Inside Christian Louboutin’s Glamorous First Hotel in a Hidden Corner of Portugal

A First Look Inside Christian Louboutins Glamorous New Hotel Vermelho
Photo: Ambroise Tézenas

The Portuguese village of Melides still feels like a well-kept secret. Despite being just an hour and a half south of Lisbon, and 20 minutes from its buzzy neighbor Comporta, the sleepy hamlet appears as if frozen in time from the 19th century. At its center is a cobblestoned square, where a whitewashed church spire looms over tiny family-run restaurants with outdoor terraces and rows of terracotta-roofed cottages with wrought-iron balconies. On a warm spring day, it’s entirely deserted—as is the beach, a golden, windswept slice of the Alentejo coast, that’s only a 10-minute drive away. 

But change is afoot. Wind down the town’s meandering lanes, past orange trees and closed shop fronts, and you reach an imposing door carved out of dark wood. Behind it is a hive of activity, as the final touches are put on a property that is guaranteed to draw in a stylish new crowd and slowly transform this region into one of the hottest destinations in the country: Vermelho, the first hotel from the legendary shoemaker Christian Louboutin.

The designer, who’s owned homes in Lisbon and Comporta since the ’90s, stumbled upon Melides just over a decade ago. The story goes that he’d had an accident and was driving back from a local hospital when he noticed the picturesque town, bordered by lush forests and an expansive lagoon. He bought a fisherman’s house on its shores soon after and continues to return twice a year, both to work and unwind (his now-extended compound includes an atelier with panoramic views of the water). Louboutin’s hope, with Vermelho, is to share the raw natural beauty of his surroundings with visitors who might previously have bypassed this province in favor of Portugal’s largest cities or the Algarve—but he’s equally keen to preserve the tranquillity that brought him here in the first place. 

To that end, his newly built boutique lodgings contain just 13 rooms and its exterior is designed, with the help of Louboutin’s friend, the Portuguese architect Madalena Caiado, to blend seamlessly into the environment with its powdery blue and white walls, gently sloped roofs and delicately carved chimneys. Once you go through the doors, though, it becomes decidedly more eclectic: while there are a wealth of distinctively Portuguese details, from the coffered ceilings to the stunning azulejo mural that faces the reception, the interiors also pay tribute to Louboutin’s French and Egyptian heritage, as well as the extensive travels that have inspired his countless collections.

The striking exterior of Vermelho’s on-site restaurant, Xtian, with its cherry-red doors and window frames, and ceramic detailing by Giuseppe Ducrot.

Photo: Ambroise Tézenas

There’s geometric flooring that’s reminiscent of the style found in Paris’s historic Hôtel de la Marine and, in the pocket-sized but intensely calming massage suite, the walls are layered with alabaster sourced from Luxor. In the extravagant communal sitting room, the glass tiles nod to the decadence of Rajasthani palaces, and downstairs, vintage Bollywood movie posters from the ’60s line the walls beside honey-colored velvet banquettes and a fabulously ornate bar—a slab of green Indian marble overlaid with baroque silver paneling hammered in Seville by artisans more accustomed to constructing glittering church altars. 

Turn a corner, and you might spot an ominous ceramic bust or a surreal wall dotted with ceramic, jewel-toned macaw heads. Meanwhile, the spectacular garden, dreamt up by Louboutin’s former partner, French landscape architect Louis Benech, surrounds a plunge pool, at the head of which reclines an elaborate rendering of Neptune by Giuseppe Ducrot. During my visit, the prolific Italian sculptor could often be found on the terrace, perfecting the similarly dramatic ceramic appliqués that adorn the building’s doors and windows. Unsurprisingly, there are flashes of Louboutin’s signature shade throughout, too: scarlet window frames, staircases, lacquered tiles in the bar, plush gilded stools and intricately woven Maison Gatti chairs in the restaurant, Xtian, all of which are as eye-catching and impactful as his iconic red soles. (Vermelho translates to “red” in Portuguese.)

If these public spaces skew maximalist, the rooms are more subdued and serene, though no less glamorous. Each is unique, even the smallest is remarkably spacious, and most are decorated with charming hand-painted tiles, primarily from Azulejos de Azeitão’s renowned workshop near Setúbal, where a team of 11 specialists worked for almost a year to create more than 7,000 individual pieces for the project. The delightful fusion of aesthetics continues here, with polished parquet floors, Moorish side tables, Murano glass-style wall lamps, antique Venetian mirrors, sea shell-shaped reading lights by the bed, and squishy floral armchairs that are the epitome of Italian nonna chic.

