Although not as well known as other top brands in the hotel industry such as Belmond or Four Seasons, Six Senses is one of the leading players in the eco-luxury segment. Created in 1995, the brand focused on establishing units with unique characteristics, combining a top service, sustainable tourism practices and great respect for the regions where their hotels are located. The Six Senses Douro Valley is no exception to this “mantra”.
Located at Quinta do Vale de Abraão, in the middle of the UNESCO World Heritage Region of Douro, the Asian brand’s first hotel in Europe opened its doors in 2015 and resulted from the reconversion of an earlier project, Aquapura, adjusting it to the brand philosophy. Using the North American studio Clodagh Design, Six Senses introduced, among other modifications, a greater connection between its interior decoration and the Douro region, using lighter and more neutral colours, adding to pieces and images closely related to the region’s history. As we heard one of the guests stating comically at dinner: “Nature chique style”.
To reach the hotel, guests will have to use one of the most iconic roads in Portugal, the N222. If you come from the south (Porto, Lisbon, Aveiro, Coimbra, etc), using the A4, you can choose to leave a little after Penafiel or Amarante, and use the scenic route between the mountain and the Douro River, instead of leaving the motorway only at Régua. You’ll waste a few minutes, but believe me, it’s well worth it. About 1h and 40 minutes after we left Porto, we came across the Six Senses Douro Valley. On arrival, we were immediately greeted by the valet, who guided us to the reception. From here we no longer had to worry about the car or the luggage. At the reception we were greeted, once again, in a super professional and friendly way. As a welcome offer, we were offered cold tea, a glass of (a very good) port wine and a generous cocktail of nuts. The check-in was very quick and the receptionist led us to our room after a detailed explanation about the hotel and the available activities.
The hotel is set into 6 different floors: Floor 8 is dedicated exclusively to reception and 5, 4 and 1 to rooms. On the third floor, the “heart of the hotel”, guests can find the restaurant, the bar, access to the outside area and the Wine Library, an area where guests can discover, taste and/or buy numerous varieties of wines and other local produce. The 2nd floor, is reserved exclusively for Spa & Fitness.
As we made the reservation through an excellent promotion for health professionals (my lovely lady has a slightly more demanding profession than me, a simple editor), we originally booked a “Quinta Deluxe” (the basic one being “Quinta Superior”). However, we were upgraded to a “Quinta River”, with the panoramic view over Douro River as the main distinctive feature.
This type of room has an extremely interesting layout. Unlike most hotel rooms, organized in a “horizontal” way, this specific type is organized in a “vertical” layout, so that from the moment the guest enters the room or wakes up he / she can have that fantastic panorama of the Douro, in the background. We took advantage of the sitting area, on a slightly lower level, where we enjoyed the port and the nuts while absorbing the view.
The bed, centrally located in the bedroom, was, as expected, spacious and ultra comfortable. Besides the regular controls, the hotel offers a smartphone to where guests can control the domotics of the room (lights, blinds, among others).
The bathroom had a generous size and the shower was superb. Besides the typical amenities, we found a basket (perfect for picnics or to take your “stuff” to the pool) and some straw hats, with a model for men and women.
This area is one of the main selling points of the Six Senses brand. From massages, facial and body treatments or fitness, Six Senses Douro Valley offers a huge number of different options to chose from. At the Alchemy Bar, the hotel organizes workshops, which teach guests how create their own beauty products from herbs, salts, fruits and other exotic ingredients.
At the time of the reservation we were advised to book some activities in advance, particularly in this area of the spa because, due to the pandemic situation in which we are going through, there could be a greater limitation of people per room. We then decided to book the indoor pool. When we arrived, we were led to the pool and were offered a glass of water with lemon. As the spa area around the pool was completely empty, the only sound that we heard for about an hour was the running water. Needless to say, we had an extremely relaxed dinner.
On the day of our arrival, we hadn’t planned to dine at Six Senses. However, while we were on the terrace bar enjoying a drink and the surrounding view, we noticed that a kind of “tapas”, (or petiscos, in Portuguese), were being served by the outside courtyard. We decided ask the staff and the they informed us that it was the Wine Library’s Restaurant, a kind of pop-up option with different dishes from the main restaurant, but with the same Portuguese influence. As we had no reservation and the restaurant was full it was not possible to accommodate us immediately, but the staff, managed to get us seated in less than half an hour.
