York House

Santos, Lisbon, Portugal Book from

Reviewed by Tom Bell
A 17th-century convent with lush courtyard, where contemporary chic meets old colonial style and charm
York House is a real one-off and it draws a devoted crowd, including the Prime Minister, who occasionally drops in for lunch. It is a place that defies most labels and exudes an air of grand British colonialism; you can imagine the major general standing in the panelled bar while awaiting his gin and tonic. You step in through a shabby door, follow a flight of stone steps that meander haphazardly, then wash up in a delightful courtyard that makes you feel you’ve left the city far behind.

A tall palm throws shade across the terrace; it has tables and chairs, a hammock, parasols drawn in summer. The hub of the house has heavy low-lit decor, and doors on 3 sides opening onto reception, bar and dining room respectively. Labyrinthine monastic-style corridors (the building was once a convent) lead to whitewashed bedrooms, arranged over 2 floors. All are uncluttered and airy, with perhaps a four-poster bed or a terracotta-tiled vaulted bathroom ceiling. Breakfast is served on the terrace, so dig into bacon and eggs in the sun.

Highs

  • The blend of an old-worlde historic hotel with contemporary bedrooms
  • The bedrooms - spacious and stylish, all are different
  • The courtyard terrace - a perfect spot to write postcards or read in a hammock during the day. It is beautifully floodlit at night
  • Restaurant with imaginative cuisine and a long wine list
  • Character infuses the place: this is not full of the latest gadgets, but old-fashioned charm

Lows

  • Slipping standards: when we revisited in 2013, some decor looked tired/rough round the edges, and we've had mixed feedback on service (sometimes indifferent) and food (breakfast, it seems, is not worth the cost)
  • You’re not as central as you’d like to be and the local area isn't very exciting, but taxis are cheap and public transport nearby
  • You have to climb those stone steps (49 of them) every time you arrive
  • The street can be noisy at night, especially at weekends, but with windows and shutters closed you'll not hear much

Best time to go

Any time of year. The city tends to have more tourists in July and August but it is still a great time to go.

Our top tips

Sporting and Benfica both play in town. Tickets aren’t that expensive.

Great for...

City Style
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 32
  • Restaurant and bar open Wednesday-Sunday
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
Room:

Rooms

There are 2 types of room, Superior and Junior Suite, the difference being the size. Some come with whitewashed walls, some have stripped wood floors, others terracotta tiles. You get padded bedheads, shuttered windows, marble bathrooms and fluffy bathrobes. Some rooms - quite a few - have four-posters, vaulted ceilings or the odd pillar. A couple above the road (you are quite high, there’s not much noise) glimpse river views beyond the docks.

Some rooms overlook the street, others look onto a courtyard the hotel does not own (it’s neither ugly nor pretty). A few are on the small side, even for a weekend break. One room has a terrace, art hangs on the wall, the odd wood carving stands in an alcove. Everything is spic and span with housekeeping blitzing the place from top to bottom every day. Bathrooms mostly come with showers, some dressed in marble or local azulejos, with toiletries and robes supplied.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Satellite tv
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi

Eating

Breakfast is served leisurely on the terrace when the weather’s good (8 months of the year). You help yourself to the vast Portuguese offering: freshly-squeezed orange juice, bowls of croissant, fresh fruit and yoghurts, plates of cheese and ham, bacon and eggs.

Lunch and dinner are served each day apart from Monday and Tuesday and you can order as little or as much as you like. Try melon and ham soup, green salad with cheese from the Azores, roast octopus flavoured with olive oil and garlic, lamb cutlets with mint sauce, coriander ice cream with a tomato chutney.

If you want to eat locally try A Traverssa for friendly service and Belgian cooking in an ancient monastery; or Guarda Mor for excellent Portuguses fare that’s popular with guests. If you don’t mind the trip into town, try Olivier for some of the fanciest food in town or Papacorda, a fashionable restaurant and bar that was once owned by John Malkovich.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Room service
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • You’re in the Santos district, known for its bars. Streets that seemed deserted by day suddenly throng with life
  • Head to nearby bohemian Cais do Sodré - this was once Lisbon’s red-light district, but since its makeover in 2011 dozens of quirky music venues and trendy tapas bars have sprung up. In order to absorb the true atmosphere, get there late; locals often arrive well after 11pm
  • Wander through Portugal’s national gallery, the Ancient Art Museum, which includes key works by Portuguese artists. We love the pieces depicting Japan’s first contact with Europeans, which seem like caricatures due to the emphasis given to noses, buttons and moustaches! Closed Mondays and Tuesday morning
  • The Castle of St George is up across town, high on the hill with stupendous views over the city. It was home to Portugal’s kings from 1147, the year the Moors were driven from Lisbon. Leave the castle walls to the east and you’ll find a pretty square with a batch of cafés and a miradour for more views
  • See the modern greats at the Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, one of the finest collections in the world. All the big names are here including Dali, Picasso, Warhol and Pollock
  • Alfama, the district between the castle and the river below. It’s old and pretty with mazy alleyways and stone stairs that lead you down to the water. The cathedral is here too
  • If you want the best shops in town, head to Avenida Liberdada, the capital’s main street. The Fashion Clinic is the place to go for all the designer names
  • The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum has artefacts gathered by wealthy oil magnate Calouste Gulbenkian over 40 years. There are gold Egyptian masks from 2700BC, Ancient Greek sculptures and rare porcelain from China. Closed Mondays
  • Watch your feet as you stroll through the city - several streets are paved with beautiful Roman-inspired mosaics. Many show nautical images as reference to Lisbon’s important relationship with the sea

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Nightlife
  • Shopping / markets
  • Traditional cultures

Kids

Children are welcome and cots and extra beds are available on request. The hotel is not ideal for kids though; they may find it all a bit stuffy.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Standard rooms can fit a baby cot; Deluxe rooms have space for a baby cot and a rollaway bed for 2-12 year olds.

Baby equipment:

Baby cots available on request.

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Our guests' ratings...

8/
Rooms
9/
Food
7/
Service
8/
Value
8/
Overall

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