Glazed tiles from Azulejos de Azeitão form a headboard in one of the first-floor bedrooms.

Photo: Ambroise Tézenas

There’s no shortage of surprises either: your suite could contain a wardrobe with burnished gold doors, a framed Indian tapestry, a rattan monkey that forms the base of a table, or illuminated miniature art installations by Madrid-based creative Carlos Díaz De Bustamante. You could even encounter one of Louboutin’s personal treasures—a Spanish bargueño chest, for instance, or an embroidered Henri Samuel sofa—picked up at auction or while on holiday, and now finally unearthed from his archives.

One of the first-floor suites, featuring a rattan table in the shape of a monkey.

Photo: Ambroise Tézenas

Almost all of the rooms also have outdoor spaces where you can soak up the sun, whether they be suites with balconies overlooking the garden on the first floor, or ones on the ground floor with terraces that offer direct access to the pool. One of the former suites comes with a giant, opulently tiled outdoor bathtub, while some of the latter compensate with equally impressive bathrooms, covered floor to ceiling with more riotous tiling. They seem designed for your Instagram feed but, crucially, bathing at Vermelho feels luxurious too, thanks to fragrant Kama Ayurveda amenities, butter-soft Frette bathrobes, and heated floors for when the evenings become chilly.

A tiled bathroom in one of the ground-floor garden suites.

Photo: Ambroise Tézenas

However, the property’s pièce de résistance can be found on the second floor, where the suites feature walls covered with bold frescoes by Athens-born painter Konstantin Kakanias: abstract weeping willows, ferns, snakes, and, on a balcony, a whimsical illustration of an angel in the nude bearing thigh-high stilettos on a plate, with the name “Christian” scrawled below it in Greek. One of the bathrooms is also a work of art, its lemony walls layered with paint samples and tiny floral motifs. (Kakanias apparently used the room to test out colors, after which Louboutin insisted his experimentations should be preserved.)    

Up another flight of stairs is a glorious roof terrace where you could easily spend hours taking in the views of Melides and the verdant rolling hills beyond. It encapsulates Vermelho’s appeal: while the courteous staff is always on hand to arrange excursions, from horseback riding and wine tasting to paddle boarding on the nearby lagoon, the reason to come here is, ultimately, to embrace the slower pace of local life. It’s a place where you ought to lay back on the cushioned seating nook of your suite with a good book and put your phone away, relying only on the chiming of church bells to tell you that it’s time for supper.

There are a smattering of good restaurants in town (O Fadista, O Melidense), but you’re even better served by the on-site Xtian, overseen by Portuguese chef David Abreu. At breakfast, you’ll find continental staples alongside local cheeses, charcuterie, wonderfully wobbly pastel de nata, and rustic bread smothered with deliciously sweet tomato jam. Lunch and dinner could then include succulent slices of duck breast drowned in a sweet orange sauce; a grilled octopus salad with onions and bell peppers; an exceptional cod fish stew with potatoes, clams, and caramelized shallots; and a velvety cauliflower soup, so soothing that, on my first night at the hotel, I heard a guest at the next table ask for a second helping. Make sure to end with one of the scrumptious desserts: a slice of apple tarte tatin, the cheesecake with Alentejo honey, or the poached pear with mulled wine, all served on covetable plates and bowls from Vida Dura. (The beloved homeware shop is just a stone’s throw from Vermelho and well worth a visit before you leave.)   

A breakfast spread on one of the private balconies overlooking the garden, served with crockery from local favorite Vida Dura.

Photo: Ambroise Tézenas

Soon, diners here will have even more options: a short drive away is a shell of a building overlooking the lagoon, a hotel that never opened and was recently purchased by Louboutin as the site of his next venture. Poised for a 2024 launch, it’s set to be rebuilt into a 10-room property, complete with a rooftop bar from which the designer’s own home will be visible across the water, a pool that’s larger than that of its sister hotel, and a restaurant that serves pizzas from around the world (one of Louboutin’s favorite foods). The hope is that guests at both hotels will be able to shuttle back and forth when they want a change of scene.

A third property in the pine woods has been planned, too, and there’s even talk of acquiring a modest beach bar at some point in the future, though Louboutin is in no rush. Still, it’s difficult not to imagine visitors flocking to Vermelho and then clamoring for more lavishly designed, meticulously decorated properties in the other parts of the world to which the designer is intimately connected: particularly Paris, the Vendée region of France where he owns a 13th-century château, and Luxor. Here’s hoping this is the beginning of a new hotel empire.