The Yeatman Hotel doesn’t sound, to the ill-informed, a particularly Portuguese name for a hotel. One would more readily expect a name like “Henry the Navigator Inn” or “The Porto Paradise”. Do some homework and you’ll find that The Yeatman Hotel is steeped in Portuguese history that has drifted through half-a-dozen or so generations of transplanted British. That’s a marvel when many folks these days consider themselves aristocrats if they can trace their family all the way back to their father. Portugal is a country that has long had these strong British connections.
Natasha and her husband Adrian have been described as the ‘first couple of Port’. That might sound an extravagant monica but it truly sums up the regard in which these two are held. She is the eldest daughter of Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman’s chairman, Alistair Robertson, who inherited the business in 1966 following the death of Dick Yeatman, his uncle. Natasha is the seventh generation of the Taylor Fladgate and Yeatman dynasty and is the head blender for the Taylor Fladgate Partnership. Founded in 1692, Taylor, Fladgate and Yeatman is one of the oldest port wine houses, and one of the largest. It owns the brands of Fonseca, Taylor, and Croft.
Adrian met his wife in 1982 and joined the family firm in 1994. This was his third career, being first an officer in The 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards. He later worked in the banking industry and in 1994 he and Natasha moved to Portugal full-time, where he assumed responsibility for Taylor’s Port and Fonseca Port in the UK and USA arenas. In 2000, he formally took on the role of Managing Director of the Taylor Fonseca Port Group. Adrian is a keen sportsman and has represented Great Britain at bobsledding – one can picture him scudding down the Douro Valley through the vines.
In 2010, The Yeatman Hotel was finally launched. It’s an outstanding luxury wine hotel and has been Adrian’s project for over 5 years. It has evidently involved the whole family, as Natasha’s mum had much to do with the interior decoration and she has done a magnificent job.
One might expect this couple to be stiff and unapproachable. They are well used to the company of kings, politicians, notables from the world over. Adrian and Natasha both come from good “stock” but they are natural, friendly and put their guests at ease. They are passionately dedicated to showcasing quality hospitality in all its guises, and their staff have the same enthusiasm. Everyone is unobtrusively attentive and knowledgeable about the hotel, food and wine – this is, after all, a wine hotel.
The Yeatman is full of surprises. One approaches a hotel that gives the impression of a contemporary European bungalow. Step inside and the perception changes. A huge reception area with imposing staircase, pillars and statue of Bacchus greet the travel-weary. This striking lad must be an image of the god as a youngster: most other representations present him as a well-padded chap with hints of Santa. This “David”-like figure matches the elegance of his new home.
The lifts pay homage to the Douro with images covering all sides with a 360-degree panorama. Another elevator takes younger visitors to the bespoke Kid’s Club. That one gives one the impression of being lifted in a hot-air balloon. There is great humour in this hotel that could have been so dry, worthy, academic and remote, the preserve of the “old school”. The Yeatman will be appreciated by all those with a taste for the finer things of life but it has wide appeal. Older folks will enjoy the traditional luxury, couples can indulge in some pampering, and families can take advantage of the unbeatable location. It’s truly a hotel for all seasons.
The Yeatman is built on the sloping hillside opposite Porto city, in Vila Nova de Gaia (easy access across the bridge). It’s constructed with terraces replicating the distinctive vineyards of the Douro Valley an hour’s drive away. The Yeatman flatters and harmonizes with the landscape. This cascading design allows every room to take advantage of the terracotta-roofed cityscape across the river. The sun sets and the view changes to give a romantic ambiance to the private balconies.
The public spaces act as a gallery for paintings and artwork reflecting the history of the region and the country in general, all impeccably displayed. There is a collection of roosters (the iconic symbol of Portugal) painted and embellished by students. Maps, watercolours, sculpture, and photography – it’s all found a home at the Yeatman.
There is so much here that gives a nod to wine, its production and consumption. The suites are named after wines, the walls are hung with wine-related pictures, and every room is sponsored by a producer. The 67 wine companies each take a turn hosting a Thursday evening wine-tasting dinner, which is very reasonably priced and popular with locals and visitors alike.
The 82 rooms are predictably well-appointed. Each one is different with individually-chosen soft furnishings, and books carefully selected for the edification and entertainment of guests. There will likely be a copy of Charles Metcalf’s Wines of Portugal and also a slim volume entitled 1066 and All That. At first glance that might seem a rather random literary inclusion but take a look at the cover: one of the authors is a Yeatman, and a relative of Natasha. This book continues the tone of the hotel in general – a mix of contemporary and classic features, of whimsy and substance.
