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Set on the Douro river in Porto, Portugal, the Baroque palace was recently redesigned by Jaime Morais, a Brazilian architect, and is now one of Grupo Pestana’s historic hotels. The 18th-century building houses the public spaces (an adjacent converted flour mill contains the guest rooms); from the former ballroom guests can access the terrace sitting area, which leads to gardens, a pool and a bar on the private pier.

Palácio do Freixo

A Restored Baroque Palace in Porto Expands Its Footing on the Banks of the Douro Interior Design by Jaime Morais Text by Susan Sheehan  |  Photography by Kees Hageman


ll palaces have stories to tell. The Palácio do Freixo in Porto, Portugal, has a particularly interesting one. The palace was built on a steep slope overlooking the Douro river in 1742 by a wealthy nobleman who commissioned Nicolau Nasoni, a leading Italian architect and painter, to create it in Baroque style. A century later a rich merchant who became the viscount of Freixo bought it to use as a private residence. In the 1890s it was sold

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to a flour manufacturer, which put up a mill in its spacious gardens. By the time the palace was declared a national monument in 1910, time had taken its toll. Porto’s municipal authorities started the rescue by purchasing the palace in 1983. Fernando Távora, a distinguished Portuguese architect, began restoration at the turn of the 21st century—overseeing fine work on the granite façade, the walls and the high frescoed ceilings. Grupo

Pestana, whose president had seen the restoration, proposed turning it into a hotel. The group won the bid and hired Brazilian architect Jaime Morais a year ago to transform the property into a combination of 18th-century elegance and 21st-century modernity. It’s now one of Pestana’s historic inns, the Pousadas de Portugal. The palace contains most of the hotel’s public spaces—reception area, lobby, con

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Hotelier Dionísio Pestana was enchanted by the city-owned palace when he attended a wedding there shortly after its 1998–2003 restoration by Fernando Távora. He immediately envisioned it as a pousada, a historic inn run in collaboration with the Portuguese government. A bove: The Mirror Room. “The palace’s grandeur and distinctive decoration dared me to bring in contemporary elements,” says Morais.

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ference rooms, restaurants, spa. The terracotta flour mill, which had also fallen into ruin, was completely refurbished. It now has 87 guest rooms and suites and an indoor swimming pool. A spectacular glasscovered passageway connects the palace and the mill. The elegance of the palace begins in its reception area, also known as the Arabian

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Room, with a geometric marble floor. Blue and gold diamond frescoes on the walls draw the eye up to a ceiling with trompel’oeil coffering. The Arabian Room leads to the Mirror Room, formerly the ballroom and now the main lounge. A skylight at the center of its elaborate dome lets in natural light. Three exotic woods make up the original parque

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The hotel is a combination of 18th-century elegance and 21stcentury modernity.


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A bove: The hotel’s restaurant is divided into two dining rooms, each with period details, and focuses on regional fare. Below: A suite, one of 10, is in the early-20th-century mill, now linked to the palace via a glass-covered passageway, that was restored by the architectural firm David Sinclair & Associados. Morais designed the suite’s furnishings and brought in drawings by contemporary Portuguese artist Teresa Gonçalves Lobo. The columns are part of the original structure.

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“Working on historic buildings is a pleasure,” states the architect. continued from page 3

try floor, partly covered by a reproduction of an antique Persian carpet. In this gilded and mirrored setting, Morais has placed handsome contemporary furniture, including upholstered seating and a pair of copper console tables, as well as 18th-

century blue-and-white porcelain dishes and a 19th-century brass clock. The restaurant’s dining rooms are another felicitous combination of old and new. In the more intimately scaled of the two, original stucco scenes of foliage and birds pleasingly ornament the ceilings

above remnants of frescoes depicting classical architecture. The floors are a warm Brazilian pine, the chairs are white leather, and the tabletops are black glass. In the guest rooms Morais let modernism reign. Some offer river views, some face the garden, but all are sleek and done in a palette chosen to reflect the colors seen along the riverbank: greens, blues, yellows, pinks and, fittingly, a ruby port. “I was fortunate that the hotel made arrangements with several of Porto’s museums to lend it antiques,” Morais says. “The hotel also made an agreement with the foundation of the artist Júlio Resende to display some of the best contemporary art from northern Portugal. Working on historic buildings is a pleasure. The law required that the flour mill’s chimney be kept, but it’s a decorative memory of the past, while the outdoor infinity pool on the river side of the hotel creates the new joy of swimming along the Douro.” l

Palácio do Freixo 351-225-311-000

Morais, who maintains offices in Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro, designed the 77 standard rooms to be “dramatic but at the same time relaxing.” Before the mill became part of Pestana’s hotel proposal, it was under consideration for conversion into a museum of industrial design.

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Freixo Palace  

Editor, Architectural Digest, November 2010

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