Lisbon is one of my favorite places for a city break in Europe. It’s fairly temperate most of the year, the city is steeped in culture, I speak the language, and, best of all, you can find amazing espresso for around 60 cents.
To make a trip to Portugal happen, I booked a $59 one-way flight (including checked baggage) to Lisbon (LIS) departing soon after I would arrive in Madrid (MAD) on a review flight of BA’s rare A380 Club Europe/World experience from London (LHR).
When looking for somewhere to stay, I wanted something a little different. I’d never stayed in a Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), so I checked to see if there were any properties in Lisbon. Lo and behold, I found the Pousada de Lisboa in a perfect location. This would be my first boutique hotel stay in a long while and I was very much looking forward to it.
Small Luxury Hotels is a collection of 520 hotels in 90 countries around the world. The brand prides itself on providing unique, luxury, and, most importantly, non-chain experiences for its guests. While I am now partial to a chain hotel for the points and status benefits, I’d nearly always stay in smaller boutique hotels for their charm and the more personable experience given smaller guest occupancies.
I also invited my brother-from-another-mother, Jonny, along for the ride with me to celebrate his birthday.
The hotel is owned by Pestana — a Portuguese hotel group that specializes, amongst other things, in hotels in converted historic buildings or monuments. According to the hotel’s website, the Pousada de Lisboa is indeed one of those properties with a rich history, having been used as a house for kings and a forum for ministries in years gone by.
Here’s how I found my first experience staying at Small Luxury Hotels of the World property.
The Pousada de Lisboa is right in the heart and soul of the city.
Looking onto the Praça do Comércio and just 1 block back from the banks of the river Tagus, the hotel’s location was an ideal base for a few days of exploring the Portuguese capital.
The old-school trams that are emblematic of the city pass right by the entrance of the hotel.
The hotel itself is housed in a striking yellow building that takes up the whole block.
Getting to the Hotel
In my experience, getting from Lisbon Airport to the city is one of the cheapest in all of Europe. While I’m an advocate for getting public transport where possible, I’ve paid as little as just €6 (~$7) for an Uber right to the city.
There is a reliable Metro, but I’ve always either hired a car or taken an Uber, so I can’t speak to how convenient that journey would be.
I wanted to try something new for my visit to Lisbon. I’d never stayed at a Small Luxury Hotels of the World property before, so I looked forward to finding out what it was like.
Deciding how to book my stay wasn’t easy, as I had 3 possible options:
- Booking through the World Of Hyatt program
- Booking directly with Small Luxury Hotels of the World
- Booking using the American Express Travel service
Here are the pros and cons of each:
World of Hyatt
At the time of booking, for the dates that I wanted, booking through the World of Hyatt program would have cost me an average of €295 a night (a total of ~$980).
Even though I have no Hyatt status, booking through the hotel chain would have netted me a slew of benefits including:
- Complimentary continental breakfast for 2
- Room upgrade (subject to availability)
- Early check-in (subject to availability)
- Early checkout (subject to availability)
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
I’d also earn World of Hyatt points, as well as elite night credits. As I’m not at all part of the program, nor do I intend to start using it, this wasn’t a particular benefit for me, so I checked out the other options.
Booking Directly Through Small Luxury Hotels
When possible, I always book direct through a hotel chain or individual property’s website. This avoids third-party complications and is appreciated by the hotel as this means all the money you spend on the booking goes directly to them.
Booking this way also ensures that your elite status (should you have it) is honored and that you’re awarded the correct number of points and award nights for your stay.
In this instance, booking directly through Small Luxury Hotels of the World would have cost me a total of £579 (~$763) — that’s a savings of $217 over a Hyatt-based booking!
The only benefit of booking this rate would have been the free continental breakfast.
At this point, I was certainly most tempted to book through Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
Using American Express Travel
I’d also never previously booked a hotel through the American Express Travel portal.
