Sleeping in a Portuguese palace: A review of Quinta das Lagrimas, part of Hyatt
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If you’ve ever dreamed of sleeping in a palace at a reasonable cost, read on.
In Europe, magnificent structures steeped in rich history dot the countryside. From stately castles to extravagant châteaus to, yes, impressive palaces, there’s a certain charm that only traveling to Europe can bring.
When Hyatt partnered with Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) several years ago, I was excited to try out an array of unique accommodations — palaces included — where you could earn and redeem points.
In July, I embarked on a trip between Lisbon and Porto earlier this summer, and knew that I wanted an SLH to be one of my stops.
The Quinta das Lagrimas is a palace with a storied past that dates back to the 1300s. These days, it’s a renovated luxury hotel located in the medieval Portuguese city of Coimbra. For two nights, I encountered old-world charm intertwined with modern convenience.
While the contrast between antique and contemporary was a bit jarring at times, I came to appreciate the hotel’s many quirks (slow Wi-Fi notwithstanding).
Coimbra is a gorgeous, underrated central Portuguese city in and of itself — and well worth a visit. But here is why Quinta das Lagrimas is a palace-turned-hotel that is deserving of at least a night’s stay.
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My stop in Coimbra was several days into my visit to Portugal. In total, I stayed at five different hotels and made three stops along the Lisbon to Porto corridor.
Hyatt doesn’t have any of its own branded hotels in Portugal. If you want to earn or redeem Hyatt points in the country, an SLH property is the only way to go.
In addition to being a palace, I picked the Quinta das Lagrimas for its convenient location — and somewhat reasonable cost. The hotel is a World of Hyatt Category 5 property, meaning you’ll need 20,000 points to redeem a night’s stay at a base-level room. Cash rates were going for a little more than $280 nightly.
While I’m a World of Hyatt Globalist member, you cannot take advantage of elite benefits at SLH properties. Instead, all Hyatt members — regardless of status — receive exclusive privileges, including complimentary continental breakfast for two, free Wi-Fi, early check-in, late check-out and a room upgrade (all based on availability).
Quinta das Lagrimas is located in Coimbra, about two hours north of Lisbon either by car or train. Porto is another hour or so north on the same route, so it makes for a fantastic stopping-off point between the two popular cities.
Coimbra is the country’s former capital and is home to a preserved medieval old town and the historic University of Coimbra, established in 1290.
The hotel is actually located across the river from the main thoroughfare of Coimbra, but both vehicular and pedestrian bridges link the two sides of the Mondego River.
While it’s possible to walk to the sites in Coimbra from Quinta das Lagrimas, it is a steep climb uphill and can easily take upwards of 30 minutes. Instead, it might be a better idea to take a short Uber ride to your destination — and then walk back downhill to the property. Your glutes might thank me later.
A brief history
First, a brief history (and folklore) lesson.
There’s a popular Portuguese legend associated with Quinta das Lagrimas. In fact, at check-in, you’ll receive not one, but two booklets that explain some of the property’s epic past. There are also historical artifacts strewn throughout the property.
Quinta das Lagrimas literally translates to “estate of tears.” While the palace was actually built in 1730, there is an enchanted origin story on its grounds of medieval intrigue, love and tragedy that stems from the 1300s.
It goes something like this: Ines de Castro was a noblewoman and romantic partner of Portugal’s king at the time, Pedro. Pedro’s father did not see Ines as fit to be the queen and ordered to have her killed. Legend says that the blood from her murder turned the waters on the ground red with her tears, creating a new spring.
Therein lies the origin of Quinta das Lagrimas. The tale of Pedro and Ines is one of the most well-known Portuguese love stories, and I was already enthralled even before I arrived.
Upon driving up to the grounds, there were a set of iron gates at the entrance with a long, one-lane cobblestoned road that led to the front of the building.
While it was cloudy and gray during my entire two-night stay, I thought the front of the palace was absolutely stunning, regardless of the weather.
The front doorway is flanked by a marble staircase with a more accessible-friendly entrance to the side of the building.
My first observation of modernity was the motion-sensing doors that opened into the grand foyer and lobby.
Once inside, I couldn’t help but pause and let my eyes wander all around me. While this type of decor may not be for everyone, you can’t say that it isn’t striking. Tall ceilings added to the dramatic effect.
There is a real sense of history and tradition that you can immediately sense upon walking into Quinta das Lagrimas.
At the time I was visiting Portugal, a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination was required to check in to any property in the country. While Portuguese authorities didn’t officially recognize the U.S. CDC vaccine card as a valid vaccination document, the friendly front desk associate did accept it without hesitation.
If you didn’t have a negative COVID-19 test — and could not provide proof of vaccination — the hotel offered COVID-19 rapid test kits free of charge. (Yes, you’d have to do your nose-swab right at the front desk.)
We were quickly checked in and informed that we’d be staying in a room in the newer “spa building” instead of the historic palace.
The two buildings are connected by a winding passageway. We were given our keys, provided a few tips about how to maximize our stay in Coimbra and our luggage was brought to our room by a bellman.
