Last month, I was privileged to visit The Yeatman Hotel in Vila Nova de Gaia, near all the Port Wine Cellars. The Yeatman is arguably the best wine hotel in the world, a luxury haven for good food, good wines and the best views of Porto.
It is one of those places where everything works out as planned, where you can see that every little detail in the hotel’s operation was thought in the planning stage. As an ex-hotelier, I can tell you that this makes a huge difference in the way you experience the Yeatman hotel as a guest.
I think The Yeatman's greatest achievement is that it has a layout that allows every room, suite, corridor window, terrace, breakfast room and restaurant to have the same “postcard picture” view of Porto. The main concept was to bring as much as possible from the view to the inside of the hotel. The Fladgate Partnership (owners of the Taylor's, Croft and Fonseca Port brands) and mainly its CEO Mr. Adrian Bridge, the man with the vision behind the Yeatman project, achieved what many hotel groups with plenty more experience can only dream of.
They could have easily built a 300 room property in the same plot, leased it out to the Ritz or Four Seasons and make a ton of money. But they are a family company with more than 300 years of existence (Taylor’s was founded in 1692), and it was these family values that prevailed. The company's familiar feeling and venture spirit determined that they were "gonna wing this one out on their own". It is at this point of inception that the Yeatman starts to become the special and unique property that it is.
The Wine Hotel meant to be
At the Yeatman, it's all about wine and food - with wine being the common denominator for everything. At the Dick's Bar a glass of wine is cheaper than a beer, so you start to get the idea. I tried all the food outlets - the Gastronomic Restaurant, bar, room service and breakfast and there was not a single opportunity to say that a dish was not superb. Wine is the very essence of the Yeatman.
The Location and the Building
The Yeatman's building resembles the Douro valley terraces, giving you the feel that you are in a Douro vineyard. It blends in with the landscape - when you look at the hotel from the Porto side, the Yeatman almost goes unnoticed. They were very careful in selecting the materials, the color of the paint and the color of the tiles.They own the majority of the lands around the hotel - it is actually where the Taylor's, the Croft and the Fonseca wine cellars are located, so you can be assure that no other buildings will ever be erected in the vicinity of the hotel. Which leads me to the next point.
The natural light - because it sits on the south bank of the Douro, its façade looks to the north. This means that you have indirect sunlight passing through the big windows and skylights that were built to make sure the hotel is well-lit throughout the year.
The rooms are very spacious - it looks like a hotel built-in the 1800 when you need as much space as possible for all the luggage everyone carried. The furniture is well-appointed, simple, stylish and solid. The Yeatman manages to give you a comfortable and refined room environment, where you can actually relax and enjoy the view. It’s not just there to look pretty!
Not only each room share the same view to Porto, but they also have a colossal balcony in where to sit and enjoy this sight. The rooms have different themes from all the companies, wineries, producers who are involved in wine. They were given complete freedom to decorate the rooms in the way they felt best. I stayed at the Herdade da Sabrosa room (326) , with some very interesting photos of what the relaxed lifestyle of Alentejo is like.
The luxury suites are located on the corner and the suite Bacchus is a standalone house away from the main building. The rack rate for this rounds about 2000€ per night.
Surrounding the plot where the hotel was built there is a garden. Meaning that, no matter where you look, there are very well looked after greens and plants. It’s also a green hotel in the sense that they are very energy and resource efficient. They have solar panels to heat up the rain water which they collect and even their own water treatment plant, which recycles waste water to be used in the garden.
The Decanter Pool
I'll just let the photos speak for themselves...
It’s dead quiet. Honestly! Even though you can hear the music being played by the street performers all the way across the river on the Ribeira do Porto, in the evening it’s a bliss. There are no business or roads or even AC units which could produce noise. Nevertheless the double glazed windows are sure to muffle out any whisper.
The details in the public areas
One of the most important characteristics of the Yeatman is that the hotel is filled with details. The most evocative being Mr. Bridge’s private collection of wine glasses, which spans throughout the known wine making world of the Mediterranean history. The earliest dates from around 800 BC, and weighs just over 100 grams. The library/drawing-room is an authentic English tea room. It features green walls, red furniture, and wine books from all over the world. All guests are allowed to take the books and read them during their stay. They only ask you to bring them back before you leave.
The breakfast room is a standalone room. Again, with the same view you wish you could wake up to everyday. I can honestly say that it is the best breakfast with a view that I have ever experienced. A room entirely and simply dedicated to the breakfast, meaning that there is no lunch or dinner being served in this room and where the staff are not rushing for their break before lunch service.
The buffet has plenty of choice with a serious and honest collection of local produce – seasonal organic fruit, charcuterie, cheeses, breads, cakes…The tables are very spacious and they serve some seriously good Latte Macchiato. I think the photo really says it all.
The Michelin Star Gastronomic Restaurant
Needless to say that my lunch experience at the Gastronomic Restaurant at the Yeatman was something to be recollected for many years to come. I will dedicate an entire post to the astounding work done by Chef Ricardo Costa, including my interview with him about the future of Portuguese Gastronomy. I will share it with you later.
The Sunset Cocktails
Again, I'll let the photos do the talking...
By the way, I had an refreshing Tawny Port Cocktail with crushed ice, mint and cinnamon stick...