Adrian had sustainability at the forefront of this new build. Solar panels are used for heating water, and photovoltaic cells generate electricity to reduce consumption of the regular mains power. Low-energy lighting is installed throughout the building and rainwater is collected and stored for flushing loos and sprinkling the garden. A reverse-osmosis system converts tap water into purified drinking water, so the hotel is self-sufficient without the need to buy bottled ‘eau-not-so-naturelle’ with all its baggage of transport miles, processing and packaging.
This is the Yeatman Hotel so their full wine list is as thick as a bible and features around 800 Portuguese wines and 80 international wines. Their cellar is open for inspection for a couple of hours each day with a display of 25,000 or so bottles, many of which are unique and will be sought by the enthusiast. The racks are arranged geographically with some New World vintages in the corner at the back for those with no soul who would actually want a cheeky little Californian rosé when visiting this land of such memorable local wines.
Along with fine wine goes fine dining. Chef Ricardo Costa is one of the leaders of a new generation of culinary innovators in Portugal, recently winning a Michelin star for The Yeatman. He attended the School of Hospitality and Tourism of Coimbra where he honed his technical skills and fed his passion for the artistry of food. He has graced the kitchens of several hotels and restaurants in mainland Portugal, Madeira, Spain and England before settling at the Yeatman Hotel.
It’s obvious that any chef would want to be at the helm of a kitchen in his home land, but I have the sense that Ricardo must be particularly pleased that his gastronomic ship is newly launched and has the most sophisticated, not to mention spacious, kitchen of any hotel. The owners have devoted an extraordinary amount of space to cooking. There are walk-in fridges aplenty and a specialist station for almost every course or function. There is even a space devoted to room service, and a separate kitchen just for breakfast.
Ricardo offers dishes that are unmistakably special but he clings to the essence of Portuguese cuisine, tempting with flavours of traditional ingredients prepared and presented with delicious flair. His food entices and intrigues before calming and charming the diner. This is skilled cooking that, although cheffy, never forgets its origins. This is serious food that contrives to amuse but the bottom line is, most importantly, it tastes great.
We dined on shrimps and mackerel as starters. The Yeatman’s proximity to the Atlantic is evident in a menu with so many fresh seafood dishes. Lots here for the committed carnivore, though. The veal was blushing and tender in its pastry crust and the lamb chops should be a signature dish. The desserts were beautiful, and the vanilla ice cream, figs and diced sweet beetroot was a triumph. Do try the local cheese platter, and you might consider a glass of port to go along with that – I’m sure they’ll find one somewhere. The menu changes to offer guests the seasonal best from the market but be assured that Chef Ricardo will transform those ingredients into dishes with that unmistakable Michelin magic.
Smoking is not allowed in the public areas of The Yeatman Hotel but there is a haven for those wanting a fragrant after-dinner cigar and that’s The Study. OK, so it’s a change from the Victorian tradition of ladies retiring and leaving the gentlemen at table passing the port and puffing, but both ladies and gents will delight in spending a little time in this book-bedecked idyll.
The Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa is just what you would expect of the Yeatman, offering a wide selection of wellbeing and relaxation facilities including a Roman bath, tepidarium, hammam, shower experience and sauna. Space to sit and unwind, a dip in the pool and a treatment can all be yours. Keeping with the theme there is even a staircase fashioned from a wine barrel, and the walls have ancient and gnarled vines as objets-d’art. Treat your body and mind with such programmes as a Barrel Bath immersion, or a Merlot Wrap. They take advantage of natural ingredients from the vineyard with their antioxidant properties, and many of the treatments can be enjoyed by couples. The lounging area will have you nodding off over that latest paperback or enjoying that celebrated panoramic view across the river to the city. A break at this hotel and spa will offer a romantic retreat and with such affordable luxury you could become regulars.
Adrian says he wants The Yeatman Hotel to be the foremost destination for Portuguese wine, and an ambassador for Porto and Portugal in general. I would say he has already succeeded and it’s still early days. It’s a platform of viticultural and culinary excellence with some really comfy beds.
Spa Treatments available:
Luxury Moment for Two
• Champagne Afternoon Tea
• Divine Duo Massage
Perfect Moment for Two
• Divine Duo
• Cranial Massage
5 Senses Moments for Two
• Grape Bath
• Crushed Cabernet Scrub
The property is a member of Relais & Chateaux.
The Yeatman Hotel
Rua do Choufelo
4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal
Phone: +351 22 013 3100
Fax: +351 22 013 3199
Visit The Yeatman here
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018