Quinta das Lagrimas is split up into two parts — an old wing and a new wing.
The older wing consists of the restored palace, including the lobby and check-in areas, grand foyer, several sitting rooms, the historic chapel and library and restaurant and bar. Several dozen rooms are also in this section of the hotel with classic decor that truly feels like a step back in time.
I was staying in the newer, two-story wing which had the spa, gym, conference spaces and 23 rooms with more modern decor. In between the two structures was the outdoor pool.
Each wing has its pros and cons.
The old wing has more vintage furnishings and noise seems to travel easier. But there’s something to be said about getting to stay in the palace itself. Meanwhile, the newer wing felt more modern, but also a bit soulless in ambiance. On the bright side, the more contemporary furnishings were appreciated — and I even had a balcony with a view of the hotel’s public gardens (more on that later).
As I walked from the old palace wing to the newer “spa” wing, it was clear that the two buildings didn’t really blend well together. It was almost as if someone designed the new building without even considering what lay next to it.
My room was on the second floor, with a pleasant view of the greenery that lay further afield. If you’re in the spa wing, definitely ask for a view in this direction, as the rooms across the hall face the parking lot.
I didn’t find the furnishings to be particularly worthy of five-star hotel status, but everything in the room was well-placed, functional and there was an abundance of natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows that led to the large balcony.
There was plenty of closet space available, with robes and slippers waiting inside.
While there was coffee and tea on the desk, I also didn’t think the instant coffee packets were the most fitting for a hotel of this caliber.
The queen bed was extremely comfortable but lacked usable outlets at the bedside table.
Overall, the room was solid. It was certainly nothing to write home about and more suited for perhaps a three- or four-star hotel but also I found it spacious, comfortable and the view from the balcony was a nice touch.
Meanwhile, the bathroom was decked out in gleaming white marble with a full bidet, rainfall shower and individual toiletries.
But the biggest downside wasn’t something that you could visibly see.
My biggest issue with the room — and the hotel in general — was that Wi-Fi in the room was essentially unusable. Since I was working for part of this trip, I had to vacate the room to sit in the common areas to get any work done. Even there, the Wi-Fi was sometimes painfully slow, taking seemingly forever to load a simple webpage.
Food and beverage
This is one area where Quinta das Lagrimas (mostly) shines.
Let’s also start off with the fact that I had come to miss a true European continental breakfast, with an endless assortment of cured meats, cheeses and bread. And this hotel delivered.
I also consumed some of the best pastel de natas, the signature Portuguese egg tart, during breakfast here.
The full buffet breakfast and a la carte lunch are served in the ground-level casual restaurant, Pedro and Ines (named after the historical figures from the 1300s). Even better, breakfast is free for World of Hyatt members.
Next door to Pedro and Ines is Arcadas, the high-end dinner venue serving refined Portuguese cuisine.
I had a three-course dinner at Arcadas one night and the food was outstanding, with modern interpretations of traditional Portuguese favorites like bacalao (cod fish). The presentation was also top-notch, especially the “heartbreaker’s special” dessert — a heart-shaped pastry shell that crumbled upon contact.
Quinta das Lagrimas leans into its storied history and it comes to life in unique ways, especially with food.
Portugal is famous for its wines. The hotel even has its own signature blend, made with two local grape varieties. The wine’s name? You guessed it, Pedro and Ines.
In fact, there’s an entire locked cellar of wine located in the gastropub, next to Arcadas.
Poolside, there’s also a menu with a variety of snacks, sandwiches and pizzas during the day. Everything was tasty, fresh and reasonably priced.
The only disappointment in the hotel food category was room service. Not only was the menu quite limited, but the actual food quality wasn’t up to par, either. On the plus side, everything was served in actual dishware and besides the mandatory masks and curfew, there didn’t seem to be any COVID-19 related shortcuts.
From a historic chapel and library to a modern spa and lap pool, the hotel’s amenities truly span centuries of time.
The layout of Quinta das Lagrimas is a bit of a maze, but it was exciting to wander around, discovering new settings even on my second day at the hotel.
While I didn’t spend much time by the pool, the area was modern and nice enough, although not particularly luxurious. The landscaping was stunning here and throughout the property, though.
One of the main attractions of Coimbra is the garden behind Quinta das Lagrimas.
Here is where the legend of Pedro and Ines came to life, with the fountain and wooded glen emerging through a Romanesque arch.
There’s a zen-like bamboo garden as well as a maze of steps that traverse the rear of the property.
There were even more nooks and crannies to explore in the medieval setting. And right behind the hotel was a vast amphitheater where a socially distant music festival was taking place later that week.
The Quinta das Lagrimas wasn’t exactly the Palace of Versailles, but it’s a solid, higher-end hotel with a bit of an identity crisis.
Still, this was a fairy tale of sorts come to life. There is incredible history within the confines of the property. It’s also unique and quirky. For these reasons, I recommend the property for a night or two, but not as a destination in and of itself.
After all, when’s the next time you can say you stayed the night in a palace — and earned some points, too?
Featured photo courtesy of Quinta das Lagrimas.
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