Photo Courtesy The Editory Riverside Santa Apolónia Hotel
Travel Expert Andrew Wagner-Chazalon rekindles a passion for authentic railway hotels with a stay at the new Editory Riverside hotel in Lisbon
The best trips aren’t always about seeing something new or something ancient. They are about experiencing something our great-grandparents knew, something that is nearly gone from our present day, but still present in our collective memories.
Of all these grand memories, there is nothing more evocative than arriving by train at a railway hotel. One minute you are being whisked across the countryside in a shimmering panorama of views; and then the train sighs to a stop, you exit your car, walk a few steps, and enter an entirely new world.
For as long as there have been trains, the great railway hotels of the world have been part of the mystique of travel. Sadly, the decline in rail travel means that many of the grand old railway hotels are gone.
But there are spots around the world where visionary hoteliers, along with talented designers, have brought them back to their former grandeur. Lisbon is one of those places. So, when I had the chance to stay at The Editory Riverside Santa Apolónia Hotel, one of the city’s coolest luxury hotels, knew I couldn’t pass it up.
The Editory Riverside: The Grandest of Classic Railway Hotels
This luxurious 5-star hotel is located atop Santa Apolonia Railway Station, the oldest of Lisbon’s four train stations. Built in the 1860s, Santa Apolonia was conceived as an international transport hub, with trains connecting to all the European capitals, and ocean liners docking a few metres away on the shores of the Targus River. Guests would be able to take the train from Paris or Berlin, then board a steamship heading to New York or Montreal in Quebec, Canada, with porters carrying their voluminous trunks in between, naturally.
The trains still arrive at Santa Apolonia, and the cruise ships still dock there. The only thing missing was a stunning place to stay while you waited for your stateroom to be ready for boarding.
That wait is ended. It only took 150 years, but in 2022 the lovely Santa Apolonia station finally got the hotel it deserved. Developed at a cost of around 12 million euros, the hotel converted some unused portions of the station’s upper levels into a grand railway hotel that is truly worthy of the location.
Luxury and Comfort from a Bygone Era
It would have been easier and cheaper to just construct an anonymous hotel on the site. But Santa Apolonia was spared that indignity. Architects Saraiva+Associados designed the entire space around the concept of rail journeys, with small touches and grand gestures that evoke the heyday of genteel travel.
From the moment you enter the lobby, you’ll feel that you have stepped into an era when slow travel was the only kind of travel. You just know that there is a superb cocktail waiting for you somewhere in this hotel, that a bellhop will carry your bags quickly and cheerfully, and that your stay will be restful and relaxing.
That welcoming cocktail is to be found on the first floor (the second floor in North American parlance), in a bar/dining room that is truly a centrepiece of this grand design. Every note is perfect in its evocation of 1920s grandeur, from art-deco inspired light fixtures to plush banquettes to enormous glass doors opening onto tiny balconies that overlook a plaza with the Targus just across the road. And yes, the Queen Mary was indeed at dock.
This is a bar where you would not be surprised to bump into someone from an Agatha Christie mystery, or perhaps a shadowy figure straight out of John LeCarre. And, of course, the martinis, made with perfect Portuguese gin, are crisp and smooth.
Fine Dining at Editory Riverside
Chef Andre Silva, whose training includes time at the Michelin-starred Hotel Casa da Calçada Relais & Chateaux, has also embraced the travel theme in his menu. Concept menus can be gimmicky and twee, but this one makes sense, both as an idea and as a dining experience. It highlights regional cuisines from across Portugal as a celebration of ingredients and cuisines that might have arrived aboard the trains that are pulling in one floor below.
There is soup from Alentejo in the south, lamb from the mountainous Marao region to the north, Moorish sausage, and even tuna bites with homemade pickles inspired by the Azores, hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic.
Highlights for us included chicken thighs stuffed with Andheila sausage and almonds, and cheeks of native Portuguese bisaro pork. An incredibly rich and flavourful dish, the slow-cooked cheeks in a dark wine gravy were perfectly balanced with slices of sweet and seasoned wine-marinated pears.
And whatever you do, don’t miss Floating Islands in Milk Foam for dessert, a sublime confection of caramelized almonds, purple muscatel, and a creamy house-made ice cream. Followed up with a perfect espresso and a glass of the distinctive Portuguese brandy known as Medronho, and the evening is perfect.
A Quiet Night at the Editory Riverside
Back in our room, we appreciate some of the modern touches of the Editory Riverside. The ceilings are tall throughout the building, with windows to match, letting light stream in during the day. At night, though, even though we are situated right above the train tracks there’s not a whisper of noise entering. Even when a train pulls into the station below, it comes across as just a distant thrum, the faintest reminder that there is life in motion outside.
On subsequent days of our stay, we come to appreciate some of the other attributes of this glorious hotel. Breakfasts in the dining room are perfect, with fresh eggs and Iberian bacon cooked to order, and an extensive buffet that includes superb pastries. Lisbon is a town that takes its pastries seriously, and there are entire shops here that sell nothing but pastel de nata, the ubiquitous custard tarts. The pasteis at the Editory are not quite the best we enjoyed in Lisbon, but they definitely come very close, which is saying a good deal.
And be sure to experience an in-room breakfast or afternoon coffee at least once during your stay. Is there anything finer than sipping a breakfast cappuccino, munching a perfect pastel de nata, and looking out your window at the Queen Mary 2 sitting majestically at dock?
Fun Things to do and Places to Visit Nearby
The front desk staff are quick to offer assistance in finding anything you want, from a pleasant evening stroll to reservations at a café where we enjoy listening to traditional fado music.
Step outside, and all the best of Lisbon awaits. The hotel is located on the edge of the Alfama district, one of Lisbon’s oldest areas, where steep streets twist and turn, and exhilarating music and food are to be found at every turn.
Want to venture farther afield? Taxis are lined up in front of the train station. One flight of stairs below ground is the Santa Apolonia metro station, giving you fast access to every part of the city on a subway system that is fast, clean, and reliable.
But at least once during your stay, you should just enjoy a stroll along the waterfront, looking up at the cruise ships and thinking of the places you could go, should you ever get the urge to leave Lisbon.
With accommodations like this to enjoy, though, there’s no better place to be than here. Travel can wait. For now, it’s time to sit in the lounge, sip a glass of crisp vinho verde, and gaze out the windows as the sun slowly sinks into the Targus.
For more information about one of the most exceptional and unique hotels in Lisbon, check out their website atwww.editoryhotels.com/riverside-apolonia-lisboa/.
Andrew Wagner-Chazalon is the Managing Editor and CEO of Dockside Publishing, and writes about the luxuries to be found in Muskoka and throughout Central Ontario.
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