds.
The 19th century palace – which sits alongside Porto’s cobbled streets, a short walk from the Ribeira district by the Douro river – has been renovated into a 12-room boutique hotel by architect Miguel Nogueira and interiors studio Nano Design. Antique maps hang unscrolled from the soaring palatial ceiling of the entrance, interspersed with drooping exposed light bulbs. Angelic, sculpted stone heads line a dark grey wall; on the other side of the corridor, devilish terracotta busts oppose them. This installation, by Portuguese artist Joao Pedro Rodrigues, represents the celestial and physical worlds, and alludes to the epic poem Os Lusiadas by Luís de Camões, written in the 16th century as a celebration of Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a sea route from Europe to India.
The ground floor of Torel 1884 references Africa in its design. The in-house wine bar and bistro is named for Bartolomeu Dias, who in 1488, became the first European to sail around the southern tip of the continent – what he described as Cabo das Tormentas, ‘the Cape of Storms’. The bistro is teeming with foliage, from vast paintings mounted against the dark green walls, to a supple strelitzia nicolai sprawling its fronds from the mouth of a voluminous clay pot. Dark wood floors, touches of rattan, and striped upholstery further suggest the materials of the Sub-Saharan region. Venturing past the lobby, hung with traditional textiles and portraits of Africa’s fauna, a courtyarded bedroom is named for Suleiman, the elephant King Joao III of Portugal gifted to Archduke Maximillian III of Austria in 1552 for his wedding. Inside, lamps are disguised as antlers, and traditional stoneware and wicker baskets decorate the shelves.
The winding staircase, original to the 1884 palace, climbs the central atrium to the vaulted sky light above. The first floor is dedicated to the Americas, from the mahogany-clad intensity of the Coffee room, to the vibrant Exotic Birds suite, and the warm Tobacco room, decked in earthy fabrics, dark green walls and tanned leather furniture. Continuing upwards leads to the Asia floor, with rooms named Tapestry, Tea and Silk. The Porcelain room here is awash with navy tones; white and cobalt blue vases appear as bedside lamps, and a dividing screen is decorated in bucolic scenes of blue and white, evocative of China’s Qinghua porcelain. A bedside bath, raised on a platform of geometric tiles, rests below an expansive mixed-media work by local artist Jorge Curval, who created pieces in response to the theme of each room.
Amidst the hotel’s rich tapestry of cultural references, tall arched windows in each room reveal stretches of Porto’s quintessential terracotta roofs; while among the shelves and armchairs of the intimate hotel library and sitting room, endless possibilities of further exploration and adventure await, through the pages of a book.