Finding the secret cellar at Porto’s hotel for wine lovers

Striking design and understated luxury make The Largo one of Europe's hottest new hotels. With a bar showcasing some of the best small Portuguese winemakers and a restaurant led by Nuno Mendes, it's an exceptional destination for the discerning gourmand

Words by Nina Caplan

The Largo lead
The Largo is billed as an '18-room residence', intended for those who want to feel that they are 'in a home, not a hotel'

The Largo is on a hill – but then, everything in Porto is on a hill. That’s why the views are so spectacular. Swimming in the hotel’s tiny rooftop pool, I could see the towers of the city’s cathedral in one direction and the names jutting from the roofs of the port cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia just across the Douro – branding for a more innocent age: Dow’s, Warre’s, Kopke… but the river that made them famous was invisible, far below.

I have always been partial to wines from granite soils: Château Moulin à Vent’s Le Grand Savarin, say, a Beaujolais Gamay with fruit clear as a bell or the aromatic, shiveringly elegant Pinot Noir that Ray Nadeson of Lethbridge Wines makes from his Hillside Haven vineyard on Australia’s Bellarine Peninsula. But I hadn’t been expecting to find any in northern Portugal. The steep, spectacularly lovely slopes of the Douro Valley, through which I floated during a blissful week on a Tauck river cruise, are schist. But once I docked in Porto, I checked into The Largo, which turns out to be as rooted in granite as any fine vineyard.

The Largo hotel exterior
The Largo makes its home in five historic buildings on São Domingo's square in Porto's old town (Photo: Luis Moreira)

The hotel consists of five townhouses in the old town transformed, with astonishing artistry, by Portuguese architect Frederico Valsassina into an 18-room hotel. I’d checked in at a table in a large, calm room with a small courtyard beyond – there is nothing so stuffy as a reception here. The space was cool (it was once a merchant’s warehouse) and the decoration startling: across a jutting hunk of uneven rock, projections of the city flow, the images illegible – colour and light, like sunshine on a river – so they don’t detract from the magnificent chunk of stone behind them, part of the Vitória cliff that underlies the city. It is pure granite.

Townhouse suite terrace
The Largo's Townhouse suite has a private terrace with views across Porto (Photo: Luis Moreira)

So is the gracious staircase that curls up to the rooms, as well as the lintels and skirting boards in our lovely suite, with its wine fridge stocked with bottles from small, interesting Portuguese producers. But the best use of my favourite rock may be the wall in that small courtyard, with its concealed door that magically opens to reveal a tunnel that doubles as a wine cellar.

Here, head sommelier Gabriel Monteiro keeps some of his best bottles – all fellow countrymen and women, because he is so committed to small Portuguese producers that he is one himself. In his spare time, with one of his sommelier team, Ivo Granja, he makes a mere 3,000 bottles on about nine hectares. They have plenty of ambition but it isn’t to get big.

The Largo wine cellar door
The concealed door in The Largo's small courtyard is of great interest to a wine lover, leading as it does to the hotel's cellar (Photo: Luis Moreira)

Gabriel gave me a multi-location wine tasting because when guests check in at The Largo, they are asked what interests them and the team do their best to provide it. Service this seamless is surely the truest definition of luxury. My flight leaves in the evening? Of course, I can keep my room for the day. I want to meet a local producer? Here comes Mateus Nicolau de Almeida, a sixth-generation winemaker who owns the smallest cellar in Vila Nova di Gaia and makes a range of fantastic experimental dry wines farther up the Douro Valley, in addition to the ports that are his birthright (the family once owned Ramos Pinto). Eremitas Amon de Kelia 2020, from a local white grape called Rabigato, was particularly memorable. Portugal has so many native varieties, and such enthusiasm for them, that in ten days in the country and as many new wines as my liver would allow I barely tried anything that wasn’t indigenous.


When guests check in at The Largo, they are asked what interests them and the team do their best to provide it

Gabriel’s tasting was literally and oenologically in multiple locations. On the terrace beside that little pool, he opened two sparkling wines and explained how the 2021 Hibernus, a rich yet saline traditional-method sparkling with perfumes of elderflower, is made from three local varieties grown in Bairrada, one of the most interesting regions for fizz, and the other, Pequenos Rebentos, is a Pet Nat from Ponte Lima, north-east of Porto. It was leesy and textured, a civilized and moreish incarnation of a style I don’t always love.

The Largo pool
The Largo's small pool has a terrace behind it where guests can sample wines made by small Portuguese producers (Photo: Luis Moreira)

We descended six floors to that tunnel to taste a pair of Douro reds – dry ones, with moderate alcohol: one, Correr O Cao 2019, was just 12.5% and fresh, thanks to the higher-altitude vineyards of the Douro Superior near Spain. Then it was back out to the courtyard for two whites – one an elegant Encruzado (another local variety) that I particularly loved for its aromatic acidity and touch of salinity, made in Dão, from one of the highest vineyards in Portugal. And yes, said Gabriel, those soils are granite.

He served it with jamon ibérico as good as anything I’ve had from Spain, made by a woman who gave up Lisbon life to be a farmer of premium pigs in Alentejo. It was meltingly, swooningly delicious – and even I, granite-freak that I am, had to acknowledge that the Caracol dos Profetas, a dry white from the sandy volcanic soils of Madeira, was the better match.

Nuno and sommelier The Largo
Nuno Mendes (centre) sits with head sommelier Gabriel Monteiro (right) and a selection of the wines sold in The Largo's adjoining restaurant, Cozinha das Flores (Photo: Luis Moreira)

Still, I had to restrain myself, given that I was dining that night in the hotel’s restaurant, Cozinha das Flores, overseen by Nuno Mendes, the Lisbon-born chef who made his name in London with Viajante, Chiltern Firehouse and now Lisboeta. The kitchen is open, its wood fire framed in beautiful black-and-white marble (trimmed, of course, with a little granite). Above the flames, ingredients rise from charring to grilling to smoking. Between that spectacle and the diners, on more monochrome marble, chefs played with copper pans like pianists with their ivories. A luscious prawn cake was paired with Márcio Lopes’s single-vineyard Rabigato that confirmed my newfound love of this variety; it coped marvellously with the cake’s intense fishiness, slight sweetness and lemon zest. Squid in the shape of flat noodles were draped elegantly atop a rich dark chickpea and cod tripe stew. The story is that 600 years ago, the people of Porto donated so many fine cuts of meat to their departing army that they were left with nothing but tripe; they are still known as tripeiros or tripe eaters. There aren’t many tripeiros in England, these days, but I am one.

pastel de nata
Savoury pastel de nata at Cozinha das Flores are made with turnip and topped with caviar (Photo: Luis Moreira)

John Dory with white asparagus; Alentejo pork shoulder by our friend the Lisbon pig farmer, all ideally accompanied by Gabriel’s pairings. The bread was homemade, the perfume from that fire more intoxicating than the wine or the cocktails made with crazy ingredients (codfish, goat’s cheese) in the hotel’s bar, called Flôr, next door.

The Largo is an exceptional hotel, particularly for wine-lovers, maybe especially for those wine-lovers bent on proving that everything good in life springs from granite.

The Largo, Largo de São Domingos, 60, Porto, Portugal, thelargo.com