In the lobby of The Yeatman, a hotel with over 27,000 bottles of fine wine in its cellars, stands the naked figure of a man. Not, as one might expect of a ‘wine hotel’, an intoxicated guest, but a statue of the Roman god Bacchus. Also known as Dionysus, he is the god of the grape, and the subject of worship for thousands of years. Here, his third and perhaps most likeable alter ego Eleutherios (‘the liberator’) symbolises exactly what the hotel aims to offer guests; freedom, uninhibited enjoyment and a healthy serving of hedonism.
Located on the south side of Portugal’s Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia, The Yeatman is technically not in Porto. As a result, an oft-used, tongue-in-cheek local saying that translates (loosely) as, “the only reason to cross the river is to see the view from the other side”, no longer applies. While Porto’s picturesque beauty and cultural significance is such that its historic centre is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, The Yeatman has become a destination in itself, with stunning views from every one of its northern-facing rooms that overlook the city’s architecturally rich bridges, colourful facades and sun-baked rooftops.
Should your sense of adventure get the better of you, however, at the bottom of the hill The Yeatman resides upon there is a river taxi that transports you to São Nicolau. Here, you can watch the catch of the day go from the fishermen’s nets to the fridges of some of Porto’s best chefs and revel in the atmosphere of a city going about its business. Wander up the steep inclines of Porto’s cobbled streets towards the centre, and be prepared to repeat the journey before you find blink-twice-and-you-miss-it Taberna dos Mercadores, one of Porto’s most authentic eateries. The fresh seafood menu changes daily, so arrive early and settle into the intimate, bottle-lined space for generous portions of açorda de mariscos and freshly prepared dourada in a salt crust.
Back at the hotel, The Yeatman’s two Michelin star restaurant – Porto’s first – is an epicurean playground for the discerning foodie, with wine and port pairings readily available from the expert staff (“we send all our staff to wine school,” Wine Director Beatriz Machado laughs). They pride themselves on an impressive wine list and bottomless knowledge of the local export, but it’s a two minute walk away from here that you can get a true feel for how intrinsic port wine is to the local culture. Taylor’s is one of the largest and most internationally renowned port houses, and spending time in its cool, dark cellars is a fascinating way to relieve yourself from the heat of the Iberian sunshine. Highlights included viewing Joseph James Forrester’s hand-drawn topographic maps of the terroir, learning why music is played to the treading of grapes and, inevitably, the opportunity to taste some of Taylor’s vintages, tawnies, and rubies. The quiet, guarded cellars they spill from feel like hallowed grounds, the barrels bigger than tombstones and just as sacrosanct.
If drinking the vinho isn’t enough, you can also bathe in the good stuff. No, really; The Yeatman was one of the earliest hotels to adopt the concept of vinotherapy, in which spa treatments draw on the antioxidant properties and natural benefits through the medium of massage, Roman baths and facials. The outdoor infinity pool (in the shape of a decanter, just in case you needed another reminder of where you were) looks out over the landscape below and is a summer sun-trap for the days when you need a break from exploring, its tranquillity only interrupted by the rather intriguing appearance of a permanent guest at the hotel, a stray peacock.
If enjoying a few glasses of vintage sounds more like your idea of vinotherapy, The Yeatman’s Dick’s Bar is a magical spot to soak up the sights (and the wine). The terrace looks out over the winding waterway, iconic bridges and pretty terracotta roofs, over which the sun sets in the evening to the faint strum of traditional fado music.
When you find your mind wandering with the turns of the river, consider a break from the ebb and flow of Porto life and take a leisurely water taxi to Pinhão’s Vintage House Hotel, just a couple of hours inland. The surrounding terraced vineyards are as mesmerising as an optical illusion, so book a room and revel in the majestic 19th century estate’s slow pace and romantic old-worldliness. Most wines taste best in the place they’ve been coaxed from grape to glass, so explore the surrounding quintas where you’ll find decades-old agricultural techniques still being used and farmhands with stories etched into their sun-beaten faces. As novelist José Saramago wrote on arriving in the Douro Valley: “Once more staring in front of the vineyard. Without doubt this is the eighth wonder of the world.”
Monarch offers city break holidays staying at The Yeatman starting from £309 per person. For further information please visit www.monarch.co.uk. Double rooms at The Vintage House Hotel start from €120, including breakfast, visit www.vintagehousehotel.com.