Coimbra, Hotel Astória, Coimbra: the faded beauty of a bygone era

Hotel Astória, Coimbra: the faded beauty of a bygone era

I had first heard of the Hotel Astória long before visiting Coimbra through a language course I was studying which was set in Coimbra. The words ‘Hotel Astória’ were among the first Portuguese words I learnt and as such had stuck in my head. So, when we decided to spend a few days in Coimbra the Hotel Astória was the natural choice. On further research I discovered that it is one the best Art Nouveau buildings in Coimbra and the decision was made.
We approached the wedge-shaped five-storey building, with a rotunda at the narrow end, from the railway station, a short walk along the riverfront road (Avenida Emídio Navarro) where it is situated. The building was designed by the architect Adães Bermudes, who included ornate balconies and Art Nouveau decorative features on the exterior walls, but the highlight is the ornate dome on the rotunda which wouldn’t look out of place on a church. The ground floor has large arched Modernist windows and a glass canopy over the entrance. Everything looked like it must have done when the hotel first opened in 1926.

After walking in through an iron and glass revolving door I felt that I had stepped back in time. We entered a beautiful lobby, designed by Francisco de Oliveira Ferreira, in grey and pink marble with wood panelling and Art Nouveau decor in wrought iron. There is a private phone booth next to the reception desk and above the small seating area is a balcony with further seating, some books to read and even writing desks.

There were also lots of black and white photos from the first half of the twentieth century on display showing this hotel and other luxurious hotels. I was particularly interested in one showing the railway running in front of the Astória.

The lounge with its beautiful parquet floor, pink marbled, wood-panelled and mirrored walls, chandeliers and plush furnishings conjures up images of a bygone age when people would write postcards or even letters on the writing desks located in the room. There is also a small balcony above the lounge with a stunning Art Deco design in wrought iron and stained glass and I wondered who would have stood up there looking down on the people below – a Jay Gatsbyesque character, perhaps. I felt decidedly underdressed.

The dining room, where the breakfast buffet is served, is a light airy space built in the rotunda so there are large windows on three sides plus wood panelling on the walls, with carved leaf patterns overlaid, and two large pillars in the middle of the room. There is another small balcony above it.

The pièce de résistance has to be the original cage lift, which has been slightly modernized, but retains the original features, including a glass and wood interior with a leather seat inside, and is still fully functional.

It’s true that our room had none of the charm of the communal areas, it was very basic with ugly wood panelling, uncomfortable functional furniture, slightly worn carpets, a CRT TV and an old-fashioned bathroom (admittedly some of these may have been original features, but they had none of the historical interest of the items downstairs),

but the views from the rooms at the front of the hotel of the River Mondego, the Santa Clara Bridge and the Santa Clara-a-Nova Convent on the opposite side of the river and from the rooms at the back, of the hilltop university, make up for that.

The Astória’s glory days may be over (it is now only a three-star hotel owned by the Alexandre de Almeida hotel group, where the average price for a standard room with breakfast is €75 per night) and it may have lost its prestigious status to the five-star Quinta das Lágrimas hotel on the other side of the river, but it remains a living monument to the Art Nouveau style of the 1920s and gives a taste of how it might have been in the days when the rich and powerful passed through its doors.