Europe and Middle East, Hotel Reviews, Lisbon, Newsletter, Portugal

Hotel Britania, Lisbon

03/02/2022 by .
Hotel Britania

Hotel Britania, gets Michael Edwards wondering. Should Casablanca, really have been set in Lisbon?

Should Casablanca, the classic war-time romance, really have been set in Lisbon? Would Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman have looked even more alluring sat at the bar in Lisbon’s Hotel do Império? Now restored, revived and renamed as the Hotel Britania.

Should Sam have tinkled, “As time goes by” on the ivories beneath the imperial frescoes and grandiose chandeliers of architect Cassiano Branco’s modernist creation?

Hotel Britania Entrance 1

Although the six-storey Hotel Britania is now a blissful hub of refined serenity, a worthy winner of Conde Nast Johansen’s 2021 award for service, the hotel proudly displays its heritage.

When Branco’s hotel opened in 1944 the entrance hall to each room, with its own candelabra, made a statement of style and space. They still do.

Way, way ahead of their time, these spacious en-suite rooms became the place to stay for diplomats, journalists, spies and traders. Lisbon was neutral in World War ll and these people had work to do. Whether it was legal, borderline or distinctly nefarious was their business.

Hotel Britania Superior Room

Those guests were attracted by well-equipped rooms featuring radio, telephone and typewriter. Televisions and air-conditioning remote controls have replaced the typewriters and radios but the generous proportions of the rooms remain.

Set on a quiet tree-lined side street, it was just a short stroll to the wide boulevard that is the grand Avenida de Liberdade. Today there is world-class shopping on a glitzy avenue that, even with COVID supply-side problems, would have been unthinkable during World War ll.

As those first guests sipped in the bar, dined in the restaurant, schemed and gossiped, it is not difficult to imagine Casablanca style plotlines developing in Lisbon.

Hotel Britania Bar 1

When, in the 1970s, associations with empire and imperialism became a burden, the Hotel do Império rebranded as the Hotel Britania. Although the name was changed and ownership ultimately transferred to Lisbon Heritage Hotels, the grandeur of the past has been restored. In fact, bettered.

Originally, Branco had plans for grandiose golden semi-circular handles on the arched double door entrance. It was only during the renovation of the 1980s that his vision was fully realised.

In the bar and reception, 1970s paint has been stripped away to reveal the frescoes celebrating Portugal’s one-time overseas territories. Carpets have been ripped-up in every room to restore the original burnished cork tiling that contrasts with the light cream of the 1944 colour scheme.

Throughout the boutique hotel’s 32 rooms and one suite, black and white photographs recall the good times: the sophisticated black-tie dinners, the cocktail dress soirées. The retro barbershop is now a micro-museum, displaying the hotel’s rich history.

Hotel Britania Living Room 2

When peace came, the hotel maintained its place at the heart of Lisbon’s intellectual life. In 1950, the hotel’s owner married the writer Natalia Correia.  She attracted the literati from Lisbon and beyond. Graham Greene and Henry Miller visited; Omar Shariff dropped by to play a few hands of bridge. As the years passed, Natalia Correia’s work became more political as she opposed Portugal’s dictatorship and the hotel became a rallying point for dissidents.

Nowadays, the restaurant has gone, though hotel staff are ready to recommend which of Lisbon’s restaurants are on the up and where guests are likely to find the very best pesticos. These are small plates but they are distinctly Portuguese so don’t offend by calling them tapas.

Consequently, Hotel Britania’s chef exclusively focuses on breakfast: headlining with sparkling wine and an ever-changing selection of the freshest of fruit. It is a constantly refreshed buffet that runs from 7.30 am, even on Sunday, through to noon.

historic neighborhoods

There has always been an arty streak to this hotel, whatever the name. Lisbon Heritage Hotels have arranged free entrance to four of Lisbon’s top museums. On showing their hotel key card guests can view the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, the Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea, the Museu Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and the Fundação Ricardo do Espírito Santo Silva.

Exploring Lisbon, there is a sense that it would have made for a more aesthetically pleasing film setting than Casablanca. The police roving through the labyrinthine lanes of Alfama as they round up the usual suspects. Ilsa in tears as fado lyrics express the pain of a woman torn between two men. And finally, Ilsa and Laszlo’s ferry disappearing into a River Tagus mist.

Can we have a remake, please?

Tell Me More About Hotel Britania in Lisbon

Hotel Britania, Rua Rodrigues Sampaio, 17

1150-278, Lisboa, Portugal

T:  +351 213 155 016 E:

Rooms at Hotel Britania begin from €115 for bed and breakfast. A night in the suite, with breakfast,  starts from €511.



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