Luxury Hotels

PORTUGAL – 4

From Porto airport, it’s just under 90 minutes’ drive north to the Douro Valley, a picturesque area with steeply-sloping hill-set vineyards. That’s where the powers behind the incredibly successful Six Senses brand dared to convert an existing winery hotel to a wellness resort back in 2015 (to be honest, the existing hotel, the Aquapura, was itself a conversion of a home that had been in the same family since the middle of the 19 th century).

Fast forward to 2024 and what is now a 71-key resort, owned by Explora Investments out of Lisbon, is a rip-roaring success. Let’s find out why so many Americans, plus Brazilians and Europeans, rush to Six Senses Douro Valley. They come for ambience and experiences.  What looks like a typical Portuguese manor house, terracotta-harled walls and tiled roof, in fact is the top of an eight floor futuristic sculpture. The Mercedes stops on gravel at the ‘front door’ and you enter hotel reception, ‘guarded’ by one or two sleeping dogs, strays who are the resort’s ambassadors.

Reception is an area of cream and wood, natural materials. Staff blend beautifully, cream shirts, taupe trousers, big smile. Now you realise that even getting to your room, on floors four to six, is one of the experiences that lured you here. Corridors have some all-glass walls to look into ancient vineyards, apple-green leaves spouting. Ocassional sculptures could be ignorantly described as rough-hewn wood blocks haphazardly supporting each other.

Ah, experiences.  Girlahead was given a one-day schedule. Tile painting – see below – and the alchemy bar. To the spa for an essence (for which read essential) facial. Bio hacking, and three good meals. No time this visit for hillside trekking, or tree climbing, or kayaking or simple walking, and a gym work-out, using variously LifeFitness and Technogym bits, was fitted in on the morrow at 6.30 a.m.

Well, the Seed To Skin facial was sublime. Of course being Six Senses it must be organic and all that, and it felt good. An all-wall window looked out over an ancient terrace and vineyards. There was a momentary wonder about what the view is at Seed to Skin’s home base. The brand was developed by Jeanette Grøn Thottrup, co-owner with her husband Claus of Borgo Santo Pietro Hotel in Tuscany

Bio hacking, shown above, was a major success. Wear two unconnected Normatec trousers, set the timer for 30 minutes, feel compression waves rising from toes up to the thighs. Add infra-red to the face, and a mindfulness diatribe through the headphones. A perfect nap. And the alchemy bar was a perfect introduction to simple chemistry: scrape the zest off an orange and a lemon, add to finest salt, add measures of finest oil and blend furiously in a pestle and mortar. You have learned how to make an all-natural body scrub.

What Girlahead learned at tile painting was that two young Spanish girls, single-digit ages, were much more skilled in painting flowers naturally. Our tiles already had their white bases. Choose a stencil and, Rembrandt, get going. Using real-hair brushes and your choice of 13 watercolours sounds easy but what should have been pansies looked like potatoes on stalks (typical Six Senses customer service, this apparition, once fired, will then be shipped to the would-be Rembrandt).