The menu, consisting of 2 or 3 dishes “tapas style” and an entrée. Among the various options we ordered the smoked meat croquettes, a veal tartar, a mushroom feijoada and the house version of Bacalhau à Brás. All excellent.
For dessert we asked for the fig cheesecake with port wine reduction and the “Mushroom”, basically a crumble with variety of mushrooms (yes, it was a desert) which was as surprising as it was good.
Breakfast on both days was also very good. We booked the table for 10am and we ended up enjoying the outdoor patio of Restaurant Vale Abraão, the main restaurant of the Six Senses Douro Valley. Given the period we are going through , the hotel went from a buffet style breakfast to à la carte, which was no big problem for us. First of all we were served a plate of seasonal fruit, natural yogurt with granola and and assortment of bread, sweets and jams.
Later, options of natural juice and / or coffee were offered. As for the à la carte orders, I chose chose Benedict Six Senses Douro Valley Eggs, accompanied by sausages, smoked bacon and she chose the toast with avocado, poached egg, vegetables from the organic garden, paprika and a selection of cheeses. Needless to say, even though it was not a buffet breakfast, we got up from the table completely full, and ended up skipping lunch.
Finally, on the last night we tried the Restaurant Vale Abraão. Although with offers with similar inspiration as those at the Wine Library of the previous night, here the style is more traditional. We sat on the outside terrace of the hotel, defined by the granite fountain and the view to the vineyards. We started by ordering the Organic Tomato Salad and Burrata. As main dishes we chose the grilled octopus in Josper and the monkfish rice with scarlet shrimp, which perfectly represented the quality of the hotel.
For dessert we ended up sharing an extraordinary chocolate mousse with forest fruits.
Although the spa is the signature of any Six Senses hotel, I must say that the exterior area of the Douro Valley also deserves the spotlight. With an area of 8 hectares of forest and gardens, guests can choose to go on simple walk, enjoy breakfast at a stunning area by the river, or participate in one of the various outdoor activities offered by the hotel. We decided to try the stand up paddle on the Douro River and it was a fantastic experience.
And the outdoor pool? Well, there is not much else to say. Only that it justifies all it was written, said or instagrammed about it. It’s great. Perfect to relax and to refresh ourselves from the torrid heat characteristic of Douro Region. In the pool bar, guests always have at their disposal drinks, snacks and meals and flavoured or simple water. From a certain hour this area becomes the hotel’s hotspot. This means that sometimes (we’re being picky) the noise and the number of people could make it less relaxing than the ideal. If the hotel continues to expand, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to think about enlarging the pool and the surrounding area as well.
All staff was impeccable during our stay. Although Six Senses Douro Valley is an ultra-luxury hotel, the attitude of the staff is relaxed and communicative, always trying to make us feel “at home” and letting us know details of the hotel and service that we would not otherwise know. As much as the pool or spa, the quality of the staff also contributes to the Six Senses Douro Valley having already won several international awards.
My brother’s been working in the hotel business for a few years now. Some time ago, I asked him that kind of stupid question that no one, except someone who has tried all the best hotels in Portugal, can answer in a sufficiently knowledgeable way: “Which is the best hotel in Portugal? He promptly answered “Six Senses Douro Valley”. This led to an equally stupid follow up question: “Why?”. The answer was, in a certain way, enigmatic: “If you stay there you’ll understand”. I don’t say this often but, Alex, you might be right. This hotel presents its greatest strength in the abstract sum of all its components. The spectacular manor house of the 19th Century and the surrounding nature, the spa, the Six Senses philosophy, the outdoor area or the staff are all impeccably harmonized in order to provide an extraordinary experience to guests.
Is it the best hotel in Portugal? I have no idea, but it definitely sets the bar extremely high for all the others.
Disclaimer: The reservation was paid for in full by us and in order to keep the experience as genuine as possible and the hotel was not informed about our intention of preparing this article at any time until check out.