On the day Vista Alegre decided to open its first hotel, half a dozen meters next to the factory where about 65,000 pieces come out a day, it was clear: it would not be necessary to buy paintings because on the walls would be the dishes.
Since November 2015, those who check in at Montebelo Vista Alegre, in Ílhavo, find figures brushed by the artists of the painting section of the factory on platters and dishes hanging everywhere, either next to the elevators or bedside tables – even in the changing rooms there are dishes serving as decoration.
“Those who come 72 times can sleep in 72 different rooms, because they all have different elements,” says António Machado Matos, the hotel’s director. In addition to this number and the three floors of the modern and bright building signed by architects Tiago Araújo and Paula Fonseca Nunes, there are ten more rooms inside the Vista Alegre Palace, which once served as the residence of the founder of the factory and which was fully recovered for this purpose, with an internal connection to the main hotel, made on a spiral staircase, which is the true bridge between the old and the modern.
Shaking off the dust on the porcelains, the founder and original owner of the palace was José Ferreira Pinto Basto, landowner and merchant who traded Lisbon for Ílhavo when he realized the potential of the region in terms of raw materials and transport, with the Boco River that is currently seen from almost every room – and which is one of the arms of the famous Aveiro ria – serving as a road. The ruins discovered during the excavations to build the hotel – and left in sight, next to the Bar Real Fábrica – are not fooled: the Quinta Vista-Alegre da Ermida, so called because of a chapel but also the fountain whose water would leave with the cheerful view who drank it, was rich in clay and also in kaolin, the ore that “allows porcelain to bake at high temperatures”, explains Filipa Fourteen, responsible for visits to the “large factory of crockery, porcelain, glassware and chímicos processes” that Pinto Basto founded in 1824.
Although the factory is fenced for the average visitor, this does not mean that it is not possible to live the industrial and historical environment of Vista Alegre when booking a night at the five-star hotel – quite the contrary. In addition to the dishes on the walls, each floor of the development has been decorated with the various stages of porcelain, from molds to painting, and what is exposed can also be ordered, as if the hotel were a kind of gallery. Just by hand, a few meters away and in the same spacious courtyard, there are also two stores of the brand: a premium, with several special editions for sale, and an outlet with some parts with small defects at reduced prices (there is still a store of Bordallo Pinheiro a few steps, brand also owned by the Visabeira group).
Alongside the palace, the entire neighboring factory space of the hotel was inserted in the recovery project, from the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Penha de França – a national monument dating from 1693 – to the working-class neighborhood that, from an early age, included a medical station, theater, school, barbershop, football team (sporting club Vista Alegre), private fire department and a daycare center that currently serves as the address of workshops where factory workers teach
getting the hands on the porcelain.
The largest storefront of all, in May 2016 the Vista Alegre Museum was inaugurated to tell the almost two-hundred-year history of the brand. As soon as you check in at the hotel, each guest receives an entrance voucher and can even try to book a guided tour (from €4.90 per person). Developed in partnership with the National Museum of Ancient Art and built from the old ovens of the factory – two giants in dumb brick that in the nineteenth century took seven days to heat and in whose deactivated chimneys the storks now nest – “the museum tells the history of the brand through objects, documents, photographs, technical and artistic drawings”, as the director, Filipa Fourteen, sums up. From the very beginning it is a fun to look for the defects of the first pieces where one tried to discover the formula of porcelain, in the middle one learns more about the manufacturing community and the social life of the workers, and to the end it is impossible not to open your mouth of astonishment, either before the dishes made for Ronald Reagan and Princes Grace and Rainier of Monaco, or before the coffee service designed by Siza Vieira, and of which there are only 150 copies. On weekdays there is also a bonus: a glazed wall that allows you to peek into the factory and watch the painters working in the limited editions.
Back at the hotel, there is a spa at guests’ disposal, an outdoor and indoor swimming pool, a sauna, jacuzzi and a Turkish bath. And the dishes are not only on the walls – they are also on the tables. The menu of the restaurant Vista Alegre serves traditional Portuguese cuisine with author presentation, some international dishes and the mandatory Portuguese cod, or was not Ílhavo considered the capital of this fish. More or less reinvented, all dishes are served, as it could not be otherwise, in a table service… Vista Alegre