Our stay at the Grand House Hotel in Vila Real de Santo Antonio was a revelation. A distinguished member of Relais and Chateau, this establishment boasts an unparalleled commitment to our canine companions. Molly, our beloved cockapoo, not only explored every corner but also graced the esteemed restaurant, joining in the hotel’s charming idiosyncrasies that included a Portuguese Waterdog serving as a delightful dog butler!
This haven of sophistication extends beyond its walls. A brief 10-minute drive takes you to the Grand House’s Beach Club, a serene enclave at the convergence of the Guardiana River, marking the delineation between Portugal and Spain. Here, Molly was accorded the same warm reception, enjoying the offerings of the popular restaurant, basking in the poolside luxury, and delighting in the small sandy beach. The hotel’s provision of bicycles further amplifies the exploration, allowing guests to traverse not just to the beach club but also to other destinations. Needless to say, our experience was nothing short of extraordinary.
Delving into Vila Real’s historical tapestry reveals a narrative steeped in significance. Born post the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, this city adopted architectural traits mirroring Lisbon, courtesy of the visionary Marquis of Pombal. Erected in an astonishing two years, it stood as a fortified bastion, fortifying the Portuguese borders against Spain’s domination in the fishing industry. The rise of tuna and sardine fishing and canning industries echoed within its walls, with the Grand House’s inception in 1926 intricately tied to this historical tapestry. While the fishing industry dwindled in the 1960s, tourism ascended, painting vibrant hues along the river, animated by Portuguese and Spanish fishing vessels.
Imagine Vila Real, poised along the Guardiana River, its outlook extending towards Spain. A ferry, orchestrating the seamless movement between Portugal’s Ayamonte and Vila Real in a swift 15-minute journey at a nominal cost of €2.60 each way, echoes the intertwining lives, with many Portuguese commuting to Ayamonte for work. And for the intrepid voyagers, Seville beckons within an hour’s drive via the motorway, while Faro and its bustling airport stand within an equidistant hour’s reach.
In Vila Real, luxury harmonises with history, inviting discerning travellers to immerse themselves in its storied past, revel in its vibrant present, and anticipate the tantalising prospects of its future.