The trouble with sister hotels – especially sister hotels in the same city – is you can’t help but compare them. Which one is prettier? Which one is sexier? Which one are you going to go for? In the case of Torel Avantgarde and Torel Palace, both in Porto (you can read all about Torel Palace down there somewhere), you don’t have to worry. They are so different, working such varied vibes that it’s not like Joan and Jackie Collins, it’s more like Clare and Cliff Richards. They are sisters, aren’t they?
Where Palace is in the main town, Avantgarde is across town, still in the Historic Centre, but high up overlooking the Douro. It has space outside it where Palace has city and it is modern through and through where Palace is juggling an historic building with some very funky interiors. But let’s not compare, shall we? Whose idea was that?
Besides, Avantgarde is expanding into a 19th century villa next door, which means that it will have a bit of that old-meets-spanking-new feel that Palace thought it had a corner on. But there we go again.
Walking into Avantgarde through what feels like a side entrance – you ignore the very ornate door on the main street – and you’re already surrounded by the art that gives it its name. Exhibitions mainly by local artists are updated all the time meaning that there’s always a reason to put your head in. Peer round the corner from reception and you’ll see what they call – and with good reason! – the Flower Room, a room decked with – guess what? – flowers! Tons of them, hanging from the ceiling, covering the walls… we did a Zoom seminar – very high profile! – with all that in the background and no one could concentrate on a word we were saying.
All the rooms – and some are down a secret little passage between the Flower Room and the restaurant – are named after avant gardistas from Oscar Wilde to Frieda Kahlo, all are unique and all have at their centre an original piece by local artist Jorge Curval. But from the entry-level rooms looking out front to the more lavish end rooms looking over the strip of pool and down the Douro itself, nothing disappoints. Our room – thanks for the upgrade! – included a huge four-person bath with plate glass views and a little balcony for drinking vinho verde on. Add modern four-poster beds and chandeliers, again modern, and you’re looking at a very contemporary experience.
For food, head to Digby, the restaurant whose walls are lined with rugged cork, Portugal’s natural resource, and whose ceilings are hung with rope sculptures. From the low-level gem-coloured velvet sofas in the first bar part of the restaurant – perfect for wines and dips – to the open terrace, which they glass in if the weather’s not playing ball, it’s a low-key relaxed affair so you can dress up if you want to and not worry about it if you don’t. Meat is the star of the show here but they can throw together a vegan menu without so much as a wrinkle of the nose.
The new part in the 19th century palace next door was still under construction when we were there so we didn’t get to see the pool with a view or the salons that were planned for that but it did all sound perfectly delicious. Torel Palace clearly needs to keep an eye on the competition. Those little sisters can grow up to take all the attention.