The Room Service
The quality of the Room Service was a big bet since the beginning of the hotel, and I dare to say that it was the best room service that I have ever tasted. It was top-notch fine dining restaurant quality. The idea is for guests to have the quality of the food that is produced in the Gastronomic Restaurant at the Yeatman and enjoy it in the privacy of their balconies. My lobster rice was Michelin star quality!
The big barrel - "Balseiro” in the entrance of the Spa, is a colossal 150 thousand litters reminder of that this is indeed a wine hotel, and all the spa treatments are inspired by the vine, the grape and wine. The water reflection of the interior pool and the view makes one just want to soak up the worries and linger on the edge of the pool to admire the view.
The Caudalie Vinotherapy Spa brings all the good from the atmosphere around wine and its elements to provide unique treatments that make you feel like no other Spa has in the past. The Spa has over 2000 sqm, making it the the second biggest hotel spa in Portugal. I opted for a Barrel bath Experience, which takes place in the room by the same name. Here I was immersed in a Red Wine Bath which was supposed to improve my circulation. I guess that wine has the same effects on the outside as it does on the inside.
The ecco sounds when you are walking in the spa sound like you are walking within a large port wine barrel - that thump, thump...
The Wine Cellar
The cellar offers 1300 different wines and 27000 wine bottles, almost all Portuguese. The wine journal is a regularly updated list composed of 82 wines which are served by the glass in the hotel's outlets - The Gastronomic Restaurant, the Bar or Room Service. Beatriz Machado in the Yeatman's wine director, and the person responsible for the choice and characterization of the wines. They are not presented in categories, they are described in terms of their personality. Rather than writing a factual and tasting note over each wine, she took the time to properly describe it, telling its story and what the guests should look for when they taste it, about the producer, the origins of the wine. It’s these little details that makes the hotel different and show just how much the Yeatman cares for its guests. This really helps the clients to choose the wine.
Simply because 99% of the guest are not wine experts, that doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy wine and knowing about wine. And when you are able to describe a wine in these laymen terms, pointing out the main characteristics, what makes it different from wines which originate from other regions of the world, then you are halfway into winning the heart of your customer. The cellar at The Yeatman is organized like the map of Portugal, and even oriented like one. We start at the north of Portugal with the Verdes from Minho - which is actually the north facing wall of the room, then the Douro, the Dão, Bairrada, Tejo and Alentejo... It is a working wine cellar, not just for show, so there are boxes everywhere and a constant coming and going of bottles.
They have a wine club for hotel guests - I have to say that I love this idea and that it is a great way to continue to show the potential of Portuguese wine to The Yeatman's guests even after their departure - members of the wine club are sent every year (or more often if they prefer) a selection of Portuguese wines via mail, so they can have first-hand access to the best that is produced in Portugal.
The Museum within its walls
For a group which has only the experience of building the vintage house 20 years ago, this project is a tremendous overachievement. Congratulations! All the levels (there are 4) where the rooms are have different decorative themes. From the Portuguese Discoveries, to the wine terroir, the grapes. Of course it was also done with style and functionality, where you are actually tempted to stop and look at the painting from Vasco da Gama, or from the Fernão Mendes Pinto in Japan. The arts of the Galo de Barcelos. Not wanting to be a museum they want to show the different ways in which "Portugality" expresses itself, in a light and easy way.
About the Fladgate Group and creation of the Yeatman
The Fladgate group is certainly the best company (or the best family) to work for within the reality that are the wine of Douro and Port wine conglomerates. Of all the people I met in this experience at the Yeatman Hotel, there is not a single one that does not love their job and the company, and who hasn't been connected with the company for at least 10 or 15 years. A very good example of this is my good friend Ana Margarida whom I met at Quinta do Panascal in my earlier journey for the Douro Valley Wine Travel Guide. Even though the Yeatman is only 5 years old, all the heads of department at the hotel have been there since the beginning, and some like Executive Chef Ricardo Costa were hired during the project development phase, when the plot where the hotel is now was still a small abandoned space in a prime real-estate site of Gaia.
Let me tell you that this is an extremely rare case. The norm is to do things the cheapest, quickest, most ROI way possible. Not stopping to think if the guest will actually enjoy what we have in mind. This is for me the main reason why most 5 star luxury hotels fail to deliver. Not the Yeatman. The Fladgate group had the Vintage House hotel in Pinhão, a kind of first lesson to learn from and their CEO Adrian Bridge wanted to do a bigger project, the project was built in 20 months (which is extremely fast) and costed 32 million euros - about as much as a wealth Brazilian banker recently paid for Quinta da Romaneira - arguably the most notorious and prestigious Quinta in the of the Douro Valley.The benefit is that the Fladgate group already has its own architectural department which conducts all the design, planning and execution of all the group’s buildings, which was also a major influence in the way the hotel was designed. You can see the wish to have space, functionality and the direct translation into planning of the idea that Adrian had in mind.
I think also, the big difference comes from the fact that the Fladgate partnership, as a wine producing company is used to good and not so good years of wine production. And throughout its history they had to adapt and overcome the difficulties. Their will to make this project continuously special, even in the beginning when there were only a few guests in the hotel costed them a lot of money, but 5 years down the road, you can feel the difference as opposed to a hotel operation where at the first sign of trouble costs are cut everywhere.
As you can see, The Yeatman Hotel is a very special, different and enchanting hotel, offering its guests the best of what they can expect in one of the best luxury hotels of the world! One of the greatest things about the hotel is its different programmes, where guests can book their stay with Spa treatments and other gifts and treats. Discover all the special programmes at The Yeatman and enjoy your stay!