Where in Portugal might you ‘meet’ the likes of Agatha Christie, E. M. Forster, Emily Brontë, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Jane Austen and John Le Carré under one roof?
Just a few metres from my favourite beach, in the town where I happen to live, is the place where these great literary names come together, albeit in spirit – giving their names to luxurious suites at the recently-opened and appropriately-named Storytellers Palace.
Among them, and representing notable Portuguese literature, is one Florbela Espanca, who, if you haven’t been introduced, lived a tumultuous life that ended in 1930, comprising a mere 36 years. A life judged by WikiQuote as “tumultuous, restless and full of intimate suffering that the author was able to transform into poetry of the highest quality, full of eroticism, femininity and pantheism”.
The first two qualities of Florbela’s legacy I am drawn to, of course out of natural human curiosity. Pantheism too, having refamiliarised myself with it in the dictionary, I can also lean into, believing São Martinho do Porto – in which the Espanca legacy lives on – to be the divine work of all and every god that ever blessed human existence.
Comparisons to her, odious perhaps, might include Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf (the latter also honoured in the building about which I speak today), not least because her earliest known poem, “A Vida e a Morte” (Life and Death), was penned when she was just eight, clearly a serious child.
Consider also, in joyous contrast, the celebration of her beloved Alentejo in ‘No meu Alentejo’ (‘In My Alentejo’), from a collection of her work, Juvenilia: versos inéditos de Florbela Espanca (1946), translated on that occasion by John D. Godinho:
All is so calm and chaste, so like a dream.
That looking at this masterpiece of God, I ask myself
Where is there a painter, an artist so supreme,
So profoundly wise as to unfurl
A canvas with a more arresting scene,
More delicate and beautiful in this World?
Clearly, this short-lived poetic giant must join the likes of Pessoa and Camões on the shelves of anyone seeking to understand the soul and psyche of Portugal through its verse. But before I get too lost in my adoration of Florbela, I must return from the Alentejo to the place and person who first captured my imagination with intimations of her melancholy-tinged mystique.
Earlier this year, a remarkable, if slightly sad building on São Martinho’s marginal was clearly being brought back to life. It turns out this extraordinary edifice is one of Ernesto Korrodi’s masterpieces, a Swiss-born architect who moved to Portugal as a teenager, spending the rest of his life here.
Korrodi married a local woman and became a Portuguese citizen, leaving in his wake over 400 creations including the Castle of Dona Chica (Braga), the Hotel Guadiana in Vila Real de Santo António (the Algarve’s oldest hotel), the restoration of Leiria Castle and Leiria’s church of Santa Catarina da Serra.
In the delightful Silver Coast construction, around which this report revolves, can be found the sumptuous rooms that carry the names of those previously mentioned. Wide-eyed and agog when treated to a post-refurbishment tour, room after room evoked and reflected the distinction of its namesake, giving me my first introduction to Ms Espanca that would never be forgotten.
Who though would dare to choose such an illustrious cast of storytellers and showcase these time-honoured, geographically-diverse greats with their own posthumous palace?
Allow me to introduce to you Marco Areias who took what was the ‘Captain’s Palace’, as built by a Captain Jaime Pinto for his personal residence by Korrodi, turned originally in 2010 into a hotel that closed some eight years later. Marco subsequently and completely renovated the Silver Coast gem and, calling upon his own prolific background in film and television, now promises potential guests a stay that is in itself “an unforgettable story”.
São Martinho do Porto, in case you don’t know it, is a remarkable Silver Coast seaside town, not so much boasting, but gently and timelessly offering, a large, yet protected Atlantic-filled bay, loved over the last 100 years by Portugal’s elite as well as native rank and file, though mostly unknown to the world at large.
The Storytellers Palace, with its specially-named 10 rooms, Presidential Suite, terrace bar, seaview swimming pool, ‘Green Room’ restaurant, tea room and ‘Gatsby’ bar has guests enjoy the proximity of Alcobaça, Caldas da Rainha, Nazaré and Óbidos, plus a level of opulent, five-star detail that is unusual beyond the principal cities and more popular coastal resorts of Portugal, less than 100 kms from Lisbon airport.
Marco, a gifted and award-winning legend in film and television, in Portugal and beyond, has made countless commercials, documentaries and TV shows for the likes of McDonalds, Millennium Bank, Visa, American Express, Vodafone, Benfica and Pingo Doce. And this hotel venture is not his first.
In 2018, he bought his first make-over property in Sintra creating a first exclusive boutique hotel, the first ‘Storytellers experience’, garnering great reviews and enjoying huge success. His hard-won aplomb and superhuman levels of creativity have now found expression in São Martinho’s Storyteller spectacular where, as well as the expected pleasures of a top-level hotel stay, additional and very thoughtful surprises await you.
Try, for instance, a Christie, Forster or Brontë cream tea, after promenading the town’s sea-front, or perhaps the Jane Austen apex of afternoon delights with its freshly-baked warm scones, single estate tea, the world’s finest pastries and a flute of champagne.
Or pedal around São Martinho Bay late into the evening, enjoying its shimmering lights on one of the establishment’s bicycles, returning after midnight to enjoy a meal of the area’s finest seafood in the Gatsby Bar, like a care-free and romantic Bohemian!
I love my hometown and delight in it all the more for this addition of deeply thoughtful and beautifully presented, local hospitality that can compete proudly on any global tourism stage.
Marco and his team deserve success after such painstaking effort and curation, and I can’t wait to share this jewel in the Silver Coast crown with others who may wish to join our Good Morning Portugal! ‘Discover Portugal’ weekend in November of this year.
With that invitation floating between us, let me conclude with the uplifting words of Florbela:
There is one Spring in each life:
You must sing it like Spring, floridly,
For if God gave us voice, it was to sing!
(From ‘Amar’, Charneca em Flor)
Perhaps only in São Martinho do Porto’s Storytellers Palace can you ask for the “Espanca Suite” without arousing suspicion. When you do come, let us create new stories together with that sense of Spring Florbela pantheistically speaks of – in our hearts, our steps and our voices – whoever or whatever God means to you …