Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Hotel Avenida Palace, the history (part VI)

For the last part of this “saga” we arrive to the current Administration. After a couple of years “decaying”, the time came to “rebuild” the old Palace, returning it to its past glory. 

The new decoration, preserving the original style, caught the attention of both Movie and TV companies and soon the Avenida Palace was the scenario for films such as “Chain Reaction”. 

“However, on the 1st of March, 1964, Soportel – Sociedade Portuguesa Hoteleira, Lda. (Portuguese Hotel Society) is established specifically for the purpose of purchasing the Avenida Palace from the Companhia Portuguesa de Hotéis.

The former is already in greatly degraded conditions. For two years, with the participation of the Gabinete de Planeamento e Arquitectura Carlos Ramos (Carlos Ramos Cabinet of Planning and Architecture), it is deeply renewed, and equipped with the latest technology, while maintaining the style of its time. 

The walls are covered by panels with soft and golden tones, the ceilings are alight with crystal chandeliers, and the chairs are lined with brocade. The stately staircase connecting the six floors is reminiscent of the old palatial scurrying. Harmony rivals with exquisiteness.

Nowadays, the hotel has 82 rooms, and 17 suites, one of the latter being a Presidential suite. The suites are spacious, and thematically decorated by eras: Louis XV, D. Maria, D. José, Empire, and British Colonial. The rooms, dressed with matching curtains and bedspreads, provide great comfort. We emphasise room 415 due to its baroque decoration. 

A centenarian of 109 venerable years of age, the hotel gradually evolved, and surpassed its original quality. All rooms are equipped with soundproof windows, air conditioning, direct telephone, safety boxes, and satellite TV. All suites have a Jacuzzi, as do some of the rooms, as well as a fax and a computer, which were installed in the latest remodelling.

The Reception Room, which is about 130 sq m, is decorated in classic blue and gold shades, and has made history in international cinematography. “The Count of Monte Cristo”, “Passage to Lisbon”, and “Chain Reaction”, starring Martin Sheen, as well as the Portuguese TV series “Sozinhos em Casa”, were filmed there. The stained-glass ceiling is highlighted by the red brocades lining the walls, and by long velvet curtains, also red, hugging the windows.

The walls of the dining room are lined with solid oak and satin, and the room provides a privileged view over the Avenida da Liberdade and Restauradores Square. It possesses all the requirements to provide exquisite meals. It no longer provides restaurant service, but maintains a room service. It is only opened for breakfast and special occasion official lunches. One of the Palace’s latest acquisitions was the foyer. During the 1998 remodelling, Lucien Donnat and João Chichorro turned the hall into an exquisite space overlooked by a stained-glass window. Just at its side, the bar is an invitation to dreamers and dilettantes. Each square meter has a story to tell.

They have seen spies and politicians, princes and plotters, forgers and goodwill men. While some wove political intrigues, others burnt passions, and fed impossible loves, amidst the lukewarm tediousness of palatial luxury. A temple of memories, the Avenida Palace has everything to deserve a visit. It is easily accessible, and well assisted by transports. It has ensured parking in the underground parking of the Restauradores, and half a dozen parking places just at the front entrance. The prices are those fitting a five star hotel.”

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Hotel Avenida Palace, the history (part V)

On the 5th part of this history, we share some of the famous and infamous people that stayed in the hotel on the 1st half of twentieth century, from royalty to bankers. You will also learn about the hotel’s “participation” in the Spanish Civil War and in World War II. 

The refugees and the spies they all tasted a little bit of the Palace although in the 50’s the hotel started to show a little tired.

“Acknowledged by nobility, and preferred by diplomats and secret agents from all four corners of the world, the hotel was also a channel for knowledge and contacts, a recommended calling card. Alves dos Reis knew that when he chose it as a temporary residence, while the sumptuous residence he had purchased at Príncipe Real was being prepared.

It is said that the famous forger and swindler, who was stuffed with counterfeit 500 escudo bills, moved from the less elegant Metropole Hotel, at the Rossio, by the Avenida Palace, where he lived some time, in 1925. Manuel Teixeira Gomes used it when he came to Lisbon, before going into diplomatic life, and made several references to the hotel in his books.

