Palacio Belmonte: The Most Veiled Secret In Lisbon

07/19/2012 08:35 am ET | Updated Sep 18, 2012

I love how things work out and how coincidences can sometimes run my life and get me into interesting situations. A random turn can lead into a completely new experience, as it happened to me in Lisbon. As a travel photographer who is visiting places outside my New York radius, these coincidences are what sometimes make it all so rewarding and part of the nature of the business.

I was in Lisbon for 48 hours on June and my only agenda was to discover the city as much as possible. A random turn in the streets of Alfama led me into a coffee place, in a hunt for a Wi-Fi connection and a bathroom. At the coffee place I saw a man sitting in front of a computer on a wooden table with piles of books in front of him

This man is Fredric Coustols. In addition to being an avid book reader (he reads a book a day) he is also a creative artist, a landscape collector and the owner of Palacio Belmonte, an enchanted palace transformed into a luxurious hotel of 10 designed suites.

Fredric was kind enough and gave me a free access to some of the rooms and opportunity to take as many pictures as I liked. So I did!

The History of Palacio Belmonte
Some might see Palacio Belmonte as one of the most veiled secrets in Lisbon, and the history of the place is the story of Portugal itself. The Palace was the residence of the Marques d'Atalia, Alvares Cabral and the Earls of Belmonte for over 500 years. It was built in 1449, atop ancient Roman and Moorish walls. It is the oldest building of its kind in the city.

In 1503, one of Portugal's most famous adventurers, Pedro Alvares Cabral, who owned the palace, added more space to the existing house so he could host some well known historic figures, including Vasco de Gama, who was welcomed in the palace right after he got back from his triumphant voyage to India.

In 1640, the building was expanded to include stunning terraces overlooking the ocean, and between 1720-1730, two great masters of Portuguese tiles were commissioned by the Belmonte family to create a unique collection of 59 panels with more than 3,000 (!) tiles that portray the daily life of the Portuguese royal court. The tremendous earthquake of 1775 that destroyed most of the Lisbon's major constructions, didn't hit the palace.

In 1994 Fredric Coustols bought Palacio Belmonte and started a six-year restoration project to convert this beautiful space into 10 luxurious suites, each different from the others. The suites preserve the history and the beauty of the place and at the same time are equipped with modern comforts and conveniences to better accommodate the lifestyle of the sophisticated traveler.

You have to meet Fredric and his wife Maria in person in order to understand the uniqueness of the place, its style and, most importantly, the inviting atmosphere. They are both down to earth, creative, friendly and warm people. Their personality and creativity blends well with everything in the space. While Fredric's books are in every corner in the palace, Maria's paintings decorate some of the walls.

Interiors and Design
Each of the 10 exquisite suites is an original masterpiece with its own individual character, blending historic architectural features with contemporary design. Each suite is named for a Portuguese writer, artist, philosopher, adventurer or inventor. You can choose to lay your head, for example, in the Ricardo Reis, Alberto Caeiro or have breakfast in the Gil Vicente. To read more about interior, please visit the image gallery or read more in my Travel Blog.

Palacio Belmonte; The most veiled secrets in Lisbon