Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon Delivers

By Robert K. Stephen on August 26, 2012

Isn’t it encouraging witnessing a Canadian success story in foreign markets? I am not talking about lumber, minerals or oil but The Four Seasons Hotel “chain”. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts was founded in 1960 in Toronto. Its first hotel, the Four Seasons Motor Hotel, opened on Jarvis Street the following year.  Since that time, Four Seasons has followed a targeted course of expansion, focusing on opening in destinations whereits guests need to travel for business and want to visit for leisure. Today, Four Seasons operates 88 hotels and resorts in 35 countries, and continues to be guided by the Canadian values upon which it was founded. Interestingly enough, despite its Canadian roots it is now a holding of the Kingdom Holding Company of Saudi Arabia, chaired by a Saudi, Prince Alwalledbin Talal, which has ownership interests in Walt Disney, Citigroup, Apple, Pepsi, Fairmont Raffles Hotels and Time Warner. Despite being under non-Canadian control The Four Seasons corporate head office continues to be in Toronto.

The mission statement of The Four Seasons is as follows, “We have chosen to specialize within the hospitality industry by offering only experiences of exceptional quality. Our objective is to be recognized as the company that manages the finest hotels, resorts and residence clubs wherever we locate. We create properties of enduring value using superior design and finishes, and support them with a deeply instilled ethic of personal service. Doing so allows Four Seasons to satisfy the needs and tastes of our discriminating customers, and to maintain our position as the world's premier luxury hospitality company.” You have heard this mission statement before in numerous variations to the point it is meaningless chatter. Not so with The Four Seasons Ritz Lisbon where it was flawlessly executed in my recent visit. The Four Seasons has been swallowed by a large holding company. Fortunately corporate integration has not hurt quality.

The Four Seasons Hotel chain has a stellar reputation to maintain as a luxury hotel with impeccable service delivered by well trained staff. It certainly started for me upon my arrival at the Four Seasons Ritz Lisbon with doors of my limousine being opened with a sincere welcome to the hotel greeting and bags hoisted out of the car and ready to be promptly delivered to the room. Smooth and efficient check in with impeccably English speaking front desk staff all very formal but polite and welcoming. As for architecture the huge richly and tastefully decorated lobby hammers home the luxury theme. A well-staffed concierge desk was invaluable.

ritzlisboa.jpgMy deluxe double room is 45 square metres, the largest available in the city of Lisbon in that room category. The spaciousness of the room is particularly noticeable when you have been previously staying at many a Portuguese 4 star hotel where you get that cramped in feeling after a day or two. The room colour scheme is a very relaxing beige, blue, cream and white. There is both a couch and table with a writing desk. Huge windows overlook Parc Eduardo VII. There is also a balcony with a chairs and a table. The bathroom is large enough to let two people go ahead and perform their ablutions withoutbumping into each other. The two sinks are a nice touch as is the very modern glass enclosed shower stall. There is nothing at all amiss with the accommodations as they are undoubtedly 5 star. One small indication of a true 5 star hotel is turn down servicewhich not only includes the turndown but a change of towels, toiletries and emptying of the garbage cans. The little welcome mat at bedside deposited during turn down service is evidence that The Four Seasons has adapted well to local Portuguese customs. There always seems to be a treat waiting for you upon returning from an afternoon venture. Whether it be a bottle of port and custard tarts, tea service or fresh fruit it is all very welcoming. Large hallways enhance the feeling of spaciousness.

The Varanda Restaurant also leaves no doubt the 5 star attributesof The Four Seasons by its exquisitely prepared and servedfoods and wines served by knowledgeable and entirely discrete wait staff. The service is very Euro Old World with a sense of respect for the diner and a sincere desire to please. The formality is evident in the rather formal serving style and addressing youby your surname. This is in contrast to North America where some cheerful person walks up to you with a big smile pretending that he has known you for your entire life. The dining room is elegant with impeccable service although the ceiling grates do look a bit tired and incongruous in such a wonderfully decorated dining room. The menu is not extensive but will meet your needs with a degustation menu starting at 72€. Add on 20€for two flights of wine or 4 flights for an additional 38.50€. The menu is organized into First Courses (4), Chef’s Suggestions (2), From the Sea (7) and From the Farm (4). While not Portuguese in nature and soul the menu does have a few regional Portuguese choices. Their breakfast buffet impresses especially as it serves loose leaf tea with a silver strainer and after every dish is removed new cutlery is set down. No small detail is overlooked. I suppose this is true 5 star restaurant service. At breakfast a special fresh juice of the day is also served and despite the fact this is a buffet, eggs may be ordered freshly prepared to your preference.

The lobby bar “Bar do Ritz” has a lovely terrace overlooking Parc Eduardo VII with a limited menu and featuring 23 ports, 8 fortified wines, 5 whites and 6 reds all of which are Portuguese.There are 14 white sparklers one of which is Portuguese. TheVaranda Restaurant wine list features 3 Portuguese sparklers, 20 champagnes, 40 whites, 3 rosés and 93 reds all the still whites, rosés and reds being 100% Portuguese except for a few token non Portuguese wines. Hopefully you will encounter Ricardo Felgueiras the bar manager who is a sommelier and full of enthusiasm for Portuguese wine. It’s Ricardo’s view, and I share this view, that Portugal offers everything a wine drinker can ask for ranging from light and tight whites and reds to more full powered versions. There is a plenitude of sparklers in Portugal. I have just read Issue #50 of Paixãopelo Vinho a leading Portuguese wine magazine and over 50 Portuguese sparkling wines were reviewed.

While there is a sprinkling of non Portuguese still wines on the menu they are there for comfort purposes and Ricardo advised me very few bottles are actually sold. Ricardo often hears requests from guests wanting recognizable grape varieties and he will often suggest they try a Portuguese wine blended with that international variety to give them an initial comfort level with Portuguese wine or have them try a similar Portuguese wine. Just about all guests are eager to drink Portuguese wines but the non-Portuguese are a bit shy and look to Ricardo and the wine servers for help. The wine knowledge and skill of waiters at the Varanda Restaurant and at Bar do Ritz is indeed impressive. While Portuguese guests at the hotel have a good knowledge of Portuguese wines it’s a different story with the non-Portuguese crowd. Guests from outside Portugal appear to have a decent knowledge about port and have at least heard about red wines from the Douro so all is not quite lost! Ricardo is a Portuguese wine ambassador but a gentle one with his guests. Ricardo is eager to convey that Portugal is a small country with a rich wine culture and a varied product base fullwith high quality wines. Ask him to pour you a glass of Carcavelos and see his eyes light up as he explains this fascinating port style wine. I suppose Ricardo is but an example of the passion all the staff have at the Four Seasons.



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