Palacio Belmonte; Behind red doors
I love how things work out and how coincidences can sometimes run my life and get me into interesting situations. A random turn can lead into a completely new experience, as it happened to me in Lisbon. As a travel photographer who is visiting places outside my New York radius, these coincidences are what sometimes make it all so rewarding and part of the nature of the business. I am in Lisbon for 48 hours, as I am on my way from New York to Paris. My only agenda is to discover the city as much as possible. A random turn because of a graffiti I saw on one of the walls in Alfama yesterday led me into a coffee place I stepped into, in a hunt for a wifi connection and a bathroom. Besides a cute and charming bartender, who turned out to be also a designer for movies’ interiors, there was another man sitting in front of a computer on a wooden table with piles of books in front of him. A few minutes later I was sitting next to him, showing him my website and my published work and having a conversation.
This man is Fredric Coustols. In addition to being an avid book reader (he reads a book a day) he is also a creative artist, a landscape collector and the owner of Palacio Belmonte, an enchanted palace transformed into a luxurious hotel of ten designed suites in it.
Fredric was kind enough and gave me a free access to some of the rooms and opportunity to take as many pictures as I liked. So I did!
The History of Palacio Belmonte
Some might see Palacio Belmonte as one of the most veiled secrets in Lisbon and the history of the place is the story of Portugal itself. It is the oldest building of its kind in the city, the Palace was the residence of the Marques d’Atalia, Alvares Cabral and the Earls of Belmonte for over 500 years. It was built in 1449, atop ancient Roman and Moorish walls. In 1503, one of Portugal’s most famous adventurers, Pedro Alvares Cabral, who owned the palace, added more space to the existing house so he could host some well known historic figures, including Vasco de Gama, who was welcomed in the palace right after he got back from his triumphant in India.
In 1640, the building was expanded to include stunning terraces overlooking the ocean and between 1720-1730, two great masters of Portuguese tiles were commissioned by the Belmonte family to create a unique collection of 59 panels with more than 3000! tiles that portray the daily life of the Portuguese royal court. The tremendous earthquake of 1775 that destroyed most of the Lisbon’s major constructions, didn’t hit the palace.
In 1994 Fredric Coustols bought Palacio Belmonte and started a six-years restoration project to convert this beautiful space into ten luxurious suites, each different to the other. Suites that preserve the history and the beauty of the place and at the same time, equipped with modern comforts and conveniences to better accommodate the lifestyle of the sophisticated traveler.
You have to meet Fredric and his wife Maria in person, in order to understand the uniqueness of the place, its style and more important, the inviting atmosphere. They are both down to earth, creative, friendly and warm people. Their personality and creativity blends well with everything in the space. While Fredric’s books are in every corner in the palace, Maria’s paintings decorate some of the walls.
Interiors and Design
Each of the ten exquisite suites is an original masterpiece with its own individual character, blending historic architectural features with contemporary design. Each suite is named for a Portuguese writer, artist, philosopher, adventurer or inventor. You can choose to lay your head in the Ricardo Reis, Alberto Caeiro for example, or have breakfast at the Gil Vicente one for a change.
Images above: This is one of my favorite corners in Palacio Belmonte. The simplicity of everything, the bold complimentary colors, the way the three pictures on the wall ‘talk’ to the book on the table in terms of colors and symmetry. I love the clean white table cloth, the right book and the yellow pillow.
God is definitely in the small details.
Images above: Amadeo Souza Cardoso Suite, is also known as the Presidential suite. An extraordinary suite lined with an impressive collection of the 18th century Azulejo tile panels and sporting a cathedral ceiling, a living room with a fireplace, a dining room and a queen size half-canopied bed hung with deep red silks. Running along the length of the suite there is a large veranda with a stunning view of the garden and the river beyond, giving the entire suite incredible lighting. I love the blue Azulejos panels on the walls and the writing desk which is from a 19th century Portuguese ship and has so many secret drawers…and of course.. books are everywhere.
Images above: Ahhhh, this dining room! I love it. Filled with light and great space. It reminded me of all the movies I used to watch where the royal family used to throw all these banquets. This room has a 25-foot-high ceiling, huge double white doors and the magnificent views of the old city and the sea. I could stare at this view for hours. Seriously! The azulejos panels date to 1725 and are signed by one of the best Portuguese masters of the time, Manuel dos Santos.
Images above: Another hidden reading corner in the palace, overlooking the sea. The color of the chair matches the cover of the magazine on the coffee table. If you want to hide for a while, this might be the place.
Images above: When I entered this suite, all I could say was ‘WOW’. This is the Ricardo Reis Suite, which is a real gem. The bedroom is stunning and filled with light and the frescos are so fresh that nobody could believe they were covered by 20 layers of paint and had been discovered by the electricians while digging to hide their tubes.
The yellow room is the suite’s sitting room, and the cameo portraits are figures of one of the Marquis and Marchionness of Belmonte. The floor was designed using jacaranda wood in the traditional pattern.
Images above: Alberto Caeiro Suite, is a family suit of two bedrooms with beautiful low ceilings, a living room, a bathroom and one shower room. The blue painting is by Maria Mendonca, the owner of the place, while she was in China. The table under the painting is from an antique dealer in Monsaraz, Portugal. It’s from the 17th century, and Fredric chose it for its simple, elegant lines that pair perfectly with the white lime-washed walls. The carpet is a 50-year-old kilim rug. I just love the green doors that match perfectly with the color of the armchairs, and the ocean-blue painting is such a comfort to look at.
Palacio Belmonte is indeed, one of the most veiled secrets in Lisbon. I’m glad I had the opportunity to walk through its halls and catch a piece of history of Lisbon. When looking at these pictures I sometimes think it was all just a dream, a beautiful one.
Thanks Maria and Fredric for opening the Red Doors for me and my readers!