This is our review of Penha Longa, a Ritz Carlton resort in Sintra, Portugal.
It is part of our ‘HfP in Portugal’ series in partnership with Marriott Bonvoy, who very kindly provided the stay. HfP paid for its own flights and all other expenses.
You can see our review of the Gatwick ExpressTest PCR testing facilities here and review of the Moxy Lisbon City here. A review of Pine Cliffs will follow in a few days.
You can find out more about Penha Longa on its website here.
After the hustle and bustle of Lisbon and the funky-but-budget Moxy Lisbon City we thought we would take things a little further upmarket. The Penha Longa Ritz Carlton is nestled in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, a stone’s throw away from Sintra and a slightly further toss from Lisbon.
Penha Longa is low key about its Ritz Carlton branding due to rights issues with the Ritz name (an issue in a few European countries, including the UK) so it can sometimes fly under the radar as a Bonvoy hotel.
As previously mentioned, Penha Longa sits in the verdant hills of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park – a sort of ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ preservation recognition.
The hotel itself is built on the grounds of a 14th Century Monastery and takes its names from the large rocks in the grounds:
The area has something of a microclimate and is wonderfully green and lush, which is why Penha Longa is also home to a 27-hole Championship golf course. (I know nothing about golf so that’s all I have to say on the matter ….)
It is also quite blustery, with strong winds. This wouldn’t be an issue in the height of summer but can be a bit of a shock if you are coming from Lisbon, where the temperatures are usually several degrees higher. Still, you can still lay quite comfortably by the pool over an afternoon in May.
The easiest way to get from Lisbon or the airport is with a quick and cheap Uber – the 30 minute trip is normally less than 30 euros. However, unless you plan on staying on the resort it’s probably best to take a car which lets you drive into the nearby towns of Sintra and Cascais where castles, coastlines and cod await.
Penha Longa, a Ritz Carlton Resort
The hotel itself is home to 200-odd rooms. It doesn’t feel that large, though. The building itself never looks imposing, and is partly terraced into the hillside. Looking from the outside you wouldn’t expect it to be as big as it is.
This also means that it feels quite homely. I never felt lost in the hotel and all the public amenities are situated close together.
After staying at the Moxy Lisbon City for two nights the Ritz Carlton is refreshingly luxurious. On check-in we were greeted with two glasses of was probably Portuguese sparkling wine and told to take a seat whilst othe paperwork was taken care of:
When it was all sorted we were escorted to our room, a twin resort view Junior Suite.
The rooms at Penha Longa
The rooms at Penha Longa are generously sized. Ours was 60sqm with twin beds. I think these must be small doubles because they’re bigger than what I remember a twin bed being!
For a hotel of this calibre, the rooms are a little plain and there are a lot of beige walls. It is around 15 years since the last full refurbishment of the rooms and I have been told that the hotel is planning to do so again in the next few years, which should bring them up to spec.
Nonetheless, I liked the space. The solid wood cabinetry and marble bathroom have aged well and the room is well laid out, with a sofa and desk on a lower mezzanine:
Here is the view from the lower level back towards the beds:
A welcome amenity with pasteis was waiting:
You also get a large balcony, with ours one overlooking the main pool:
You enter the bathroom through a mini-portal that features a wardrobe with ironing board, shoe polish etc on one side and a luggage rack, cupboard and safe on the other.
In the bathroom, you have a separate shower and bathtub:
…. as well as two sinks (the main shower is in the back corner here):
Under which are some scales. the toilet is at the end, with a bidet next to it.
Amenities are provided by Asprey and are in mini bottles which is a rare sight these days. You also get the usual dental kit/shower cap/vanity kit/etc that you can expect from a luxury hotel.
Leisure facilities at Penha Longa
There are two pools at the hotel, both adjacent to each other. There is the larger family pool next to the pool restaurant:
…. as well as an adults-only infinity pool:
Are two pools enough for the hotel? I’m not sure – whilst they look empty here, on the sunnier day the majority of the deck chairs were occupied around the family pool whilst the hotel was still operating at a fairly low capacity.
Both pools back onto changing rooms, each with sauna, steam room and plunge pool:
The changing rooms are very classily done:
There’s also a surprisingly large gym:
…. and a kids soft-play area. This means that the leisure facilities are all very close to each other. There’s also a larger outdoor playground within the resort grounds:
Penha Longa also has extensive spa facilities, as you would expect. The spa is located in the monastery complex:
…. and features a number of treatment rooms. In addition, the spa also includes an outdoor pool and relaxation area as well as steam room, sauna and other spa-y bits. These were not open during my stay due to low occupancy so I can’t show any photos, but here’s the spa reception:
I opted (and paid!) for the Penha Longa Signature massage and was spoiled to 80 minutes that were so relaxing I’m pretty sure I fell asleep at one point. I had a lovely masseuse whose name I have unfortunately forgotten but who was impressive.
Dining at Penha Longa
Apart from the poolside cafe and lobby bar the other restaurants are all on the first floor.
