Palacio Principe Real, Lisbon


Estella Shardlow is tickled pink by this historic hotel in the Portuguese capital…

Doesn’t it suddenly seem like everyone you know is going to Lisbon? International start-up types have been lured in by its cool coffee shops and digital nomad visa scheme, the hen parties and seasoned ravers flock here for the tireless nightlife, and the culture vultures make pilgrimages to Castelo Sao Jorge and Belem (ticking off tower, monastery and pastel de nata’s birthplace in one go). Yes, the Portuguese capital is undeniably having a moment.

Still, it’s thankfully not hard to stumble upon scenes of local life continuing undisturbed – at any given neighbourhood square, office-workers sip bica (short coffees) beneath the awnings of their go-to quiosque – nor to locate quiet enclaves where the Madding Crowd don’t, or can’t, infiltrate.

Take this side-street in Principe Real. Like so many in the well-heeled, central neighbhourhood of Principe Real, the pavement of Rua de São Marçal is steep, cobbled and lined with handsome 19th century mansions, laundry flapping from their upper windows. Certainly, nobody would guess what lies behind the rose-tinted walls of number 77: one of Lisbon’s loveliest gardens and possibly the best boutique hotel in town.

If the tiled walls could talk, Palácio Príncipe Real’s would tell of erudite dinners hosted by its original owner, a Portuguese newspaper mogul, and champagne-fuelled soirees from its decades as an aristocratic family home. In recent years, it’s been masterfully restored into a 25-room hotel by British couple Gail and Miles Curley.

Looking at the perfectly curated interiors, you’d think they hailed from interior design backgrounds rather than corporate careers. Of course, they property offered up a beautiful canvas in the shape of Moorish woodwork, checkerboard floors and walls covered in blue and white azulejo scenes. But the cavernous copper Drummond bathtubs, vintage pineapple-shaped lamps, and coffee tables dressed in Assouline travel books and antique objets d’art are the work of a skilful ‘eye’.

Then there are all the thoughtful in-room extras, which range from the sensory to high-tech. You’ll find bouquets of fresh garden flowers, essential oil-infused candles by local brand EcoLove and Byredo bath products, alongside Dyson hairdryers and Roberts speakers, plus a well-stocked Smeg fridge (tea drinkers will be delighted to see proper milk) and complimentary Nau do Cacau chocolate bars for the sweet tooths.

Air-conditioning units aren’t something I normally pay much attention to (unless they’re malfunctioning in a hot country), but here, instead of the usual, ugly plastic boxes the Curleys commissioned delicately wrought metal grates that conceal units recessed into wall or floor cavities. Yes, even the A/C here is aesthetically pleasing.

Perhaps an even more remarkable transformation occurred in the hotel grounds. Hard to believe this was a derelict parking lot when the Curley’s bought the place, with weeds reaching waist high. Today, there’s a pristine lawn, bougainvillea spilling over the salmon-pink boundary walls and a giant jacaranda tree. Savour the urban oasis while tucking into a la carte, organic breakfast fare on the terrace (served until midday, to this lazybones’ delight) or lounging by the swimming pool. A rarity in central Lisbon, the saltwater is warmed by rooftop solar panels, while a family of rubber ducks bobs on the surface.

Ducks, in fact, are a hotel mascot, cropping up in everything from ceramic ornaments to key-card wallets. Spotting them around the hotel becomes like a game of Where’s Wally during our stay. Similarly jaunty is the Nutcracker doll in the stairwell that proffers trays of snacks to peckish passers-by.

And how’s this for another ‘quirk’? Whereas many hotels now clamour to cast their lobbies as a buzzy communal ‘scene’, Palacio Principe Real has a guests-only policy, which means you won’t be jostling for a sofa scores of digital nomads. Instead, this storied townhouse retains the relaxed, intimate ambience of a private home – that is, the home of someone with impeccable taste in antiques and a penchant for decadent in-room bathtubs, of course.

R. de São Marçal 77, 1200-419 Lisboa, Portugal. For more information, please visit