Havens of tranquility where you can kick back and forget the madding world are increasingly harder to find. Hip & Healthy is left mesmerised by The Caudalie Spa at The Yeatman, in the magnificent World Heritage city of Oporto, in Northern Portugal
There was once a time when Lisbon grabbed all the headlines in Portugal. But it was only natural that a city that has undergone an architectural and culinary renaissance in recent years should be home to a landmark hotel to lure the unconverted to its abundant charms.
The British connection with Oporto (only us Brits call it that, it’s Porto to the locals pronounced ‘Port’, with a silent ‘o’, like its most famous export), extends way back to Napoleonic times when the Brits fell out with the French and the Portuguese stepped in to replenish our ailing claret stocks. Many of the oldest port companies were founded by British Merchant families. One such family, The Yeatman’s, was among the most distinguished and enterprising, joining the trade way back in 1838. 172 years on and some of the inherited wealth of its successors helped realise a €40million hotel in 2010, bearing the family’s name, to fill a void in the city’s luxury hotel sector.
Having navigated the steep backstreets leading up from the mighty banks of the River Douro below, you eventually drive through the expansive gated enclave and immediately feel this place is a bit special, it resonates an aura of a country club within a city. It is immediately clear why it has become the go to address for Oporto’s well heeled.
No right turn
Just as social etiquette dictates that a bottle of port be passed to the left around a dinner table, it seems rather appropriate that The Yeatman, part of the chic Relais & Chateaux collection, is perched atop the city’s Left Bank. You would expect a hotel with this kind of investment to impress from the outset, and it doesn’t disappoint. A grandiose natural light infused foyer, as spacious and decadent as one imagines the Titanic to have been sets the scene. Indeed, from the property’s elevated position above Vila Nova de Gaia, you could be forgiven for imagining you were on a great ocean liner gazing down on to the red-roofed port houses where wines have matured in barrels for over three centuries
Like a fine port, The Yeatman beautifully blends the renowned Portuguese hospitality with a uniquely British flair, resulting in an air of understated and stylish comfort. As you flit from one gracious lounge to the next it’s as though you are watching pages from House & Garden come to life.
You gravitate towards the terrace outside where wrought iron detailing meets chill out lounge. You are at first blown away by the view, there can be few finer, then peer down at the hotel’s terraced layers that imitate the sculpted vineyards of the Douro Valley. Beautifully manicured gardens abound, with each spacious 40m2 room river facing to literally drink in the view. Centre stage is a fabulous infinity pool, shaped, you’ve guessed it, like a decanter, plus another one indoors, and the bit you’ve all been waiting for, an enormous Caudalie Vinothérapie spa.
The Caudalie brand was born out of a chance discovery in the vineyards of Bordeaux by Mathilde Cathiard, daughter of renowned winemakers Daniel and Florence Cathiard. During the harvest of ’93, her parents had invited a local pharmaceutical professor to a wine tasting at their Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte property. Whilst touring the vineyard the professor was drawn to a barrel full of what he declared were polyphenol rich discarded grape seeds and stems. He declared they were throwing away treasure. It was a life changing moment and Mathilde’s idea was born. According to research published in British medical journal The Lancet, polyphenols are 10,000 times more powerful than vitamin E in fighting the free radicals that cause skin ageing. 13 years later it boasts a multi-million euro annual turnover and seven dedicated spas worldwide, latest of which is at The Yeatman.
You are welcomed in to The Spa at The Yeatman with a cup of toxin-flushing Caudalie herbal tea, preparing you for the ensuing calm and tranquility. Tea relaxingly consumed, your masseuse accompanies you to the changing room where you don deep pile bathrobes and fluffy Yeatman slippers.
Having indulged in some of the worlds finest seafood over the border in Galicia just days earlier, a crushed cabernet scrub, which according to an Independent Laboratory certified by the French Ministry of Health, can help shave up to 3.8 cm from the thighs was just what the doctor ordered. It is one of the most popular Vinothérapie® Spa treatments in the Caudalie portfolio: a refining, deep exfoliating scrub designed to renew the skin and help it regain its radiance and softness.
Moments later we’re lying face down in the treatment room (each room is named after a native Portuguese wine variety, ours is Baja). Panoramic view now temporarily out of gaze, beautifully warming air filters not only down on to your back from a ceiling heater but from the bed beneath you as well. This little attention to detail was divine to remove any fear of the chilly factor.
The chinking bell chimes of the Torre dos Clérigos act as a soothing background harmony as a concoction of grape seed, honey and brown sugar is meticulously applied to our bodies. A blend designed to stimulate capillary circulation and help drain away toxins while at the same time nourishing and softening the skin. With its coarse granules, this scrub leaves your skin delightfully smooth and nourished. Aside from a pummeling in an Istanbul hammam one time, my skin has never felt softer. The treatment lasts 35 divine minutes. As the treatment came to an end I could literally have levitated from the bed.
We had big plans to tread the delightful cobbled backstreets of Oporto’s old town, but the opportunity to extend the out of body experience in the soothing waters of the Roman bath was too good to pass up. Access to the spa is down a flight of spiral stairs embedded into a giant port barrel. We bliss out on the heated mosaic loungers before checking out the tepidarium, hammam, sauna and colour therapy shower experience.
When we finally emerge from the hotel, we head straight to Dick’s Bar where we dine on Mediterranean couscous salad, we are from Hip and Healthy after all. It would be entirely possible of course to come to the home of Port wine and be teetotal, however in the name of research we allowed ourselves to ever so slightly indulge in a glass of velvety smooth Cedro do Noval Douro red from Christian Seely’s eponymous estate further upriver. Besides, we showed considerable restraint given there were 82 Portuguese wines by the glass on offer.
‘Defining a Destination’ is the hotel’s bold strapline, and The Yeatman delivers in barrels full. As with the port at the dinner table, be sure not let this place pass you by.
Superior double rooms from 330euros p/night
Enjoy the spa experience at home with Caudalie Crushed Cabernet Scrub 150g, £24.45; available at www.boots.com