“ Av. D. Joao II / Lote 1.18 / Lisbon „
I love Lisbon; it's a fantastic city with lots to offer and plenty to see, but sadly on this occasion I wasn't going to get the chance to see much at all. I arrived at the hotel around 11 pm and was off again next morning at 9 am. However, even in such a brief stay, I think it's possible to get an impression of a hotel.
The Arts is a four star hotel and is part of the Portuguese VIP hotel chain - I'll admit I'd not heard of it before but I was quite impressed by this hotel and would be happy to stay in some of their other hotels just to see if they are all like this.
===Where is it?===
The VIP Arts is just a short walk from the waterfront area of the Parque das Nacoes (or Park of Nations - apologies to any Portuguese readers as I've lost several accents off the true spelling) which was built up for the world Expo in 1998. This is one of my favourite areas of the city and is a great place to stroll around, have a drink, something to eat and do a bit of people watching. It's also the home of the Oceanarium which I consider to be the best aquarium that I've ever visited. If you are familiar with the Olympic Port in Barcelona, it's a bit like that but slightly less pretentious.
The hotel is a few blocks back from the waterfront and a block or two from the bus station and a block from the underground. The airport is just 2 miles away but the downside, if you want to be in the city centre, is that the historic area is about 6 miles away so you'll not be able to walk to the sites. The underground would apparently take you about 25 minutes but taxis in the city are still very good value and cheaper than most other European capitals. You'd be most likely to find yourself in this area if you were visiting an exhibition or conference at the Parque das Nacoes conference venue.
This is a hotel that makes you go 'Wow' and then makes you laugh. It's a bit like a grown up primary school with a graffiti-style tiled mural outside the hotel and with a lobby that's full of what look like over-sized nursery chairs. It's a place that exudes a mix of style and humour touched with a teensy hint of trying a bit too hard. I'm guessing it was probably built for the Expo as a lot of the styling is quite late-90s. I found the lobby quite impressive with its polished grey concrete walls, funky seating and the atrium-style double height ceilings reaching up above the mezzanine. Checking other reviews I've been able to find, opinion seems to be polarised about whether the lobby is bleak and ugly or self-consciously trendy. I think I'm in the latter camp although the giant painting on the wall of the lobby looked like it had been done by a five year old.
With 300 rooms, I suppose we shouldn't have been surprised that the check-in was quite busy but at 11 at night I was surprised there were still so many people checking in. The receptionist took my passport details and my credit card and checked whether I wanted a non-smoking room and then gave me my key and sent me to the lifts nearby. I was on the second floor - not high enough, sadly, to benefit from the views which are apparently spectacular on the upper floors. I also was neither on the side that faces the river and the Expo Park nor the side that faces the city. Instead I had a bizarre view of a slightly grubby pond with the words "FRESH DRINK" spelled out in high letters.
Getting out of the lift, the corridor to the rooms was really weird with a couple of funky chairs placed in front of a gravel garden with a little bridge over it. Why? I have no idea but it's a good thing I don't travel with my cats because it would have made a spectacular litter tray.
My lasting impression of the room is one of 'gingerness' - it was really rather an orange room. The walls were thankfully in cream but the bedspread was orange and cream squares, the floors were of gingery-red wood laminate (OK, I confess, I got down and had a really good look to check it wasn't real wood - it's not only marble tiling I'm picky about) and the door and wardrobes were in a similar gingery-red wood. The curtains were orange as was the valance on the bed - I thought I might have fallen asleep and woken up inside a giant dream-like tangerine. Some nice touches included the creamy-yellow leather-look bedhead and matching arm-chair, which of course had a gingery wooden coffee table.
The bed was a king size with small gingery wooden bedside tables on either side and on the opposite side of the room to the bed there was a teeny work desk with cream leather-look chair, a small TV standing on top of the minibar, a weird clothes stand that I rather doubt every gets used, and a suitcase stand. Maybe I'm getting old and decrepit but I'm increasingly appreciating not having to scrabble on the floor to get things out of my case.
The bathroom was decorated to a high standard in what would typically be called black granite (although the geologists amongst you might wince at the use of that term and recognise that most black granite is actually gabbro or dolerite but don't try asking for that in the kitchen worktop shop). It was a pretty stylish if rather impractical bathroom. There was a shaving/make up mirror but the fixture was dodgy and you could only use it by crouching down or huddling over. It had one of those basins that sit on top of the worktop which I rather like but I think they are going out of fashion very rapidly - at least they hadn't gone with the green frosted glass Philippe Starck basins that started the trend and now look really dated as well as really impractical. Only a hotel or someone with full-time staff to run around wiping them clean, should ever consider a glass sink. And never ever, as one reviewer on either Ciao or dooyoo once described, poor boiling water into a glass sink. But sorry, I'm digressing. There was a loo and a bidet and a bath with a shower over it. The shower power was great, but only once I was standing in the bath did I realise that the towel rail was so high up that I could barely reach it. I'm 5 foot 8 and most Portuguese ladies are pretty titchy - some of the men too - so I think sooner or later some poor soul will be found bleeding to death in the bath after slipping trying to get the towels.
When it was time to go to bed I spent several minutes going round the room looking for all the switches to turn all the lights off - it took many attempts and a master switch would have made life a lot easier.
I love Portuguese hotels - they are inexpensive and they seem to include breakfast, unlike Spanish hotels which are much more pricey and typically charge so much for breakfast that you'd need to still be there eating at lunch time to have got your money's worth. I went down to check out what was on offer and was dazzled by an Eiffel tower made of some kind of food stuff and a Portuguese flag which appeared to have been made out of hundreds and thousands. After seeing that, the food could only be ordinary in comparison. There was plenty of choice but I only had 10 minutes to guzzle some juice, give up on my overly bitter coffee and grab some bread and cheese.
===A Minor Gripe===
So why did I have so little time for breakfast? Well largely because the lifts in the hotel were absolutely rubbish. A fourteen storey, 300-room hotel cannot get by on just two lifts. It took me nearly 5 minutes to get a lift from the second floor to the mezzanine. After breakfast I decided that if the lifts were as bad going back up again, then I'd take the stairs but I couldn't find them which was worrying because I'd checked where they should be (always be prepared for fire!) and I still couldn't find them. There was a third lift that was not working but it took 5 minutes each time I wanted to go anywhere and consequently I was late checking out and kept the people I was travelling with waiting for me. I understood why there were two fancy little chairs next to the lift - obviously for anyone who couldn't stand up long enough waiting for them to come.
===The Good News===
The room was just Euro85 for bed and breakfast which for a place that was stylish and well equipped, seemed like a pretty good deal to me. Whether I'd use it again would depend on why I was in Lisbon. For tourism I'd go somewhere more central (or kip on the floor of my friend Teresa's apartment) but for work it was OK because it was on the right side of town for the office I was visiting.
It must have been spectacular a few years ago when everything was still new and sparkly and it's not doing bad roughly ten years later but the owners really need to watch that the décor doesn't get too dated because the standard of the competition is really high and they could easily get left behind.