In 1937, Emperor Hirohito of Japan chose to spend his honeymoon at the hotel. On that same decade, a group of foreign intellectuals established themselves at the Palace, following the invitation of António Ferro. They were: Julles Romain, François Mauriac, Jacques Maritan, Miguel Unamuno, and Wenceslau Fernandez Flores.

During the Spanish civil war, the Palace was filled with refugees, and it was a manoeuvring area for secret agents. Soon afterwards, during the Second World War, spies and conspirators from England, Germany and the United States, crossed paths in the hotel, and decided upon the faith of the world. In fact, it seems that the political class always had a place at the Palace, with some of Salazar’s ministers visiting the hotel regularly. Cardinal Mitsensky also stayed there. Later on, Miterrand would also stay there every time he came to Portugal.

In the 1950’s, the Portuguese high finance remained faithful to the hotel. Cupertino de Miranda selected it when he needed to stay in the capital, and the Espírito Santo family often visited it. There are fewer references from artists, but they did immortalise it. Nureyev, Guilhermina Suggia, and Amália Rodrigues definitively marked it.

On the second half of the twentieth century, Lisbon did not follow the evolution of other European capitals. The railway service did not evolve, and the Santa Apolónia station had begun receiving the international railway traffic sometime before, taking the role of Central Station from the Rossio station. The Palace loses its initial vocation, ages, and starts to show some signs of decadence. In 1963, the Tourism services warn its owners that if they do not do some restoration work, the hotel will lose its ranking.”

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Hotel Avenida Palace, the history (part IV)

In this “episode” the Avenida Palace is stage of significant Portuguese historical developments.

“The hotel did not fall short of their expectations: A private orchestra flooded the rooms with music during their famous Saturday balls, and while the dancing pairs challenged love, spies from everywhere looked for conspiracies. A Special Night Service, characterised by an exquisite French “à la carte” cuisine, sustained the hours, and “seasoned” the most fierce emotions. The aromas of Parisian fragrances filled the air with the faint and sweetish scent of a decadent monarchy.

Upon the monarchy’s fall, in October, 1910, the Palace provided to the diplomatic corps a privileged balcony over the events: shrapnel and grenades flew over the roundabout, where the revolutionary armies were camping, and the Rossio, where the realist troops were stationed. The latter’s Military Staff was established in the Palace of Independence, on the S. Domingos square. Inevitably, the hotel was hit. In spite of such a change, the spot still held its attraction over the elites.

In the late 1917, a year in which Russia lived some dramatic moments, Lisbon welcomed the Ballets Russes Company, which was run by the famous Sergei Diaghilev. Almada Negreiros went to the hotel to greet the Company, and dedicated a manifest to it.Two years later, the hotel is sold to the Sociedade Portuguesa de Hotéis, Lda. (Portuguese Hotel Society), which in turn sells it a year after that. The world’s economic situation worsens after the end of the First World War, and affects every sector. In this picture of crisis, a group of Portuguese businessmen establishes the Companhia Portuguesa de Hotéis (Portuguese Hotel Company), and buys the Palace on 17/11/1919, ensuring its management for 45 years.

President Sidónio Pais also visited the Palace for some time, and was fatally wounded almost in its midst, on the 14th December, 1918, at the Rossio station. He was shot on his way to the Hotel. It is unknown if he ever used the “discreet” door on the 4th floor, which connected the Hotel to the Rossio station. Naturally, little is known about those who used such a “secret path”, meant for VIPs who wished to remain anonymous, and possibly an access to forbidden passions. However, we know it was used on several occasions. Years later, Salazar used it. According to the recollections of an old employee, who is now deceased, the former President of Government would have visited the Hotel to greet Biachi (the representative of Yugoslavia in Portugal), who was staying at room 405, using the door on the 4th floor, which was usually locked.”

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Hotel Avenida Palace, the history (part III)

In this 3rd part we reveal some details of the hotel’s luxury decoration, the name change and also a story of a Prince who defied a Queen.

