Melides Magic at Vermelho by Louboutin

Five-star luxury and cutting-edge design are not the first things you associate with the Alentejo, traditionally home to cork oaks, olive trees, vineyards and pig farms. But turn towards the Atlantic and you will find a newly fashionable stretch of coastal Alentejo, from Tróia and Comporta down to Melides – expanding further south every year. 

We travelled down from Lisbon a few weeks ago and decided to skip the efficiency of the A2 motorway and discovered ridiculously pretty beaches, delicious contemporary food options, and a string of luxury hotels that will have you checking local estate agents’ windows.

Comporta is no longer up-and-coming of course – it has been the favoured beach getaway for Lisbonites, socialites and minor royalty for years now. The rustic-chic Sublime Comporta opened in 2014 and its small-scale, feet-in-the-sand approach to high-end hospitality will make you go ‘oooh’ as soon as you drive up the long winding drive through a mature pine forest. Individual suites and villas are dotted around as if contemporary architecture was made to coexist with the ancient landscape of sand dunes and umbrella pine trees. 

We stopped for lunch in Tasca da Comporta, one of the on-site restaurants. Think high-end bistro with proper Portuguese roots, we loved the seared tuna salad with crazy-good tomatoes and the crab croquettes. We would have happily spent the rest of the afternoon working our way through the menu. 

We stopped in the village of Comporta, which was a lot more charming and low-key than I had imagined. I am sure weekends and summers turn this sleepy village surrounded by rice fields into an unlikely see-and-be-seen hotspot, but when we passed through, it was mostly locals getting ready for the season. Hippie-chic boutiques, trendy bars and restaurants are in evidence, but the busiest spots were the no-frills churrasqueria and little coffee bar on the cute central square. About those rice fields – you may have heard they exist, but it still feels weird to see rice paddies in Europe!

Drive north from Comporta and you are on the Tróia road – miles and miles of sand dunes and empty beaches. That was not our destination this time though, and we continued south towards Melides, until recently best known as a summer camping destination. That changed this year when fashion designer Christian Louboutin opened a boutique hotel in the centre of the village. Famous for killer heels, outrageous designs and jaw-dropping price tags, the French designer has fallen hard for Portugal’s charms. Private houses in Lisbon and a country retreat close to Melides itself were not enough – he decided to build Vermelho, a 13-bedroom luxury hotel.

If, like my husband, you did not know that red (vermelho in Portuguese) is a Louboutin signature colour (apparently all Louboutin designs feature a red sole), there is no mistaking his intention as soon as you walk into the reception at Vermelho. 

A riot of red floor tiles is underfoot, combining traditional materials and shapes with fashion-forward colours and textures everywhere you look. The building itself looks like Louboutin and his team painstakingly renovated an 18th-century palace and then went a bit creative on the finishing touches; it is a new purpose-built shrine to Portuguese traditions and personal creativity. Every room and shared space shows off unique pieces of furniture and art from the great man’s personal collection. You will not find generic high-end corporate fixtures and fittings anywhere – discovering quirky and unique artefacts is part of the appeal. It is a bit like a sophisticated treasure hunt for grown-ups.

Special mention goes to the spectacular bar, which features a custom-designed silver counter, signature cocktails and a lovely terrace overlooking the garden. Flowers are mostly red, of course, and although seemingly right in the middle of a village, the view towards the valley beyond the garden makes the pool and garden area feel like the grounds of a stately home. 

Our room had beautiful Portuguese tiling, custom cabinetry and retro-futuristic light switches which may prove a challenge after a few too many of the signature cocktails. There are only 13 rooms, most with big terraces and bold bathrooms that will undoubtedly feature on many Instagram posts (if that is where fashionistas post these days – must check with people in the know). 

Oh – and the food. It was delicious and served in a rectangular dining room which felt big and intimate at the same time. Everything you see and touch feels like it was carefully curated. Chairs and tables are traditional Paris bistro style, but in colour combinations that are more kaleidoscope than a coffee shop. It turns out Louboutin liked them so much he decided to buy the company – Google Maison Gatti to get an idea of the vibe. The bar and restaurant are open to non-residents as well, which is the easiest way to dip into the Vermelho ambience.

The next morning we had breakfast on the terrace, trying to decide if we would add another stop to our trip back to the Algarve. As always – when in doubt, head for a Portuguese beach! The day before, Joana, the super friendly front office manager, told us to try and find Pinheirinhos beach. A stunning drive through pine forest turns into a beautiful walk across sand dunes that seem to stretch forever, opening up to miles and miles of pristine Atlantic beach. Not a beach bar or toilet block in sight – but if you like the idea of a picnic in paradise, this gets pretty close.

So who is this corner of Alentejo for? As so often with Portugal, it will quietly give you whatever it is you are looking for – whether you are a fashionista, beach lover, foodie, or part-time explorer of the good things in life.

Ann is a personal travel planner who can help organise and book the trip of a lifetime, a weekend away and everything in between.


Share this edition