One of my pleasures in life is the pre-planning process of any upcoming trip.

While doing this for my recent trip to Lisbon, a city that I have recently come to love, I knew which area of the city would be most central and thus targeted my search in and around the neighbourhood of Baixa. Each time I conducted my hotel search, the name “Brown’s“  would be most prominent in the results but every time there seemed to be a subtle difference in the hotel even though each appeared to be in the exact same location!


Tram 28 can be used to traverse Lisbon’s seven hills and is a fun ride

As it turned out, there are three Brown’s hotels in virtually the same location: Brown’s Boutique Hotel, Brown’s Downtown Hotel and Brown’s Central and each within a block to each other in Baixa (also known as “downtown” or “central” by the locals). And everyone looked as appealing as the other. Since I was going to be in Lisbon for two weeks, I thought, “wouldn’t it be fun to try all three?” That is exactly what I did and more!

My first stop was Brown’s Central Hotel located on Rua da Assunção. As I disembarked from my taxi near the hotel address, I got the immediate sense that this area is definitely the pulsing heart of the city. With its many shops and restaurants bustling with consumers and diners I could feel this city’s energy filling the air.

Brown’s Boutique Hotel

Exterior of Brown’s Boutique Hotel which is located in the Baixa district of Lisbon also referred to as being “downtown”
Photo: A.J. Twist

The Brown’s triumvirate of hotels are compact buildings where space is at a premium due to the limitations of the building codes designed to maintain the district’s historical aesthetic. Each have tight reception desks in favour of lobbies where guests can dine or leisurely lounge in design-forward luxury. All of the guest areas on the main floor feature extensive libraries of art and architecture compendiums which help set the tone for what lies upstairs in the guest rooms. But this is where the similarities of these hotels end.

Santa Cruz lift, Lisbon

The Santa Justa lift is a popular tourist activity and takes passengers from one level of the city to another
Photo: A.J. Twist

Unbeknownst prior to my visit, I came to discover that the entrepreneurial driver behind these hotels is Pedro Luz, one of Lisbon’s cultural icons, who got his start by founding a number of legendary nightclubs (Plateau, Alcântara) and restaurants in the 70’s and 80’s. In fact, he has been credited as bringing both the punk fashion and music trends found in London at the time across the channel to a rather conservative but receptive Lisbon.

Following Luz’s successes in both fashion and hospitality he then created a chain of sandwich shops virtually innovating the concept of fast food to the city. He later sold this chain (for a rumoured small fortune) and then began channeling his true passion for design and “to build things” into his first hotel called Brown’s Boutique Hotel which is housed in the building of his first sandwich shop on Rua da Vitória. As demand for rooms quickly grew, due to the burgeoning international appeal of Lisbon as Europe’s must-discover destination, Luz quickly began to acquire additional real estate in the immediate area. He foresaw the benefits of proximity of his three hotels for the mutual synergies of staffing as well as the sharing of services.

Checking into my room at Brown’s Central began with a nostalgic touch as the key card was actually fashioned out of a brass plate. I was a bit nervous about inserting this known conduit for electricity into the lighting panel but alas! I was not fried in the process. While my initial room was a tad on the smaller size (they got larger as my stay progressed) it featured some welcome touches such as a luxuriously upholstered bed with a Marshall speaker on the bedside table.

Rossio Square, Lisbon

Rossio Square is lined with sidewalk terraces and features statues and mosaic stone sidewalks in design that evokes waves 
Photo: A.J. Twist

If you like quality sound for your tunes in a guest room (who doesn’t?), Brown’s has got you covered as there is one of these Marshalls in all of their rooms. For some reason, the room’s vintage digital phone also seemed vaguely familiar. This may be because it is an exact replica of the ones found in the White House, apparently. These are design details curated by Luz himself who thrives on managing all of these artistic touches. Even some of the hotel furniture, such as the rooms’ work desks, are designed by Luz and manufactured locally.

