Zak Smith on the Portuguese mountain spa that doesn’t take itself too seriously
Hidden in the majestic rolling hills and wide open valleys of the Douro Valley, surrounded by lush florals, resplendent orange trees and grapes galore, is the secret hideaway currently thrilling and chilling Europe’s young elite.
Most people view Portugal within the confines of underwhelming all-inclusive resorts in the Algarve. A UNESCO World Heritage area, the Douro Valley, with its traditional architecture, world famous vineyards and mountain passes is about as far as one could get from a package holiday destination, and upon arrival at Six Senses Douro Valley, it was obvious this was no Club Med.
Parked under the trees and nestled by maturing grapes were a row of classic Ferraris, glinting in the few rays of winter sunshine, clearly in the area to enjoy the N-222 from Peso de Regua to Pinhao, recently voted the world’s ‘best road’. Alcohol and fast cars at a yuppie mountain spa retreat?
All made sense however upon entry to the property, an impressive marriage of 19th Century architecture and modern glass/steel structures. With soft minimalist tones in a style akin to a New York boutique hotel, it had a slick contemporary feel, however simultaneously managed to remain firmly within its context, with locally sourced apothecary, furniture, and walls, menus and most things in between made out of their own wine barrels or cork.
I was told early on that the beauty of the destination was the ability to ‘intox, and then detox’, which was quite the sell, given that the hotel sat in the middle of one of Portugal’s most coveted wine regions and housed a 24,000 sq ft spa. Daily wine tastings with interactive information screens allowed us personal access to the regions finest produce, and having enjoyed both the hotels and surrounding vineyards finest vintages, including an exquisite Van Zellers VZ Douro Red, we moved onto the spa.
Spanish, American and British beautiful young things moved effortlessly around the spa, housing numerous treatment rooms, water therapies and indoor pool. While not quite at the level of an Aman hotel, the Six Senses clearly enjoys a cult following, with many of the young urban and international couples ‘intoxing and detoxing’ in the groups first European venture having stayed at one of their Thai or Vietnamese hotels in the past.
What could generally be classed as a summer destination worked just as well in wintertime, albeit with a lack of warmth which would have enabled use of the outdoor pool, surrounded by a beautiful verdant kitchen garden. Considering Friday traffic and exorbitant train prices, a country weekend in the north of Portugal almost makes more sense than an English country house hotel, and it had mild winter weather and great wine to boot.
With the ability to imbibe a dazzling array of local wines and then unwind in a world-renowned spa, the Six Senses Douro Valley felt unlike other mountain retreats in that it didn’t take itself too seriously: refreshing, inviting and evident in the crowd it is now attracting. For a fun and relaxing winter weekend, I’m not sure the Cotswolds even comes close.