Travel Jotter International: The Hotel Palácio, Estoril, Portugal

“Everything seems up to the Palácio’s usual high standards…” James Bond at the Palácio Hotel, Estoril in the 1969 production of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (EON Productions)

Tucked away an hours’ drive from the hustle and bustle of Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon lies the iconic coastal resort of Estoril. Once a small fishing village, the area was transformed in the 1930s by the vision of Fausto Cardoso de Figueiredo and business partner Augusta Carreira, building the majestic Palácio Hotel, Parque Hotel, Casino Estoril and nearby railway station.

It soon became a fashionable hotspot for royalty and the elite, including Ian Fleming, who visited the hotel on a number of occasions during World War II alongside his superior, the Director of Naval Intelligence, Sir Admiral Godfrey.

It was on one such visit that Fleming and Godfrey visited the Casino Estoril and played a game of Baccarat (Chermin de Fer) which would go down in literary history as the genesis for the story behind one of the most famous novels ever written, Casino Royale.

Estoril can be argued as one of the real-life inspirations for the fictitious seaside resort of Royale-les-Eaux, with the Palácio taking the character of the Hotel Splendide and the Parque Hotel becoming The Hermitage.

It is easy to imagine this when reading the opening chapter of the first 007 adventure. As Bond leaves the casino in the early hours of the morning and makes his way back to the Hotel Splendide, the description Fleming gives of the surrounding area feels almost identical to that of the Casino Estoril, it’s gardens, the tree-lined Boulevard and the location of the Palácio.

Today, the Palácio, the casino gardens and a nearby fort are nearly all that remain of this bygone era (the casino having changed beyond all recognition from Fleming’s time, and is now the largest in Europe). We must be thankful that the Palacío still stands, for outside of Stoke Park and the Savoy in Great Britain, its simply the best hotel I have had the fortune of visiting.

The building is of course exquisite given its grandeur and history. Every facility one would expect from a 5 star institution are present and correct including: a rolling golf course, wellness spa centre, a gorgeous swimming pool, beautifully manicured gardens, and of course sumptuous food and drinks served around the clock.

The latter I may add is none more so evident than with the pitch perfect Martini served up in the aptly named Spy Bar. Quite simply, they trump everyone I have ever been served, with only the Savoy as any serious competition.

On its setting alone, the Spy Bar even manages to beat the American Bar at the Savoy and Dukes Hotel in St. James’, with only the Browns Hotel in Mayfair on equal footing. The Spy Bar is beautifully ornate and a vivid example of old fashioned elegance. You almost half expect to find yourself bumping into ghosts from the past here, all vying for a seat in this intimate and wonderfully decorated establishment that has barely changed in 87 years.

Back to the James Bond connection, which doesn’t end during wartime. In 1969 the cast and crew of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service set up their headquarters at the Palácio whilst filming in Portugal. Bond’s entrance to the hotel, walk through the lobby and views of the swimming pool all took place here, as did the film’s press day (reenacting the wedding scene for the world’s media).

In fact, watch closely as Bond enters the lobby in the movie and you’ll notice a young Assistant Concierge handing over 007’s room key. Step forward to 2017 and this gentleman (Mr. José Diogo) is still here and now Head Concierge (the best in the world I’ve encountered) and will happily describe the history of the hotel, Fleming’s visit (the knowledge of which has been passed down through the years by staff) and even the chair he used to sit in at the bar. Mr. José Diogo will then take you through the filming of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service at the hotel and many more areas of interest.

The customer service experience you receive at this hotel is something very special and goes well beyond what you would expect to find from any other luxury hotel. Everywhere you go you are greeted with a warm, welcoming smile as if you’d been a guest here for many years. No better examples of this than from the aforementioned Mr. José Diogo, the Duty Manager Mr. Mário Pereira, who both make you feel like friends as well as honoured guests. Honorable mentions also go to the staff of the Spy Bar (including the great Mr. Ricardo Santos), breakfast room (Mr. Tiago Faeine and Mr. Domingos Rola whose service was on top form) and the excellent Four Seasons restaurant under the management (since 1983) of the lovely Mr. Duarte Lavadinho.

As my wife and I check-out at reception and receive are final fond farewells from the staff, I feel genuinely sad to be leaving a hotel which has given us so many wonderful memories in such a short space of time.

As the doorman wishes us a pleasant onward journey I learn he was also the very man on the front entrance as Bond leaves the hotel in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Like Mr. José Diogo and Mr. Mario Pereira, Mr. José Afonso is yet another veteran amongst the staff of the Palácio (having worked at the hotel since 1951) and another true gentleman.

When consistent, exceptional customer service is something of a rarity to find these days, it’s a great pleasure and privilege to discover such a brightly shining gem on Portugal’s Rivera, still delivering the very highest standards handed down from its original owner, just under a century ago.

Returning again to Mr. José Diogo, I’d like to pay an extra special tribute to him as he left such a lasting impression during our stay. A very generous, warm-hearted man and consummate professional who went above and beyond the call of duty in every way to making our stay so exceptional.

My wife and I look forward to meeting him and all the exemplary staff of the hotel Palacío very soon.

From Portugal with Love, A Gentleman’s Jotter.

Book your journey to paradise here.

The Palacío in its heyday. Photo courtesy of the hotel museum
An original postcard of the Palacío hotel and Costa Do Sol, Estoril. Image from the hotel’s museum collection
The entrance to the Palacío. Note the empty car parking space where Bond drives up in his Aston Martin DBS in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Paying special tribute to Mr. José Diogo (Head Concierge)
Perfect gentlemen: Mr. José Diogo (Head Concierge) and Mr. José Afonso (Senior Doorman)

It may look like classic wallpaper but this is an original painting commissioned for one of the hotel’s grand lounges. The excellent Duty Manager Mr. Mario Pereira told me how he keeps a watchful eye over the artwork, looking for any signs of repair work requiring the talents of a skilled painter to restore

The breakfast room with the Four Seasons Grill entrance in the background. The food at this hotel is spectacular from the simplest of breakfasts to a high end gourmet dining experience in the main restaurant

The royal gallery features many illustrious dignitaries who have visited the hotel over the years including Princess Anne and Prince Edward

Fascinating historical memorabilia on display in one of two hotel museum cabinets
The elegant games room – the perfect location in the Palacío for playing cards
The magnificent Spy Bar at the Palacío which has barely changed in 87 years

Ian Fleming’s chair at the hotel can be seen directly ahead facing the table with its back to the bar

A facsimile of Ian Fleming’s hotel registration card can be found in the hotel’s Spy Bar menu alongside that of double agent Duško Popov (who it’s reported Fleming was tailing at the hotel whilst visiting Estoril in 1941)

The best Martini I’ve sampled, with only the Savoy as any real competition

The exterior of the ballroom used as the location for Bond and Tracey to cut their wedding cake for the world’s media. Mr. José Dioga even tells me the cake was made by the hotel’s kitchen, especially for the press day

The early morning scent from the flowers by the pool is the best place to an enjoy a coffee

This gated exit to the grounds of the hotel was used to film Bond and Tracey’s departure from their wedding reception. It was reenacted for the world’s media as part of the press day for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service during filming in Portugal

Gorgeously choreographed waterfall fountains outside the Estoril Casino

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