Lisbon's laidback luxe

The historic neighbourhood of Alfama in Lisbon was the obvious choice for Memmo group founders Rodrigo Machaz and Joao Correa Nunes when they were searching for a location for a new boutique hotel. Memmo Alfama, the group's second property and the newest member of the Design Hotels portfolio, is nestled in the oldest part of Lisbon, between the Castle of Sao Jorge, a Moorish citadel dating from the sixth century, and the Tagus River.

Only the facade of the original 19th century building remains. Madrid-based architect Samuel Torres de Carvalho, who also oversaw the restoration of the hotel's sister property Memmo Baleeira in the Algarve, has transformed it into an intimate, contemporary hotel.

There's an elegant simplicity to the 42 guestrooms, where timber, stone and other natural materials and white and cream-toned walls create a soothing palette. The idea behind Memmo Alfama is to be more like a private home than a hotel; the "help yourself" ethos flows from the choose-what-you-want breakfast to the 24-hour honesty bar. In place of a lobby there's The Living Room, which multi-tasks as reception, breakfast room, lounge and bar.

Discover the secrets of the surrounding neighbourhood, with its plethora of bars, restaurants and shops, using Living Alfama, a booklet compiled by locals and staff, as your guide.

But when you've done enough exploring, pour yourself into a retro basket chair on the whitewashed terrace, sip vinho do Porto and snack on Portuguese tapas as dusk settles on the Tagus River. Doubles from €125 ($180) including tax and breakfast.