There’s no desk, no room key drop box, no technology-assisted receptionist to check you in. The expansive beige stone floor is interrupted only by a slate-colored sectional in the center of the room and a floor-to-nearly-ceiling chiaroscuro oil painting propped up against a gray wall. You wouldn’t really call it a lobby, but you wouldn’t really call Lisbon’s Santa Clara 1728 a hotel. If you did, you’d be selling it quite short; the six-room property feels more like a beautifully designed home.
Santa Clara’s aura emanates from its former life as, you guessed it, a home. With respect to the 18th century building’s heritage, designer Manuel Aires Mateus and owner João Rodrigues fussed only with the details and swung open the doors in December 2016. What they did imbue throughout the home is a sense of serenity, aided by airy rooms and natural light. Quite simply, Santa Clara 1728 is a sanctuary. The masseuse on staff doesn’t hurt either (unless you ask).
The property doubles as a current home to Rodrigues, who lives on the top floor and like the rest of the staff is rarely seen without a smile. The chefs are appropriately conversational and the dining room flaunts a single family-style table that wouldn’t be out of place in a Scandinavian farmhouse. There’s another massive Renaissance painting, also tastefully juxtaposed with the room’s neutral palette and well-angled furniture. The art doesn’t distract from the contemporary lighting, showcasing the beautiful stone used throughout the property, the main staircase and the rooms’ bathtubs and sinks.
Also intact in each room are French doors, which add to the striking exterior but function as the primary source of light in the refreshing absence of installed ceiling fixtures. Swing them open on a Saturday morning and you’ll be greeted by the sun, the sea and the bustling Feira da Ladra, Lisbon’s best and biggest flea market.
Step foot out of the hotel and into the plaza directly below and you’ll be surrounded by Lisbon’s Alfama district. Its one of the oldest neighborhoods in Europe, tightly wound with cobblestone alleys and fado bars, famous for Portugal’s traditional part-crying, part-singing performances. Like Santa Clara’s classic canvases and contemporary design, Alfama’s preserved antiquity contrasts with Lisbon’s recent swath of hip restaurants and bars.
Built on a foundation of sunsets, sangria and ceviche, the Lisboans have really solved the latter half of the work-life balance equation. Restaurant-wise, there’s timeless tapas spots like Taberna da Rua das Flores and the design-conscious A Cevicheria in the city’s trendy Príncipe Real neighborhood. For drinks, check out the casual-but-cool The Good The Bad and The Ugly, or for a more elevated affair the sophisticated By The Wine just around the corner. Between stupid-good pasteis de nata custards and views to kill for around seemingly every hilly corner, indulgences are never more than a stone’s throw away.
With its Moorish architectural influence, Spanish-style gastronomy, and Italian pace of life, there’s a lot to like about Lisbon. And now is a better time than ever to visit with so many new hotels opened in the last year. But none replicate Santa Clara 1728’s tranquility, design purity and simpatico staff. Plan a summer trip now to get the best of both worlds- the cool stone inside Santa Clara and the breezy seaside sunshine outside.