Tried & Tested

Hotel check: Inspira Santa Marta

20 Aug 2013 by Jenny Southan

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

A modest, four-star boutique property in a converted factory building on the scruffy side street of Rua de Santa Marta, the Inspira prides itself on embodying sustainability and the principles of feng shui. With regard to the former, it was hard to judge how much it was actually doing to be “green”, though there were energy-efficient LED light bulbs in the rooms, wall-mounted bottles of shower gel and recycling bins in the rooms. They also filter their own tap water, which is placed in reuseable bottles in the bedrooms, and sold for €2.50 in the on-site restaurant. (I was told the money goes to helping dig wells for people in Africa.)

Its website reads (rather vaguely) that “Inspira is invested in new ways to eliminate or reduce discharges of hazardous materials and waste and is expected to reduce consumption in all its areas of operation, constantly reviewing and continuously improving environmental impacts, complemented with the development of certification procedures by third parties”.

The hotel opened in October 2010, and during the design process employed a feng shui “expert” to oversee the layout of the interiors and create “good energy”. I have to say, from the beginning to the end of my stay I got quite the opposite sense. The lobby was badly lit with flat, security-style lighting, had outdated beige and green sixties-style couches near the door, and a stale smell of boiled cabbage and cigarettes in the air. Everything felt soulless.

The corridors to the spa were narrow, the gym pokey and illuminated with ugly strip lights, and my room dark and dispiriting – there was a strange wooden stage area at the far end with a set of movable steps leading up to it, a couple of pieces of dusty furniture and a small window above it in an attic-style sloped ceiling. The floor was covered with an uninviting woven plastic material and the concrete floor of the walk-in shower had slippery planks of laminated wood on it that had come loose and pinched your feet when you stepped on them. (When I complained, I was told that they had received comments from other people about this too, but apparently hadn’t got around to doing anything about it.) I had to lay towels down on them just to avoid hurting myself.

None of it fitted the description advertised: “More than a place to sleep, the rooms and suites have been designed to fulfil a primary function ­– to contribute to your rest and well-being. Light, colour, sound, shapes, movement and materials have been carefully designed to work together, stimulate your senses and provoke positive feelings. The organisation and decoration of the rooms respect the principles of feng shui, creating space more comfortable and balanced, avoiding stagnation of energy flows.” The bed was also hard, the duvet too thin (I was cold during the night) and the street noisy so I didn’t sleep very well.

When I was checking out, I overheard two women in front of me complaining to the receptionist that it wasn’t what they expected when they booked and would be leaving immediately to go to the Four Seasons. I couldn’t blame them.

WHERE IS IT?

On Rua de Santa Marta, just off the main street of Avenida da Liberdade and a ten-minute walk to Praca do Comercio, in the city centre. It is about 15 minutes’ drive to the airport.

ROOM FACILITIES

I think it was unfortunate that I was staying in the Deluxe room I had been assigned (216) as it was far from being the best example of the hotel’s offering – when I had a show-round I saw others that were much nicer. The signs in the corridors were also unhelpful – there was no indication of where my room or the gym was.

In terms of décor, there is a choice of five “moods” – Water, Fire, Metal, Wood and Earth (mine was the last, in a yellow ochre colourway). The flooring also varied – I liked the cork used in the Wood rooms.

Standard fixtures and fittings include power charging safes, desks, LG flatscreen TVs with media hubs, minibars with free beer and soft drinks, free wifi (ask for a voucher for each device – though don’t expect it to work properly), 24-hour room service, Nespresso machines, air conditioning, robes and slippers. Note that they bathrooms don’t have doors and are only separated from the bedrooms with a semi-opaque glass wall that gives very little privacy if you are sharing.

If you decide to stay at the hotel, go for one of the suites, which are far more stylish, filled with light, street-facing with Juliet balconies and attractively appointed with free-standing circular bathtubs.

RESTAURANTS AND BARS

There is a restaurant/bar with an open kitchen on the ground level, adjacent to reception, but it was empty when I was there most of the time and looked very bland and stark. I had breakfast there one morning and found an average selection of bread, pastries and fruit on offer. Lunch and dinner is also served, with a menu of Mediterranean cuisine.

BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES

There are three meeting venues – one smart auditorium for 45 people, and two conference rooms for 110 delegates in total. Wifi is free and events are made “environmentally friendly” by making paper and pencils available only on request, using low-energy light bulbs and digital flip charts. There is also an “E-Space” business area with computers and printers.

LEISURE FACILITIES

There is a spa on level one with six treatment rooms (open 10am-8pm). It uses organic products but there is no natural daylight. There is also a games room with a pool table, and a small fitness room with four machines. This was not staffed and I had problems getting the equipment to work – the cross trainer was completely broken and the TV on the wall was fuzzy. It was also dirty and, again, there was no natural light.

VERDICT

I didn’t have a very good experience of staying here, and left feeling very unimpressed. At the very least, the shower was a safety hazard. However, you might have a more enjoyable stay in one of the suites. I certainly wasn’t convinced by its feng shui design concept and was doubtful of how sustainable it was too. Probably best avoided.

FACT FILE

  • HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 89 rooms including 72 Superior, ten Deluxe, one Loft suite, four Inspira and two Spa suites.
  • HIGHLIGHTS Nespresso machines, free beer and soft drinks from minibar, and the Spa suites (though I didn’t stay in either of these).
  • PRICE Internet rates for a midweek stay in September ranged between €119 and €154 for a Superior room.
  • CONTACT Inspira Santa Marta, Rua de Santa Marta 48, Lisbon; tel +351 210 440 900; inspirahotels.com

Jenny Southan

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