“The interior decoration had an exquisite Belle Époque style. The rugs, portieres, and upholstering of the ottomans were the finest available in the quality market. The furniture was purchased directly from Maple, one of the most elegant stores in London. Almost all the rooms distinguish themselves with their silk lining or leather paper. The walls in the dining room were overlaid with leafy velvet, which was broken off by oak wainscoting. All rooms had heating and ventilation apparatus, and almost all already had bathrooms. The guests had a hydraulic elevator at their disposal, to go from one floor another, and the Hotel’s kitchen was considered to be one of Lisbon’s finest.

In 1893, the Grande Hotel Internacional is renamed Avenida Palace, just as its European congeners. The Palaces symbolised the court’s splendour, in a time when the birth aristocracy was beginning to be surpassed by the bourgeoisie’s money. The pleasure of travelling, which up until then was limited to diplomatic, political or commercial reasons, had become fashionable amidst the wealthier classes, favouring the search for hotels with palatial luxury. In 1900, the hotel is sold to Wagons Lits, a Belgian company which had always been associated to railway transportation.

The Palace recreated the magnificence of Versailles, offering the fascination of rivalling with the hotels in Paris or Rome. It was fit for princes, and it lodged members of the European royalty. D. Miguel of Bragança, prince of Portugal, was one of them. He defied the law issued by D. Maria II in 1834, which forbade D. Miguel I and his descendants to come to Portugal, under penalty of death upon summary procedure. According to some accounts of the time, the prince D. Miguel II arrived at the Rossio station, on the 23rd of January, 1901.

He was escorted by a secretary, “two elegantly dressed young men”, and servants dressed as chausseurs of the German noble households. The proscribed prince and his escorts lodged at the Avenida Palace, under aliases. D. Miguel registered himself under the name of Count of Mutzgen. They were identified by some noblemen and were acclaimed by D. Miguel’s supporters. The stay of a Portuguese prince in the Avenida Palace endowed Rossio’s hotel with a new romantic aura, drawing clients from both the wealthy Brazilian bourgeoisie and the European aristocracy, who sought a capital with a pleasant temperature.”

Source – Lisboa Porta a Porta

Friday, 11 October 2019

Hotel Avenida Palace, the history (part II)

In this second “episode” you will find out what was the purpose of building such a luxurious hotel and the context, social and political, surrounding the opening of the Hotel Avenida Palace.

“The aim was to obtain a luxury hotel, worthy of the finest European aristocracy and wealthy bourgeoisie from all over the world. Rossio had already become the meeting point for prominent people, as well as the country’s political centre (the Café Martinho, where so many political and literary gatherings took place, was just in front of it). This is inferred from the excerpt of the “The Illustrious House of Ramires”, by Eça de Queirós, when the character Gracinha reads a letter which mentions the arrival of her cousin Gonçalo to the Rossio station.

“(…) it seemed a royal reception. We were more than thirty friends. Obviously, every one of our kindred was there; and if a revolution was to erupt that morning, the Republicans would capture the whole of the finest, good stock Portuguese nobility gathered at the Rossio station.”

At that time, Lisbon was going through a troubled period. The ultimatum issued by Great-Britain (following the Lusitanian intention to connect Angola to Mozambique) had created a wave of outrage against King D. Carlos. The King returned the decoration of the Order of the Bath to Queen Victoria, and offered a generous contribution for a public subscription for the purchase of warships. However, the political decomposition of liberal constitutionalism was rising, and the Republican movement expanded. Meanwhile, the city grew. With the influx of great European fast trains, it was slowly becoming a Cosmopolitan capital, welcoming illustrious personalities used to the luxury of the new Parisian hotels.

Lisbon did not lag behind. On the 10th October, 1892, the opening of the Grande Hotel Internacional (Great International Hotel) takes place, in all splendour, under the management of Edmundo Eloy. The original project (with less than one floor) established an interesting connection between the Station and the Restauradores Square, through an interior gallery, which was later removed. The view was magical: to the North, an immense avenue, named Liberdade (Liberty) six years before, when the prince D. Carlos was married to D. Amelie d’Orléans; to the South, the Tagus, and the city’s downtown, dated from the era of the Marquis of Pombal; to the East, the old string of houses of the Castle’s neighbourhood, leaning imposingly from above a hill.”

Source – Lisboa Porta a Porta

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Hotel Avenida Palace, the history (part I)

Today we celebrate our 127th anniversary and, as part of the celebration, we start here a series of posts where we share our history. Enjoy!

