Maybe because of our woeful educational system, not many Americans know that Portugal was a hotbed of spies during WWII. Hitler even had a plan to kidnap the on-the-fence Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Portugal, before Churchill dispatched them to the Bahamas. The â€œneutral” country that was more aligned with the Allies hosted spies from every nation â€” many staying at the Palacio Estoril hotel â€” right on the Atlantic Ocean.
The author of the James Bond series, Ian Fleming, was himself a British Naval Intelligence Officer during the war. He stayed at the hotel under the guise of being a writer. With the casino right next door, many spies had to play the farce of being gentlemen of leisure, with no visible means â€” or need â€” for support. How could such a man be a spy?
The James Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was filmed on site. A couple of actors in the film still work at the Palacio Estoril, including Jose’ Diogo Vieira, now the Deputy (in semi retirement) Head Concierge. I got to meet him! He’s what we’d call in the States, â€œa silver fox”. Honestly, I could have spent all day asking him questions.
He had worked at the hotel since he was a teen, so he knew all of the old tales from those who had lived them. He spoke of how the better spies, in their efforts to create the air of nonchalant bon vivants, ordered the finest wines of this esteemed establishment. But some spies, notably the Germans, would order the best champagnes when they were celebrating upcoming strategies â€” thus, giving the game away. What a paradox! Fine champagne served to Nazis helped the Allies save the planet.
Back then â€” before cell phones or even individual room phones â€” hotel phone operators were also privy to things going down. After the war, scores of messages were found hidden under the hotel floorboards during a remodel.
Through the years and even today, lots of former or deposed royal families of Europe love staying here. It’s elegant, yet very boutique; to them, a home away from home. The Portuguese are quiet about such things, not boisterous or flashy. To quote Winston Churchill, they are easily satisfied with the very best. Royals from France, Italy, Bulgaria, etc., come here for the summer, holidays, celebrations, months, etc. I will admit to spending weeks deciding what to wear that day.
The Bar Estoril is a small, darkened, tweedy place that’s kept the way it was. You can see how people would relax there, drinking. There are a couple of darker corners. Of course, who can forget the â€œshaken, not stirred” martini â€” totally not how a proper martini should be made â€” of James Bond fame? The bar makes a cocktail homage to it: The 007. It’s made with 3 gins and is reputed to be very strong. I was at the hotel in the morning, so, I didn’t partake.