“A beautifully restored townhouse hotel wrapped around a tranquil courtyard, with an excellent bar and a pool”
No two rooms are the same, but all are light, bright and blissfully quiet, with wooden floors, antique furniture, and beautiful ceilings clad in whitewashed beams or ornate plasterwork. You’ll also get comfy queensize or kingsize beds, along with flat-screen TVs, free WiFi, bathrobes and Rituals toiletries.
The higher up the price ladder you go, the more space and opulence you get. If you can afford to splash out, the Executive Rooms and Suites - all with sofas or separate lounges, and some with river views - are truly stunning. Our favourites were the Dove Room, once the house’s chapel, which has waist-high azulejos and a frescoed wall behind the shower, and the quirky Old Kitchen Suite, whose sitting area is set under the original copper-roofed stone hearth. We also loved the panelled Old Oak Room, which has Chesterfield sofas and a palette of masculine greys; it's the only room which can be set up as a twin. Most luxurious of all is the Ramalhete Suite, which comes with chaises longues and a vast sitting room. More recently, 4 newer Suites have been added around the swimming pool area, which we look forward to viewing on our next visit.
But don’t worry if your budget won’t stretch, as the cheaper Standard and Superior Rooms, set in the eaves at the top of the building with views of the river or patio, are still spacious enough. Ours, Os Maias, had tile-trimmed walls and a little ante room with a cushion-piled sofa; another, the Garden Room, opens out onto the courtyard. There are also 2 rooms (the Museum Room and Attic Room) which sit side by side on their own landing and can be closed off to form a private area for families.
Note that bathrooms across all categories have a mix of showers and tubs, and there’s no guarantee of the latter even at the top end of the spectrum. If a soak is important to you, enquire when booking.
Palacio Ramalhete’s breakfast buffet (normally included in the rates) is one of the best spreads we’ve come across in Portugal. Laid out in the elegant panelled bar each morning are all sorts of cheeses, cold meats, juices, yoghurts, breads and pastries, along with some more unusual additions such as pâtés and smoked salmon. You can eat inside or take your plate out to the courtyard, where the delicate scent of jacaranda floats on the breeze. Staff will come and find you at your table to take orders for hot drinks - the cappuccinos and espressos are very good.
At other times of the day, there’s a menu of tapas-style dishes (also available via room service) - gazpacho, mussels, cheese and charcuterie boards, bachalau lasagne. They're perfect for a quick lunch, a light supper or a snack to accompany the vast selection of wines, spirits and cocktails - we can highly recommend the Botanist (Scottish gin, tonic, fresh mint and citrus zest) and the Summer Healer (dry white port, rum, lemon and basil) from the range of tempting concoctions.
You’ll have to head out for anything more substantial, but there are a couple of excellent restaurants nearby. We strolled a little way down the street to Le Chat, a striking glass cube set on top of the cliff just behind the National Museum of Ancient Art, and tucked into an octopus salad, sweet potato chips and delicious mojito-flavoured ice cream as container ships manoeuvred around the port beneath us. You can also hop on the tram to the numerous eateries lining Praça do Comércio in the centre of town - our favourite was Chefe Cordeiro, where Michelin-starred José Cordeiro serves up inventive seafood dishes such as seared scallops with lime risotto.
Although Palacio Ramalhete is a peaceful and refined retreat, children of all ages are welcome - and a splash around the pool will provide welcome relief from the heat of the city.
Most of the Superior Rooms, Executive Rooms and Suites can accommodate an extra bed or baby cot, and some Suites have space for 2 children. Families can also book the Standard Museum and Attic Rooms, which sit side by side on their own landing and can be closed off to form a private area - each of these can also hold an extra bed or baby cot.
The menu of light dishes has a few child-friendly options, including ham and cheese toasties and spaghetti with tuna. Plenty of soft drinks are available, too.