My experience didn’t get off to a great start, as the website told me there was no availability for my dates even though I’d just found availability directly through the SLH website.
No matter. I called up and the agent was able to find the availability for me and lock in a total price of €844 (~$979) — almost identical to the Hyatt price.
When booking via Amex’s The Hotel Collection (available to specific Amex cardholders — including my U.K. version of The Platinum Card® from American Express), I’d also get similar additional perks to booking with Hyatt:
- Daily breakfast for 2 people
- Room upgrade (subject to availability)
- Noon check-in (subject to availability)
- Guaranteed 4 p.m. checkout
- $100 Experience Credit (to use at the spa or on food and beverage)
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
The guaranteed late checkout and $100 of room credit made this offer more appealing than Hyatt. However, even with the $100 room credit, booking this way was still $117 more expensive than going direct with SLH.
For me, though, the thrill of getting upgraded on check-in was worth the risk — and it paid off.
Bottom Line: The Amex Platinum card is a favorite of many a frequent traveler. It boasts tons of benefits worth over $5,000 in value!!
I ended up booking through American Express Travel for the $100 room credit and the chance of an upgrade. At the time of my stay (late November 2021), travel was still far from being back to normal, so I was quietly confident that the upgrade would clear.
Not only was the room available way before the allotted check-in time, but we had also indeed been upgraded to a superior corner room, which likely wouldn’t have happened had I booked through SLH.
I was very happy with how it all turned out.
Hot Tip: Sometimes it’s easy to be swayed by the lowest price you see. When you look a little deeper into what you’re getting for your money, the cheapest price might not give you the best value. Sometimes paying a little more can give you a far better experience that’s more than worth the extra money.
You know you’re somewhere fancy when there’s a luggage cart.
And as for first impressions, the decor and furnishings in the lobby area instantly made me feel like I was somewhere luxurious, steeped in history and culture. Though a very different vibe from minimalist and modern hotels I’m more used to, the Pousada de Lisboa was a refreshing and welcome change.
I arrived at the hotel bright and early at 8 a.m. on the off chance that my room would be ready. To my surprise, even at such an early hour, my room was prepared and waiting for me.
I felt confident from the first impressions of the property and the pleasant and professional interactions I had with the check-in staff on shift that day that I was going to have a very enjoyable stay.
Bring your resistance bands when staying at the Pousada de Lisboa if you like to keep up with your fitness routine while you’re away.
The gym was, well, basic.
The treadmill, cross-trainer, and bike were there for some cardio training.
While a solitary bench…
…and a set of dumbbells with a maximum weight of 20 kilograms was all I had available for weight training.
On the same floor as the gym was the Magic Spa Pousada de Lisboa. For once, I wasn’t actually tempted to get a treatment, though I could have booked from a selection of the usual massage treatments if I so wished.
There was nobody at reception the 2 times we visited…
…and nobody using the entire place, for that matter.
The pool was quite small — definitely a pool for splashing around or cooling off rather than doing some morning laps.
That said, the area would make for a nice place to relax, and it had a sauna, too.
A spiral staircase led up to the roof…
…where there was a small terrace.
It was a bit too cold to make the most of it during our stay, but I can imagine it’s a toasty sun trap in the height of summer.
I, of course, managed to find the time to test out the pool. I can confirm it was chilly, but worth it once I got in.
We had a little wander around the hotel before our visit to the pool and discovered a whole host of quirky and interesting sights.
First was a second and rather grand entrance that takes you out onto a street perpendicular to the Praça do Comercio.
We encountered an eclectic assortment of statues and art pieces throughout the hotel, including this modestly dressed lady…
…and this religious fellow; the rope at his feet hints at the strong maritime history of Lisbon.
And one final piece I thought I’d show you is this rather striking statue of a horse being ridden, presumably into some kind of battle.
The room was more suite-sized than the Superior Room that it was advertised as.
The door opened up into a small space that was home to a sofa bed, small table, and desk, as well as a second TV.
