With just nine luxurious rooms, the boutique 1877 Estrela Palace is Aveiro’s most exclusive small hotel.
From the outside, there’s little to distinguish this unassuming building from its neighbours. In keeping with much of central Aveiro’s architecture, its exterior is pleasantly understated and its relatively plain azulejo tiles are a far cry from the brightly coloured geometric patterns of nearby Porto. A very different building awaits inside: perhaps more in keeping with the Folies Bergere than rural northern Portugal. La Belle Epoque is the stylistic target, hailing back to the year 1877 and the rise of the Art Nouveau movement which entranced the hearts and minds of Aveiro’s upper classes. Often dubbed the Venice of Portugal thanks to its system of canals, architecturally you could also liken Aveiro to late 19th century Paris. Decorative ceramics, bold graphic art and intricate ironwork are all common features of the city’s older buildings.
It took current owner Ana Saraiva five years to restore the 1877 Estrela Palace – a labour of love and the result speak for themselves. There are nine rooms in total and Ana pays homage to her local heroes in her naming of each, and in the specially commissioned artwork on display. Cosy ‘Salineiras’ is the smallest room – named in honour of the ladies who worked the local salt flats. Junior suites ‘Marnoto’, ‘Lourenco’ and ‘Homem Cristo’ are all similar in size and layout with a view of the river. The marnotos were the male counterparts of the salineiras – they’re both celebrated together in Antonio Quinta’s 1914 work the ‘Monumento ao Marnoto e a Salineira’ which now marks the entrance to the Salinas de Aveiro at the western mouth of the central canal. ‘Lourenco’ is named in memory of Dr. Lourenco Simoes Peixinho: president of Aveiro’s city council for almost a quarter of a century, and his reforms and public works helped the city to prosper in the early 1900s. Francisco Manuel ‘Homem Cristo’ established the Povo de Aveiro newspaper and helped to combat illiteracy in the town.
‘Jose Estevao’ is similar in size to‘Salineiras’, with its bright corner windows – Estevao was a distinguished journalist and politician, born in Aveiro in 1809 and he fought for the Liberals during the Siege of Porto. ‘Joao Evangelista’ is a superior suite with a balcony, named after former Archbishop Joao Evangelista de Lima Vidal. Finally, we have the two large master suites: ‘Sao Goncalinho’, with its impressive decorative panelling, is named after Aveiro’s patron saint and January’s Festas de Sao Goncalinho is a great time to visit. The ‘Princess Santa Joana’ suite stands out for its meticulously hand-crafted ceiling – the daughter of Dom Afonso V and Dona Isabel, Joana forsook royal life in favour of the Convento de Jesus and dedicated her life to helping the poor of Aveiro.
The crowning glory of the 1877 Estrela Palace is its rooftop terrace bar overlooking Aveiro’s central canal, where the distinctive horns of the Moliceiro boats provide the soundtrack as you enjoy a glass of sparkling Bairrada wine.