“When architect José Luis Monteiro received the commission for Lisbon’s Central Station, in Rossio, the Real Companhia dos Caminhos de Ferro Portugueses (Royal Portuguese Railway Company) requested him a project for an adjoined building for administrative services, which would include a luxury restaurant on the first floor. The restaurant would become one of the most popular restaurants in the city, given its location and the view it provided.

The inauguration of the Rossio Station took place in 1890, when Master Monteiro was already undertaking the project of the adjoined building, the construction of which would be supervised by David Cohen, one of the most illustrious names of Portuguese engineering.

However, the railway traffic, which now had a terminal in the city centre, had intensified with the inauguration of the South and West lines, and demanded new resources from the hotel business. Wagons Lits, a company with ties to the railways, made a proposal to the Real Companhia for the new building to be made into a great station hotel, similar to the Palaces of other European capitals.

They would be in charge of its exploitation, and would hold right of preference in case of sale. The initial project was altered, and the architect was finally able to dedicate himself to the construction of the new hotel without the style constraints imposed on him for the Rossio Station. Instead of a building with a neo-Manueline style (dubbed by the critics as “manuelinho style”, or “little Manuel style") which aroused a strong controversy, we were faced with a Second French Empire boulevardier construction, a classically inspired composition influenced by French architecture, much to the beaux-arts taste of José Luis Monteiro, rooted in the constructions of Paris. Nothing was left to chance. In 1889, the D. Pedro IV square, by the hotel, was decorated with two bronze fountains manufactured in France.”

Source – Lisboa Porta a Porta

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Sintra...just around the corner.

A common error while booking a trip to Lisbon is booking one night in Sintra, in the assumption that Sintra is very distant from Lisbon. Well, it isn't. Especially if you are staying in a hotel located right next to the Rossio's train station.

EPAE (Parques de Sintra / Pedro Yglesias)
The train is the easiest mean of transportation to Sintra, there are many trains each 10 minutes during rush hours and each 20 minutes during the rest of the day and the trip takes around 40 minutes. So, I wonder: do you really need to change hotels in order to visit Sintra? Of course not.

Sintra is one of those magical places where nature and mankind come together in perfect harmony, as if they wanted to leave us surprised, surrendered to the beauty of the work that was classified by the UNESCO as World Cultural and Landscape Heritage in 1995.

We find in Sintra testimony of virtually every period of the Portuguese history and, often, in a dimension that went beyond the boundaries of this territory, for its importance.

Its origins date back to prehistoric times. In the area, important remains belonging to the Late Neolithic, were found. During the time of Arab domination, the population lived in a golden era, due to its influence as a major supply center and defensive support of Lisbon.

Throughout the Middle Ages, on the remains of the Arab palace, a royal palace was built which served as summer residence for the monarchy. From this moment on Sintra acquires a new momentum. At the end of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Romanticism deployment by the King D. Fernando II, attracts a large number of visitors, converting it into an unique cultural center.

Today, apart from the perfect combination between an unspoiled nature and an unique historical and monumental legacy, Sintra also has some important tourist infrastructure and leisure.

What not to miss during your visit to Sinta:
Castelo dos Mouros (Parques de Sintra / Emigus)

Castelo dos Mouros

Known as the Moorish Castle, it is situated at 3km from the city center on Highway Pena, one of the summits of the Serra de Sintra, a place from where you can enjoy great views.

Palácio da Pena (Parques de Sintra / NES)

Palácio e Parque da Pena

Represents a mixture of exotic and medieval styles, and is one of the
greatest examples of Portuguese architecture of romanticism. Its interior has many rooms lavishly decorated.

The whole palace is surrounded by a beautiful park and has an excellent viewpoint from where you get some wonderful views.

Palácio Nacional de Sintra (Parques de Sintra / Emigus)

Palácio Nacional de Sintra

It is today the only Portuguese medieval royal palace and it is clearly distinguished by the two chimneys that stand on its structure. Inside you may find a large collection of Mudejar tiles, different rooms, patios, etc.

And especially the Jardim da Preta with acess from the interior of the palace, in which stands the statue of clay in real size that represents one of the most beautiful chapels in Sintra, the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

It is considered a National Monument.

Sintra... a journey that will make your day!