I used to think I’d make use of hotel desks, but in my recent digital nomad travels, I’ve discovered that I much prefer to set up camp in local cafés.
The decor of the main bedroom area was in keeping with the luxurious feel of the hotel.
The soft color palette of greens and creams gave the room a royal edge.
The bed was huge! Don’t be fooled by the 2 single bed frames side-by-side because they were topped by 1 giant, extremely comfortable mattress.
Jonny struggles to sleep at the best of times, but he had zero issues getting a good night of rest here.
Even more comfort came in the way of the 3 gigantic, marshmallow-esque pillows that we each had.
The room was so light thanks to the 4 huge windows.
The all-important luggage rack was tucked away neatly in one of the room’s alcoves.
Despite the brightness by day, the floor-to-ceiling blackout curtains made sure the room fell into pitch darkness by night.
I can’t remember the room being advertised for 4 people, but the sofa bed would have been perfect for a family with young kids.
The sofa could easily be turned into a bed.
Our room was on the opposite side of the hotel to the Praça do Comércio and looked out onto Rua do Comércio and the beautiful Lisbon Cathedral that glowed orange in the light of the setting sun.
The middle window with the door open is the balcony to our room and could be seen from Rua do Comércio.
The balcony wasn’t huge, but nonetheless a welcome addition thanks to our room upgrade, and it was the perfect spot to have a pre-dinner appetizer.
The room had everything we could have wished for during our short 3-night stay.
Storage would have been more than enough had we decided to not live out of our suitcases.
I was happy to see an espresso machine complete with cute little espresso cups.
Capsules were by Nespresso, which I’d say is the case 80% of the time when staying at hotels.
The minibar fridge was stocked with soft drinks, a couple of beers, and some snacks. Pringles in the fridge was a first.
As usual, the minibar items were chargeable. We drank the beer and a couple of bottles of water and were only charged around €12 ($13.60) for the lot.
The bathroom was located in the middle of the room, accessed via a sliding door between the entrance area and the bed.
You could see right into the shower from the bed — a design I come across frequently in more luxury hotels (which I like).
If you prefer privacy, a curtain could be pulled across.
The miniature bathroom amenities were by the Portuguese beauty brand Portus Cale.
The packaging was a still a little plastic-heavy for my liking, even though some cardboard was used.
These old-school hairdryer units that are attached to the wall are a questionable trait for a luxury hotel. They have about as much power as a hand-held fan.
Back to the shower — the rainfall showerhead was a dream.
Points lost for the plastic packaging were soon regained for the refillable shampoo and body wash in the shower.
They were also both by Portus Cale.
Food and Beverage
The hotel had 2 eateries — the RIB Beef & Wine restaurant and the breakfast buffet area.
For breakfast, guests are invited to dine in a beautiful inside courtyard.
The glass ceiling 4 floors above lets in so much light that the experience could be mistaken for eating outside on a terrace.
The hotel’s main restaurant was RIB Beef & Wine. Open to both guests and non-guests, food could be ordered throughout the day while the main dinner menu was served in the evening.
The setting was reminiscent of a wine cellar, which made for a warm and cozy atmosphere.
As breakfast buffets go, Pousada de Lisboa’s was up there with one of the best I’ve had, not just because of the selection of options available, but for the quality of the food and unique extras that you don’t find at a standard hotel buffet.
I was shown to my table each morning and asked immediately if I’d like coffee. Coffee culture is big in Portugal and for that reason, I’ve yet to have a bad one.
The buffet started with a make-it-yourself hot breakfast station, with mushrooms, sausages, mixed vegetables, beans, and what I could only imagine were a Portuguese version of hash browns.
A choice of scrambled or fried eggs was offered.
There were 5 types of meat, 4 types of cheese, and tomato mozzarella salad.
Carb-lovers could indulge in 6 types of bread and 2 types of pastries.
Sweet treats included the Portuguese favorite pastel de nata (egg custard tart), slices of cake, pancakes, and mini doughnuts.
