Colour your world ... iDesign Hotel's out-there lobby.
It might not suit everyone's taste but Lisbon's Internacional Design Hotel has the wow factor, writes Rob Woodburn.
The moment you step on the entrance mat you get the feeling the Internacional Design Hotel is a lot more fascinating than most. The mat bears large purple text that reads: "I'm really curious about you." It's a novel welcome.
The hotel occupies a beautifully restored building on a prime corner of the city's central square, Praca Dom Pedro IV (Rossio), at the business end of Lisbon's most fashionable pedestrian shopping street, Rua Augusta. This unrivalled location in the beating heart of the city provides hotel guests with instant access to almost everything they might want.
Fancy some sightseeing? City trams depart from Praca da Figueria, just 80 metres from the hotel, where you can hop aboard the famous No. 28 tram, which rattles and clanks its way up and down Lisbon's hills while taking in many top sights. A one-day or multiple-day travel pass can be bought at the lotteries shop directly across from the iDesign Hotel.
Need a cab? Simply hail one from the hotel entrance. A train? Rossio station is diagonally across the square and is the departure point for day trips to nearby UNESCO-listed Sintra, a hill town with several magical castles.
Along Rua Augusta are some of Lisbon's most stylish clothing and shoe shops. In warmer months, this pedestrians-only thoroughfare is a social honeypot of vibrant cafes and alfresco dining. A few steps from the iDesign's entrance is Manuel Tavares, purveyor of gourmet food and fine wines since 1860 and perfect for those last-minute gifts before you leave town.
The iDesign might not suit everyone's taste but it was judged the country's best four-star hotel in the 2010 Publituris Portugal Travel Awards. Expect to be astonished. A golden wall along one side of the narrow reception lobby is draped with a shimmering curtain of silver chains. A purple carpet leads up stairs that encircle a gleaming silver lift. There are mirrors within mirrors - this gentle distortion of perception is par for the course inside the building. Any hotel that calls its conference facility the "Heaven Room" is pointedly pushing boundaries.
For most guests, this striking fitout is loads of fun but others may find it garish.
It's best not to jump to conclusions. Follow the Alice in Wonderland advice quoted on the guest feedback form: "No, no, said the queen, sentence first, verdict afterwards."
It took only a few minutes for us to check in and be whisked to a third-floor Zen corner suite. This was the ultimate comfort choice, the decor of muted silvers and flaxen textiles imbuing a sense of relaxation and calm. With two small balconies overlooking Rossio and Rua Augusta, it's the best suite on that floor, if not the entire hotel.
Signs of quirky intent are everywhere. Walls are stamped with pithy quotes. A stairwell is dominated by a floor-to-ceiling rendition of a Roy Lichtenstein mural. "Do not disturb" signs simply say "Go Away". Toilet rolls come in bold colours, including black. Scents waft through the air, specifically designed to tweak the atmosphere.
Each of the hotel's four floors is individually themed as Pop, Zen, Tribu and Urban. The fourth-floor Pop theme is executed in bodacious style with vibrant cherry-red vinyls and white modular curves, the decor including cinema-inspired motifs and Andy Warhol-influenced art.
Third-floor Zen is all about harmony and simplicity, using wood and woven textiles to achieve an emphasis on natural purity and balance. A floor below, the Tribu theme channels funky Afro through zebra stripes, leather, earthy colours and bold thorn-tree silhouettes on white walls.
The first floor Urban theme captures the fast pace of city living with walls carrying bold splashes of street art and graffiti, the techno atmosphere enhanced by bed throws and sheets of orange and lilac.
Each floor has a range of small to extra-large rooms, the latter 22 square metres with small balconies. These rooms have free wireless internet and Nespresso coffee machines. All rooms are non-smoking.
Given that breakfast is no big deal in Portugal, you're unlikely to find a better one than the spread of fresh fruits, pastries, cold cuts, cheeses and cook-to-order available in iDesign's first-floor restaurant, available from 7-10.45am.
Rob Woodburn stayed courtesy of the iDesign Hotel.
Swiss International Air Lines has a fare to Lisbon for about $2190 , flying non-stop with Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong (9hr), then Swiss to Zurich (11hr) and Lisbon (3hr). This fare is low-season return from Melbourne and Sydney including tax, and allows you to use a number of partner airlines to Asia and to fly back from another European city.
Rua da Betesga 3, 1100-090 Rossio, Lisboa, phone +351 213 240 990, fax (+351) 213 240 999, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rates, including breakfast: from €130 ($175) a night mid-week for a small room in low season (December-February) to €334 a night for a extra-large room at weekends during high season (August-September). See internacionaldesignhotel.com.
Other Portuguese pleasures
Pestana Palace: Live like a royal. The 19th-century Pestana Palace Lisbon, a registered National Monument, is a beautiful romantic villa in private grounds with formal gardens, outdoor pool, spa and Chinese pavilion. Only four suites are in the original villa, the rest in two wings. The best rooms have views of the Tagus River. Rua Jau 54, 1300-314, Lisbon, phone (+351) 291 724 210. €190-€350 double; €564-€2,550 suite, with seasonal specials. See pestanapalacelisbon.com.
Lapa Palace: The Olissippo Lapa Palace Hotel is another grand 19th-century edifice with lavish grounds, outdoor pool and spa. The palace was renovated in 2003 and is sumptuously furnished in period style. The deluxe rooms with marble bathrooms are in the original building and enjoy river and city views from balconies, whereas the garden and villa wings have six floors with the best views from the top three. From €235-€700 a night, depending on room and season. See lapapalacelisbon.com.
Pousadas: If you're travelling around the country, Pousadas of Portugal are worth considering. Many occupy historic buildings, including castles and former monasteries, and are easy to stitch into a rambling itinerary. Not all are totally luxurious but whatever is lost in lavish comfort is balanced by character and flavour. Promotional rates from €135 a night. Pousada Passport for five nights, including breakfasts, costs €475, valid for one year for use at one or several establishments. Passport for over-55s is €400. See portugalvirtual.pt/pousadas/index.html.