Cooking & Nature - Portugal's emotional hotel
I’ll freely admit I had my doubts about this place when I first heard the name. ‘Cooking & Nature - an Emotional Hotel.’
It sounded like somewhere which couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, and conjured up various images of bizarre crossover activity: outdoors yoga in cooking aprons perhaps. When I saw that ‘each room has its own individual design,’ I feared the worst. Clearly someone was trying too hard, and I pictured a mishmash of ill conceived thematic decor.
Sometimes, it’s great to be wrong. What on paper simply shouldn’t have worked, turned out to be one of those rare spots which feels both utterly unique, and just like home. It left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, and very reluctant to leave.
First impressions always count when it comes to hotels, they set the tone for your whole stay. While the exterior perhaps isn’t the most exciting you’ll come across, it’s the warmth of the reception that draws the line in the sand. It’s not enough these days simply to be friendly and solicitous; the best hotels (or, rather, the best hoteliers) understand that they have an opportunity to enhance their guests’ experience of their destination.
To give you one example here: walking trails. You are in the limestone hills of the Serras do Aire e Candeeiros, so it’s probably reasonable to expect a hotel to provide you with a map of walking trails in the vicinity. But how about supplying you with a (gratis) GPS device, pre-loaded with a selection of routes? Not to mention spare batteries, ‘just in case.’ That, to me, is evidence that someone has really put themselves in their guests’ shoes.
The walking itself is lovely; the hotel looks somehow more impressive when viewed from the top of the nearest peak. And the hotel exerts even more of a pull after that walk when you know there’s a delightful pool and inviting outside bar and fire pit waiting for you. They operate an honesty bar - of which I’m always a fan - it goes a long way towards that homely feeling. Far better than someone in an over-starched uniform, bowing and scraping as they place another entirely unnecessary doily for your drink, in my view at least.
The rooms themselves are lovely, compact and with eye catching design, each inspired by a different emotion. I stayed in ‘Saudade,’ which roughly translates as, ‘melancholic longing.’ It’s a very Portuguese sentiment apparently, probably most associated with the mournful tones of fado. The room made me feel anything but melancholy, mind, and the only longing I experienced was that of wanting to stay on the morning of departure!
If you felt that this wasn’t the one of you though, other emotions (rooms) include Happiness, Curiosity, Adventure and Romance… Incidentally, each of the rooms / emotions was inspired by a different classic film. One nice little touch is that there’s a copy of your room’s movie on a USB drive inserted into your TV. The box of the DVD is in your welcome case, another wonderfully thoughtful part of the experience: a tiny wicker suitcase which also contains local information/advice and tips for your stay. This along with some of the most delicious biscuits I’ve tasted in ages - part of the homemade produce available from the hotel.
Speaking of which, the food is - of course - top notch, just as you would expect. You’d be well advised to take up a cooking class while here, which take place in the half of the restaurant specifically designed for them. It’s basically an open-plan dining room / kitchen, really well done, that again gives that feeling of homeliness (though admittedly it’s a rather more aesthetic home than most of us live in!).
For all the wonderful artwork and design, which really is eye catching, it’s the people that make the place though. This I think is true of any really good hotel around the globe: in the ‘fancy’ places, the quality of the people is ensured by lengthy and rigorous training. This is the other side of that coin - the quality of hosting which you can’t teach. It’s vocational, like being a nurse or a priest; you can pay lip service to it, but you won’t fool anyone.
Again, it’s not just about being warm and caring, there needs to be an element of thoughtfulness too. Here they have it in abundance. As a father of two small beings, one design element struck me more than any other in this regard. In a place which is clearly dedicated in no small way to peaceful relaxation, yet is also family-friendly - what about the children?
Let’s be honest, many kids won’t sit quietly with a good book, at least not for long. So how about a dedicated children’s room, constructed from double-glazed floor to ceiling glass? Kids can be kids, without feeling shut away out of sight and mind, yet other guests are untroubled by boisterous behaviour. That, to me, speaks volumes of the consideration that has gone into this hotel’s creation, and which is evident throughout any stay here. I’m already planning another visit, this time with my own family in tow!