Owner: Frederic Coustols
Interior design, renovation and restoration: Pedro Quirino da Fonseca with the collaboration of Miguel Angelo Silva
Furnishings: mostly antique furniture, Pergay, YGNH, Way of Arts
Lighting: Jacob Temerson, YGNH
Photo credits: Sivan Abkayo, Joe Condron, Nelson Garrido, Camille Ginestrel, Ariel Huber, Joana Pinto, Marko Roth, Jacob Termansen, Marc Vaz
At the top of a series of cobblestone streets in the Alfama district, an unobtrusive sign indicates the location of this boutique hotel, while a heavy red door cautiously separates it from the confusion of the throngs of tourists. At the Belmonte there are no throngs, no noise, no chocolates on the pillows, no TV. Just fresh air, space, light, books and details of an amazing history, bearing witness to the historical and architectural legacy of Lisbon.
Palácio Belmonte originated in the Middle Ages, when Brás Afonso Correia, a council functionary of King Manuel I, built an initial part of it over the Roman and Moorish fortifications of the city, incorporating old houses, a courtyard, a stall and two defensive towers still visible in the present physiognomy of the palace. The name came from the owners, the counts of Belmonte, who lived there after the Marquis de Atalaia and the navigator Alvares Cabral, credited with the first renovation in 1503.
During the 1600s the building underwent major restoration: it was expanded on the eastern side with an amazing panoramic terrace – the one on which Marcello Mastroianni stood during the shooting of the film Sostiene Pereira – and embellished with five facades in classical style.
In the next century two great masters of Portuguese tile, Manuel Santos and Valentim de Almeida, contributed to the decoration of the interiors with a unique collection of 59 panels of azulejos formed by over 30,000 tiles, depicting episodes of Christianity and scenes from the Portuguese court of the time.
Following the acquisition in 1994 by the present owners Frédéric Coustols and his wife Maria Mendoça, both art and landscape historians, Palácio Belmonte has returned to its inimitable charm, restored and painstakingly updated in a sustainable way, regaining its original grandeur in keeping with the principles of the Venice Charter.
The renovation – directed until the 2000s by the architect Pedro Quirino da Fonseca with the support of the municipal authorities of Lisbon and the collaboration of Miguel Angelo Silva – has salvaged the original construction materials and finishes, the coffered ceilings, the 17th-century facades, while restoring and repositioning the panels of blue and white azulejos and the splendid painting by Rui Gonçalves.
A natural ventilation system has been installed to convey air currents in the thick walls, making it possible to do without air conditioning. Pátio Dom Fradique now hosts the Café Belmonte and the Grenache restaurant, while the garden has been redesigned, relying on many local species of plants, flowers and fruit, alongside an elegant black granite swimming pool.
The interiors adapt to the irregular composite layout that develops around the Pátio: large halls – including the ‘ballroom’ dedicated to Maria Ursula d’Abreu e Lencastro, nearly 100 square meters – form a contrast with small divisions, corridors, terraces and spiral staircases, in a labyrinthine arrangement. The ten suites are all unique. Each bears the name of an important Portuguese personality, and all of them are on multiple levels, combining furnishings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries with contemporary works of art, white or yellow sofas, and modern bathrooms. From the Fernão Magalhães suite, in which the simple decor reflects the needs of a historic navigator (Magellan), to the romantic charm of the suite named for Padre Himalaya, organized on three levels in the upper part of the Roman tower and surrounded by windows offering breathtaking views.