Recently, while sneaking off to the Douro Valley for a much needed vacation, we briefly stayed at Aquapura, a converted 19th century manor house near Regua. Nestled in 8 hectares of rolling vineyards, this 5 star hotel combines sleek, modern lines with the gentle and calming elements of Feng Shui. It is an homage to peace and tranquility, with dimmed lights to calm the nerves, aromas of herbs and flowers to ease the senses and large open spaces to unleash the spirit.
Friends and family had lauded its excellence, as did the 20+ bloggers who visited last year after the EWBC, leading to a much anticipated visit. For weeks I was dreaming of grape oil massages, warm starlit evenings sipping on Vintage Port and long hikes through the budding vines. And despite the gusting winds that tore through the valley, our experience couldn’t have been more memorable.
Arriving at the hotel, we were greeted in the large reception area, holding no more than three gigantic pieces of furniture, with a glass of Portuguese sparkling wine. “Please relax, and we’ll get to your registration whenever you’re ready, Ms. Opaz,” said a very smiley and content staff member wearing a uniform fit for a stylish Franciscan monk. Actually, all staff members wore simple, dusty brown uniforms with straight lines, and little frill. I can only assume that they were designed to blend seamlessly into the background; though I felt an incredibly strong desire to add bright accoutrements to their outfit such as a fire engine red scarf or a bright orange belt – anything to add a touch of flare to the environment. But alas, Aquapura is meant to calm the senses, not excite them into a passionate frenzy.
Built in 2007, Aquapura has 50 rooms of various meditative styles categorized as: Cloister, Valley, Spa and River. Each category overlooks a different part of the landscape or hotel, giving you a unique feeling depending on what you are craving. We stayed in the River Room, 1 of 16 units overlooking hectares of vines, undulating hills and endless vineyards; however, having received a tour of the entire complex, I preferred the Spa Room for its cozy and more secluded ambiance. There are also 6 types of suites, each unique in their design and view, as well as 21 villas that house up to 3 bedrooms. Each villa can either be rented or bought on time share, allowing you to eventually visit various other Aquapuras around the world, as completed.
The rooms themselves are comfortable, well laid out and easy to maneuver. Where you may need a degree in technical engineering is using the light switches, which also control the mechanical window blinds. Completely counter-intuitive, it may take you until the end of your trip to sort through its functionality. However, the soft and plush beds, fabulous shower heads, with enough water pressure to exfoliate your skin, and heated bathroom floors make up for your perpetual state of luminescent confusion.
Outside your private sanctuary sits a hightech gym, complete with a trainer upon request, an expansive spa, outdoor and indoor pool, tennis courts, library, bike rental and a fantastic restaurant with a long and varied list of wines. If you are a foodie, wine lover, or keen for a weekend of relaxation, this is your place. The only major drawback, again, is lighting. Intending to create a zen like experience, lighting of any kind is kept to a minimum. Hence, if you are interested in knowing what delicious morsel to choose from in their breakfast buffet located in their mysterious candlelit “wine room” than you best bring a flashlight. Equally true, most public spaces are dimly lit, as are the hallways, leading to several humbling experiences of my knocking on the wrong door. Granted, maybe this is their strategy. With tourists streaming in from around the world to experience the Douro and its wines, who’s to say that your “mistake” won’t lead to the perfect chance encounter?
Would I come back? Would I risk mistaking the switch for the blinds for the bathroom light? Yes, I would. However, I would prefer next time to rent a villa with family and friends, and spend a week basking by the pool, bike riding through the vineyards, touring the Douro River by boat and visiting friends in surrounding quintas. If you have the disposable funds available, definitely visit. Just a 2 hour trip by train from Porto, it’s an easy and effortless trip, or even shorter by car, it’s a highly recommended base camp for those that wish to explore the Douro valley.