on March 6, 2013
One of the nicest things to happen to me in the last year was getting a team member based in Lisbon. Not only is Isabel an absolutely lovely person, but she gives me the perfect excuse to visit one of my favourite European cities on a fairly regular basis. Normally I stay at the VIP Executive Arts in the Expo district of the city but for my most recent visit the city hotels were booked up long in advance for a trade show and the Arts had inflated its normal price of around €65 to a massive €200. Since I don’t actually like the hotel all that much, I was more than happy when Isabel suggested I stay at the VIP Executive Santa Iria, about 10 km north of the city, just off the Estrada Nacional 10 in Santa Iria da Azoia.I think it’s quite unlikely that you’ll find yourself in Santa Iria just for fun. We have an office there and it’s just a few minutes walk from the hotel so the location was absolutely fine for me. If you were visiting Lisbon and didn’t want to be in the centre – or found yourself in the same situation as me with the centre all booked up or charging crazy prices – it’s worth being aware that you can be down town in about 20 minutes and it will cost around €15 to get to the city centre or to the airport.Isabel had told me that the hotel isn’t as nice as the one where I usually stay but I think she was being a little unfair. In the past year I’ve grown more and more infuriated by the rudeness of the staff at the VIP Executive Arts who seem to have developed an ability to act as if I am totally invisible. I was therefore really pleased that the receptionist in the Santa Iria not only seemed willing to recognise that there was a human being standing in front of him, but also happy to be friendly and welcoming. He was expecting me, recognised my name, cheerfully gave me my room key, told me where breakfast was and – don’t quote me on this – I don’t even think he asked for my credit card. The difference between the two hotels was shocking and can probably be put down to our company being quite a bit customer for the Santa Iria and an inconsequential minnow of no importance to the Arts.I think I’d imagined something a bit ‘budget’ before I arrived at the hotel so I was amazed by the enormous and very spacious reception area. Even with dozens of comfy chairs and brightly coloured rugs, there was still enough absolutely empty space to probably squeeze in half a dozen badminton courts.I took the lift up to my room and stepped out into a corridor with a brightly coloured stripy carpet. Finding my room, I opened the door with the security card, stepped inside and tried to switch the lights on by putting my card in the slot. Nothing happened. I tried again several times before realising that I was going to have to employ a crafty ‘slot and wiggle’ technique to get it to activate. Once the lights were finally on, I found a room remarkably similar to the rooms I’ve stayed in at the other VIP Executive hotel. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as I don’t dislike the style but I did get a sense of déjà vu.Maybe there’s a black mark against my name that means this chain always put me on the back of the hotel. I’d really fancied being on the front side so I could have had a view over the estuary of the Tejo river. However, things weren’t so bad and my view instead was over the swimming pools which were unlikely to be noisy since the temperature was unseasonably chilly even for February.Checking around the room I noticed the gingery wood laminated floors which are common to both the VIP Executive hotels that I’ve used. This seems to be quite a clever laminate as it’s rather ‘grippy’ which is good if you forget to switch off your alarm and have to run around the room straight out of the shower. I had two beds, each with sheets and a blanket and it was clear that I was supposed to use the one on which housekeeping had been practicing the art of bedspread origami. I mentioned already that it was cold and I found the sheet and blanket set up not really warm enough. Clearly they don’t do duvets because most of the year it’s very warm in Lisbon. On the second night when my bedspread had been removed completely and placed on the arm chair, I was actually a bit cold.I realised that I needed to go back to reception and get a code for the internet access and whilst I was really pleased to discover that the access was free, there was no wi-fi so this meant I had to use a cable and this was only long enough for me to work at the desk. There was a long narrow desk near to the window and a desk chair which was really too low for the height of the desk. This would have been a problem if it hadn’t been for the bigger problem that the internet was very poor. I soon gave up and read a book instead.The room had a cabinet with a fridge inside and an old style fat television on top. I didn’t use it as I’m easily irritated by 24 hour news channels so I can’t even confirm what was available. In the vestibule part of the room there was a bank of cupboards with lots of hangers and plenty of space. I was also pleased to find a bag stand. Aside from my obsession with bag stands, I do like a hotel room to have good lighting and good sized bedside tables and both of these were exactly what I got. The bathroom was decorated in rather basic style with all that you’d expect. There was a loo, a bidet, a bath with shower over and a good sized sink unit. The lighting was excellent and that was a pleasant surprise as I’m finding more and more hotels seem to like to light their bathrooms in ways that are rather atmospheric rather than functional. Keep the atmosphere for the restaurant and stick the scary high watt bulbs in the bathroom. The shower pressure was excellent and the temperature control was very good.The biggest let down about the hotel – and the thing that would make me think twice and probably take my own supplies – was the breakfast. I’m not one of those people who gets excited by hotel breakfasts or at least I thought I wasn’t until I discovered the most god-awful disappointing spread at the Santa Iria. I’m not fussy, honest, and my needs are quite simple but the food was really poor. The coffee was completely undrinkable, the juice was weak and unpleasant and the bread was a national disgrace. They peel the boiled eggs and leave them standing in warm water and that turned my stomach. I also wasn’t impressed by the ‘do it yourself scavenging’ approach. I turned up on the first day, couldn’t find a small table that didn’t already have old dishes on it, and so took a seat at a large round table and then had to go and find napkin, cutlery, salt and pepper, and everything else. I’m not a morning person – I need breakfast to be easy but if I stay here again, I will just skip it completely.The hotel has a lot of meeting rooms which I didn’t see during this visit but which our company uses a lot for big meetings. I heard that the meeting rooms are in an annexe by the swimming pools and I’m told that they are very good (although the catering leaves a bit to be desired).On the plus side my room was pleasant, the bed was comfortable, the bathroom ticked all the boxes but my greatest pleasure was finding friendly, pleasant reception staff. That might sound like a great big ‘so what’ but they restored my faith in this hotel chain after it had taken a heck of a battering. On the down side the breakfast was awful and I was cold though I can’t blame the hotel for the bad weather and I can’t rule out that there might have been more blankets available if I’d asked. I paid just €65 per night with breakfast and even with the €15 taxi fare to and from the airport I’d still say this was a bargain. I’d be happy to stay here again.
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