A small selection of cereals, dried fruit, and nuts was available.
A variety of jellies were on offer.
I’m not sure what you’d even call this contraption, but it was the first time I’d ever seen one, let alone at a hotel buffet. I didn’t use it, but the ability to scrape fresh honey from this honeycomb contraption was a nice thing to have.
By way of liquid refreshments, we could choose from:
- Coffee your way
- An assortment of breakfast juices
- Still or sparkling water
- Half-fat, low-fat, or soy milk
I even had the option to make myself a breakfast cocktail.
Had I been staying over a weekend, I’d have probably partaken in a breakfast bellini tipple, but given my early morning weekday starts I gave it a miss this time.
A bloody mary station was also set up for assembly.
You’ll be absolutely shocked to know that despite the delicious options to tempt me otherwise, I went for my classic breakfast starter of fruit…
…and eggs, ham, and cheese. One day I will mix it up a little at a breakfast buffet… maybe.
Given the quality of the breakfast buffet, I had high hopes that dinner would be equally as impressive.
To kick things off, we ordered some wine — we were in Portugal after all.
Our waiter brought the bottle over for us to take a look at the label before he served it.
Soon after we’d ordered and a different server had taken our order, a portion of the freshest, warmest, most indulgent bread arrived at our table with a side of oil for dipping.
I went for a classic Portuguese dish: bacalhão. It’s made up of shredded salted cod, onions, and very thinly diced potatoes finished off by being mixed with eggs.
Jonny decided on the steak with a side of fries, green beans, and a tomato salad to balance things out.
Jonny’s steak was cooked to his liking and could be dipped in the accompanying 4 different salts of varying flavors and spiciness. It was also accompanied by a peeled and grilled red pepper.
The cod dish was right up my alley: flavorsome, hearty, and filling. So filling, in fact, I couldn’t quite finish.
Our bill came to just over €110 (~$120). We thought that was more than a great value, given we had 2 main courses (one of which was a steak), 3 side dishes, and a mid-range bottle of wine.
The best part is, once our $100 hotel experience money (courtesy of American Express) was deducted, it meant we got the whole thing for just $20.
We were very well taken care of during our stay at the Pousada de Lisboa — particularly by Sonia and Ricardo.
Sonia was the hostess with the mostest at the breakfast buffet every morning. She would be over in an instant to greet me with a smile and immediately take my coffee order.
Each day before the breakfast buffet was cleared away, Sonia would come over to make sure there was nothing else we wanted to eat. It’s a small touch, but it made me smile and feel appreciated as a guest.
The ever-attentive server, Ricardo, was also always on hand at breakfast for anything we should need.
I must also mention the very kind welcome gift of a small bottle of port and 2 traditional Portuguese pastel de nata (custard tarts) that were waiting for us after we’d been for a wander on our first afternoon.
I’d usually not expect a turn-down service unless at a luxury 5-star hotel, so on our first night returning to the room, I was surprised to find we had indeed received a turndown service.
There were slippers on each side of the bed…
…as well as pillow mist and a bookmark each in between the pillows.
I’ve visited Lisbon many times before, but my most recent trip will stand out from the rest thanks to my time staying at the Pousada de Lisboa.
Given that it was my first time experiencing Small Luxury Hotels of the World hospitality, I went into my stay with an open mind.
I loved the boutique and historic feel of the hotel. As far as breakfast buffets go, the selection at the Pousada de Lisboa was in a higher class than what I’d usually expect. And, it goes without saying, that dining at RIB Beef & Wine — the hotel’s restaurant — is an absolute must, even if you’re not staying at the hotel.
If my experience is a precedent for the brand’s other hotels, I have definitely missed out by not staying with this brand sooner.
Given the perks I can get from my American Express card, I’ll be adding SLH to the top of my search list when planning trips from now on.
Muito obrigado, Pousada de Lisboa.
I will be back.