As nice as the Brown’s Central was, I was not in town to hang around the hotel so I soon ventured out into the city. One of the main advantages of the Brown’s hotels is their location. While “central” Lisbon used to a district known to be inundated with derelict and abandoned buildings, it has since evolved into one of the most popular areas of the city. Just a few blocks over from Brown’s Central I found myself on Rua Augusta which is a pedestrian mall lined with popular boutiques along with enticing pastry shops and restaurants.

Rue Augusta

Rue Augusta is a pedestrian mall that bustles with diners and leads down to the Arco Triunfa by the river
Photo: A.J. Twist

If you head north toward the spectacular Arco Triunfal, once you push yourself through the crowds of Instagrammers, you will find the sprawling Praça do Comércio on the shores of the Tagus River. This a popular gathering spot to watch the city’s legendary sunsets falling just behind the 25 de Abril bridge to the west or as a starting point for many of the city’s historical walking tours.

Also, within easy access from the hotels is the beautiful Rossio Square which is ringed with Parisian-style sidewalk terraces and anchored by the neoclassical Queen Maria National Theatre. Look below your feet and you will notice the meticulously maintained stone mosaic sidewalks that are so unique to this city or up to the square’s lovely fountains and statues. In December this square is transformed into a festive Christmas market.

Brown’s Downtown Hotel

The mansard suites in Brown’s Downtown Hotel are spacious and have views of the castle 
Photo: A.J. Twist

Another must-see tourist activity within easy reach of the hotels is the Santa Justa lift which is a neo-gothic structure that that opened in 1902 and elevates passengers from one level of the city to other without the nuance of schlepping up one of the city’s seven hills.

And speaking of these hills, the more ambitious can take a twenty-minute hike to the historic Castle of Sao Jorge which is truly worth the visit. Alternatively, you can take the Tram 28 which will drop you off within an easy walk and is also a thrill to ride.

And if high-end shopping is more your thing, I like to take the Baixa-Chiado subway tunnel which can be walked using a series of escalators to bring you to one of Lisbon’s most popular neighbourhoods, Chiado. This is also where you will find some of the many Michelin-starred restaurants this city has to offer such as Belcanto. If you are hankering to bite into a pastéis de nata (one of the city’s culinary exports), you will find the city’s best at Atelier Castro here on Rua Garrett.

Brown's Avenue

A junior suite at the 5 star Brown’s Avenue features a bathtub with a view and is within  the Avendida Liberdade district of Lisbon

Back at my Brown’s experience, over the two weeks I did in fact try all three hotels and loved them all! I was treated to a tour of each property by Luis Vilao, their director of Sales and Revenue and I can attest to his statement that no two rooms are the same. This is part of the charm of these properties as is their competitive pricing. However, they are usually running at a 99% occupancy rate so planning ahead is essential. Each has either a 3 star or 4-star rating but the quality is even between them all.

I also discovered that there is now a fourth property, their 5-star Brown’s Avenue, which is located in Lisbon’s most fashionable district of Avenida Liberdade. Here is where you will find the Louis Vuitton and Chanel shops as well as the over-the-top JNcQUOI (as in “je ne sais quoi”) restaurant which has to be seen to be believed. Brown’s Avenue merges a historic building into a newly constructed modern structure. Having the ability to construct his own building allowed Luz’s design talents to truly flourish. Here the junior and master suites feature such luxuries as Rocco bathtubs positioned in front of picture windows with views into the city. Plus, guests have access to a rooftop pool which exudes a South Beach vibe. Those with an anthropological penchant will love the Roman ruins which were discovered in the basement during the excavation process and have been meticulously preserved as a mini-museum.

This is all to say that in a city that has so much to offer and one that seems to be on everyone’s travel itinerary these days, when the collection of the Brown’s Group of hotels rises to the top of your hotel search engine simply hit “reserve now”.  All of your travel needs will be met and the staff will treat you as if inviting you into their home. Bom dia!

Brown’s Hotel Group (Lisbon, Portugal)

A.J Twist is a Montreal-based travel writer and photographer. A.J. Twist  [email protected]