One of Penha Longa’s key selling points is that it has three Michelin starred restaurants. You won’t find many other resorts across Europe with such a diverse choice of dining options. Here is the full list of restaurants:
- Lab by Sergi Arola (Michelin star)
- Midori (Japanese, Michelin star)
- Eneka Lisboa (Michelin star)
- Mercatto (Italian)
- Spices (pan-Asian)
- Arola (‘modern’)
- B Lounge (lobby bar)
- Aqua (pool restaurant/bar)
Unfortunately most of these were still closed when I went: the hotel was going from 0 – 60 in record time as it geared up for the first bank holiday weekend with the green list in place (before they changed it again…). I was able to try both Mercatto, the Italian restaurant and Spices, a pan-asian restaurant.
I was seriously impressed by Mercatto, which had an inventive menu and fantastic service (shout out to Filippa who was exceptional). The restaurant encourages you to order several small plates, which we did and thoroughly enjoyed.
Bread and homemade butters are bought out straight away, as is the Portuguese tradition:
To start, we had the veal carpaccio, duck ravioli and truffled caccio peppe spaghetti:
We then moved on to the Octopus:
…. plus the piglet porchetta:
For dessert, we had the Ferrero Rocher and ‘The Lemon’ coupled with a very light and refreshing negroni that the restaurant is testing out!
As you can imagine, we were pretty stuffed after all that!
We asked Filippa to pair our choices with wine and she picked the house red from a vineyard called Messias in the Duouro region. It was the best wine I have ever had for €7 a glass, and I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid paying at double the price. We ended up trying the entire Messias range which includes a white and Portuguese sparkling wine – I highly recommend it.
Spices, on the other hand, was the polar opposite. It is the newest restaurant at the hotel and feels like it is having a bit of an identity crisis by offering Japanese, Thai, Chinese and Indian cuisine. The menu itself lumps all the dishes together with no clear separation by locale, so it is quite hard to scan without reading every single line.
The service itself felt quite impersonal and rushed, in complete contrast to Mercatto. This may be a temporary issue – I understand the hotel is desperately recruiting as it ramps up from just a handful of guests to a fairly busy summer season (at least, when Portugal was still on the green list..) It is possible that staff are simply not getting enough training and that this will improve as time goes on.
Nonetheless, it’s nowhere near the level of service you would expect at a luxury hotel, even at a casual restaurant.
Breakfast is served in the Mercatto restaurant, which has lovely views:
Buffets are back! Depending on hotel occupancy the hotel is offering either a full buffet or a mini-buffet at your table with optional a la carte extras.
To comply with Covid regulations the buffet is facilitated by hotel staff, who will plate your food. The buffet features all the usual bits and bobs, including a wide variety of pastries, cheeses, cold meats, smoked salmon etc as well as a decent selection of hot full English style items. There’s also a fresh eggs station where you can get omelettes etc.
On days where the buffet is closed you get an impressive mini-buffet on your table instead, which is quite impressive:
The a la carte breakfast menu includes items such as eggs benedict, waffles, boiled eggs etc.
Penha Longa is a great option if you’re looking to take a break from Lisbon or just want to explore everything Sintra has to offer. Despite being just 30 minutes from central Lisbon it feels like a completely different world, a calming retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Whilst it needs a bit of TLC the rooms have aged quite well, although they are starting to look a little dated. With a full refurbishment slated for the next few years Penha Longa is a great option. Fingers crossed the current service issues are ironed out sooner rather than later.
Penha Longa is a Category 5 hotel, which means you’ll need between 30,000 and 40,000 Bonvoy points per night. Cash prices start at €308 for a weekday night in July. If you agree with our valuation of a Bonvoy point at 0.5p you are better of using points when the cash price is above €232 at the most – less if it’s an off-peak redemption.
HfP’s hotel booking partner, Emyr Thomas, can access special rates at the Penha Longa via the Marriott STARS programme which is exclusively offered to luxury travel agents.
If you book via Emyr and pay Best Flexible Rate, you will receive:
- Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
- Complimentary Breakfast for two daily for duration of the stay
- $100 USD equivalent Hotel credit
- Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
- Welcome amenity
Emyr can usually match any rate offered via the Marriott website and get you the above benefits added on. You can contact Emyr via our online form here.
How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points and status from UK credit cards (January 2023)
There are various ways of earning Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.
The official Marriott Bonvoy American Express card comes with 20,000 points for signing up, 2 points for every £1 you spend and 15 elite night credits per year.
You can apply here.
You can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points by converting American Express Membership Rewards points at the rate of 2:3.
Do you know that holders of The Platinum Card from American Express receive FREE Marriott Bonvoy Gold status for as long as they hold the card? It also comes with Hilton Honors Gold, Radisson Rewards Premium and MeliaRewards Gold status. We reviewed American Express Platinum in detail here and you can apply here.
You can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points indirectly:
- American Express Gold (20,000 bonus Amex points)
- American Express Rewards Credit Card (10,000 bonus Amex points)
and for small business owners:
- American Express Business Gold (20,000 bonus Amex points)
- American Express Business Platinum (40,000 bonus Amex points)
The conversion rate from American Express to Marriott Bonvoy points is 2:3.
(Want to earn more hotel points? Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Offers’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)