Pessoa once said, “Afterall, the best way to travel is to feel”. And, that’s true. Whether it’s through an unexpected fight or a piece of music, or a laugh, an intense debate, a salty air, an awkward situation or an inspiration conversation, the journey only makes sense because of the sensibilities and emotions evoked through those moments, not just the images. After all, there’s nothing to elate about for the sand dunes in Mojave desert if my feet hadn’t felt burnt wearing only the flip-flops, despite someone’s warning; there’s nothing particular worth recalling about the Toucinho do Ceu if it wasn’t about the mysterious smiles exchanging between my friend from Caiscais and the waitor while he was serving us; there’s nothing much really to savor from the 29 steps of modern Peruvian “Viru” tasting menu from Astrid y Gaston if I hadn’t gone through an epic journey in Peru with friends, going up and down in Machu Picchu, listening to a personal story from the owner of the tree house, riding the hand-made reed boat around the lake Titicaca in Puno; Or, Wong Kar Wai’s movie “In the Mood for Love” would definitely not be that comprehensible, if there’s no personal reference to be resonated with. Travelling is an intimate experience and memories are the nutrition to our well-being.
And, 2 weeks ago, I was flying with PGA’s Brazilian Embraer 145 flight from the ever passionate Madrid to the ever cultural Porto, in a radiant day, just over the Valentine’s. Porto is a living museum itself and has been a long-standing important trading and mercantile city with an outward attitude towards the Atlantic and the rest of the world. Being once a cultural capital of Europe with history dated back to the 4th century and the first Iberian city to host the international exhibition and world fair in 1865, I was instinctively looking for the intimacy with this city starting from the home-as it is where the heart is. To be honest, I am quite particular about the home that’s away from home. When I looked up on the internet, there seemed to be a lot of options about staying in a historical hotel with a nice view but then, apart from the impressive age of the house, there’s nothing really authentic to tell about these hotels, not until I come across this specific one which is located in Rua de Miguel Bombarda-the centre of the art district where the contemporary art galleries, antiques, independent shops and stylish cafes are, and a short walk to the waterside Ribeira area and the vibrant Galeria de Paris where the bars and nightlife concentrated. This place is a guesthouse named Mercador, meaning Merchant in English. When I first saw the photos of its rooms’ decors and the imperfectly perfect guesthouse front, I immediately said to myself that this was exactly the place I’d like to stay while I was in Porto. You can tell that it’s a real residence-a house entails a lot of living memories and rich history. All the cities and places they name for the rooms are related to the past glory propelled by the discovery spirit of the Portuguese-I thought this could be very Portugal. So, I decided to spend the nights at this place.
In fact, when I reached the street on the day I landed in Porto, it took me a while to spot this guest house as its facade just dissolves completely into the background and in harmony with the rest of the street and the area around. But, surprisingly, after entering into the guesthouse, it’s a complete different experience. This historical house has been restored and there’s a dining place on my right as I walked in, and from there, I could see there’s a garden on the outside. All the guest rooms are upstairs and the decor of each room is linked to a special city that has connection with Portugal’s history back then. By looking at each room, whether it’s the colour combination of the wall and the furnishings, the paintings, the art or the bed linen, they all come under a very thoughtful design and match the tonality of what that city represents, while keeping the originality and form of the room such as the fireplace and the exposure of the tiles. This time, I was staying at the Porto Santo room-a room of pastel blue –and that’s certainly very much for me, as I come from an archipelagos country from Northern Europe. In fact, being in that atmosphere, I felt like I was chilling out by the lake and enjoying a quiet summer in one of the cottage houses in the Nordic archipelago, just reading-as what I would do when I was a child-only this time, I did it in the reading room which is an extension from my bedroom.
Later, the owners of the guesthouse had explained to me about the story of their project and I realised that this guest house was a typical 19th century single Bourgeoisie family residential building. And for a typical one, they had the ground floor for business or commercial use and first floor was a living room for social gatherings. Upper floors were bedrooms and servants rooms. The streets of Miguel Bombarda and Cedofeita were the main residential district for the Bourgeoisie in the old days. No wonder there’s still a strong scent of residential atmosphere even for now. As the owners of this guesthouse are experts on conservation and heritage restoration where they work in the main fields of national heritage such as stucco, plasterwork, carved wood, mural painting and tiles, to restore a heritage house like this and transform it into a guesthouse, I believe, it must be effortless to them. The whole project took them about 2 years to be ready to launch and this May, they would celebrate their 1st anniversary.
Mercador Guesthouse Porto
Mercador Guesthouse Porto
I asked the owners why they desired to theme each room with a connected city and the reason, when I thought about it, was actually very natural: it's the worldliness of the Portuguese that they would like to and have restored, reviving this unique quality of being a Portuguese. At the turn of the 16th century, Portuguese was a pioneer discovering the world continents from South America to Africa; from West Asia to East and S. East Asia. They were once the world’s citizen but that feeling about being part of the world was missing for a long time. So, the guesthouse was a project to restore those memories, curating from a Porto Merchant’s point of view and experience –as if he had brought back home a lot of treasures and exotic arts and crafts from abroad.
You know, there’s a magical feeling as I explored this place: I find a strong familiarity and connection through the decors and the details with this place: a trace of travelling memories in Bahia and a scene of the dancing street during carnival suddenly came up on my mind; An afternoon tea at someone’s home in Macau seemed not that far away; a stroll around the botanical garden in Rio instantly turned into a routine; the soundtrack of the movie “A Costa dos Murmurios” was all around.
Mercador Guesthouse Porto
But, a home without people is not a home. All the hosts and staff of this place are very warm-hearted and thoughtful, and I was very impressed-I still remembered the interaction and discussion about the archi-tour arrangement. They are definitely not the kind of “relationship manager” that some kind of conceptual hotels usually create, from which a lot of the time, those managers say a lot of things about nothing and boils down to just being very personally impersonal.
Now, if you ask me what kind of intimacy experience I had with my journey in Porto, I’d just say it is love at first sight wafting up a sense of Saudade.
Mercador Guesthouse Porto: