Holiday Inn Express Porto Exponor: A Traveller's Review
Why We Chose This Hotel
Our selection of Holiday Inn Express Porto Exponor was slightly unusual. Normally, travelers select a desirable location and then look around for hotels and travel options. We did the process in reverse; the choice of hotel dictated the destination.
To be fair, having visited and enjoyed Portugal many times, Porto had come to our attention as a possible future destination. But what sealed this trip for us was the availability of the hotel at a very favorable points redemption rate through the IHG Rewards scheme. We set about looking into flight options before redeeming points and staying for free.
Tip: Joining the InterContinental Hotel Group Rewards Club is free. Membership qualifies you for slightly reduced rates at IHG hotels. You can also collect points based on your stays, which can be redeemed against items in a catalog or used to book IHG hotels, as we did in Porto.
No matter how thorough your research and how many reviews you have read, you never quite know what to expect when you arrive at a hotel for the first time. So it was with us when we took a taxi one Sunday morning in late June from Porto airport (Sa Carneiro), after an early morning flight from the UK, and arrived at Holiday Inn Express Porto Exponor.
The Hotel's Exterior
We passed a Pingu Doce supermarket (which we filed away for future reference) a short distance before we spied the familiar Holiday Inn Express logo along with the flags outside a distinctive modern building. It was set back a little from the road and the cobbled areas near the approach road gave the impression that this had been an area of redevelopment. Overall, the grassy areas and trees nearby added to the setting. There was parking available in front of the hotel and along a quiet road running parallel to the main road.
The metallic grey exterior of the upper floors, with the regularly spaced bedroom windows, was supported by matching pillars. The high glass windows of the communal areas were set back a little behind these pillars. The building was never a contender for any architectural awards, but it had a clean and functional appearance.
Check-In and Welcome
The initial interaction between hotel staff and guests at check-in can set the tone for the rest of the stay. A warm welcome goes a long way in creating a good impression.
Our experience at the Holiday Inn Express Porto Exponor was slightly mixed. Admittedly we had thrown a spanner in the works by showing up at 10.30 am. It was a bit of a tall ask, especially on a Sunday morning when check-in was from 2.00pm and, understandably, there were no rooms ready for us, but we were offered storage for our luggage. I felt that the girl waited impatiently, while we sorted our bags. But another check-in staff member was much friendlier and suggested that we return at 12.00 - 12.30pm to see if a room was ready by then.
We headed off to the local Pingu Doce, where we knew from past experience of the brand that we could pick up a coffee and something to eat at a very reasonable cost in the small cafe there. The location of this supermarket was also useful for buying drinks and snacks during our stay.
We returned to the hotel by midday, as suggested. We had to wait a while and we've noticed previously how slow check-in can be in Portuguese hotels. The staff spoke reasonable English, which was helpful as our Portuguese is limited, to say the least. Copies of our passports were made. We were offered points (for the IHG Rewards Club) or a welcome drink.
Tip: I cheekily ask now how many drinks the hotel is offering. Usually, it's one, but some offer two, in which case it's better value to take the drink vouchers and order the most expensive they will allow. If you're traveling as a couple, one drink is not a lot of help, as you'll feel obliged to spend out on another.
We had requested a room on a high floor, away from the lift. In the event, we were on level 3 (of 5) and next door but one to the lift. Some you win, others you don't! On the plus side, I can say that we didn't notice the sound of the lift, nor of other hotel guests around us.
Tip: Although on this occasion it didn't work, I would still recommend adding requests to your booking. Our experience has been that most IHG hotels try to comply with the wishes of their guests. If you can get a room on the top floor overlooking the front of the hotel, at the far end of the corridor, you might have a side view of Rio Leca and the ships docked there.
Inside the Hotel
The entrance to the hotel was to the right behind the pillars. As we entered, the long reception desk was facing us towards the back of the hotel. This part of the hotel had a lower ceiling to accommodate a corridor of guest rooms above. The reception desk, as is common in many Holiday Inn Express hotels ran on into the bar, so that reception staff can fulfill a dual role, serving drinks.
To the right of the entrance was a small area of desks with computers and a printer. Beyond this were the lifts to the guest floors. There were also some toilets and the luggage storage room as well as a vending machine, a cigarette machine, microwave, ice dispenser and a rack of maps and leaflets. We also noticed a suitcase weighing machine for a euro.
To the left of the entrance, there was a comfortable seating area with red sofas, brown and grey cushions, brown standard lamps and coffee tables. There were two olive trees in large off-white containers and a large flatscreen TV. There were also assorted miniature trees by the pillars. Beyond this was the dining area, with a large number of dark brown Formica topped square tables and chrome framed brown vinyl chairs. The lights in this area were interesting, as they were a mixture of prawn cracker effect shades and balloon lights.
Tip: It's always worth having a look through maps and leaflets for inspiration on where to go and also for money off coupons on local attractions.
Tip: To save money on excess baggage charges or paying for using scales in the hotel, you could invest in a battery powered digital suitcase weigher. (We find ours invaluable). Another cheaper option is to look out for an empty operational check-in desk at the airport, where you can cheekily weigh suitcases for free.
Initial impressions of room 307 were that it felt small. It had pale grey walls to the left, facing the bed and contrasting blue walls behind the bed and backing onto the bathroom. As we entered, the bathroom door was to the right and an opaque tall window into it was set at an angle. To the left, there was a full-length mirror, slanted at an angle to accommodate a neat alcove behind it, with a hairdryer on a high shelf, iron, small water jug, and ironing board all stowed away neatly. There was a useful plug socket at the base of the unit and a light in the ceiling, well-positioned for the mirror.
Beyond the mirror, there was an open hanging area, with a medium effect wood finish. There were 4 wooden hooked hangers, 2 with clips and 2 metal hangers. There was an extra red blanket on a shelf above and a useful hook on the side of the wardrobe. Beyond this, there was a pale grey solid suitcase shelf, with a blue splashback attached to the wall behind it. There was a white shelf below and a chrome bin. Two decorative discs were mounted on the wall, one orange and one in a light wood to match the side of the wardrobe.
In keeping with most hotels of this brand, Holiday Inn Express Porto Exponor, whilst being innovative in its use of space, was not great for storage. You can forget any thought of unpacking here. One of the compromises of choosing a limited service hotel is that you often find yourself living out of your suitcase!
Opposite the bed, there was a large wood effect wall mounting with a large flatscreen TV attached. There was a narrow white shelf running below the TV with a bright red leaflet rack. It was okay for storing cans of drink, but not much else. The shelf widened towards the wardrobe, where there was a bright red kettle with two plug sockets. There was a small white tray, with two mugs, green tea, camomile tea, powdered milk, coffee (ordinary and decaffeinated), sweeteners and sugar.
Tip: The tea and coffee making facilities go with the brand. Most Iberian hotel chains either do not provide a kettle or levy a charge for one. If a hot drink in your room is important to you it's always best to check ahead and, if necessary, consider taking a small travel kettle with you.
Tip: We found that we could top up our drinks supply, by collecting teabags from the breakfast buffet (of which later).
On the outside wall, there was a large rectangular window at waist-level. It opened from the side and had a restraint fitted. The view was far from scenic, looking out towards a high retaining wall, underground garage access road and a block of flats looming up above it. Full-length net curtains and full-length grey curtains, matching the two-tone grey carpet, ran along the wall and wrapped around the corner towards the TV. These were effective at cutting out daylight. The boxed area around the top of the curtains had lights mounted in it.
The double bed had a deep blue base and a thick mattress. It had a white sheet, duvet, and pillows with the standard Holiday Inn Express pillow menu. There was also a small orange cushion and a grey runner across the bed with a red trim. A pale wood-effect headboard was attached to the wall, with a grey padded section behind the pillows. There was a moderate-sized shelf attached on each side, although one was occupied by a telephone. Each side had a plug socket and a flip out chrome reading light. There were also 4 lights positioned above the bed.
Next to the bed, there was a 2 seater sofa with a dark grey base and brown cushion. The backrest was split between a large brown cushion with orange buttons and a smaller orange cushion with a brown button, matching the orange armrest. All the cushions were loose so that this could convert into a bed. There was a white-topped roughly triangular-shaped table on a circular chrome base. I found the table a little high for the sofa. It had a hole in the top, which would accommodate wires and there were two plug sockets in the nearby wall.
Tip: When traveling be sure to take any necessary plug adaptors with you.
There was a brown circular pouf/footrest with an orange side handle.
There was a low slung, white-shaded lamp suspended from the ceiling on a red cord above the sofa. This posed a hazard for anyone of moderate height or above, who could hit their head on it.
Controls for the air-conditioning were on the slanted wall by the opaque bathroom window.
Tip: If you are looking for a hotel in a potentially warm climate, check that the rooms are air-conditioned. From experience, on a hot and humid night, fans do not 'cut it' for keeping the temperature down.
For a limited service hotel, this was a modern and well-equipped room. An iron and ironing board are usually expected in higher star-rated brands, so they were a bonus (not that I recall ever using them during our stay here!)
Yes, you read the title right. We had a 'bathroom' in Holiday Inn Express Porto Exponor, as opposed to a shower room that every Holiday Inn Express I've stayed in in the UK, has had.
The room was fully tiled, with large off-white floor tiles and shiny white wall tiles, with a row of small blue tiles between the sink and the mirror.
A small circular white sink was inset into a curved deep black marble-effect top, which went up to the wall by the bath. There was a single, modern lift-action tap and a handy chrome ring towel-holder attached to the chrome side running the length of the marble top. Towel holders in handy locations, such as by the sink, are something that Holiday Inn Express is much better at than many higher star-rated brands.
A liquid soap dispenser was mounted on the wall near the sink, with a chrome vertical tissue holder above it. A large rectangular mirror took up most of the wall behind the sink and I was surprised to see a small amount of rust in the corner of it.
The white bath had a non-slip surface, chrome handles, and an additional wall-mounted grab rail. The mixer taps had a shower hose attachment linked to the high mounted shower head. There was a chrome corner rack for toiletries and a hair and body gel dispenser on the wall above. This was at a useful height for showering, but not so good for anyone sitting in the bath. There was a glass swing door screen half the bath length. Careful positioning of the shower head ensured that most of the water stayed in the bath area.
A modern wall-mounted WC with a dual-flush control inset in chrome on the tiles behind was on the wall next to the bath. Two well-stocked toilet roll holders separated it from the obligatory bidet, often present in Iberian hotels and regarded with interest by Brits, as UK bathrooms don't have them.
There was no shortage of places to hang towels in this bathroom, with a ring holder by the bidet, a towel rail mounted on the wall and a double chrome hook next to it.
Along with towel storage, this Holiday Inn Express also excelled in bathroom lighting. Three bright lights were inset in the ceiling, as well as a blue nighttime light, an innovative feature, which ensures that visitors to the bathroom at night don't have to be fully woken by bright lights, nor do their partners trying to sleep.
Overall impressions of the bathroom were very positive. It was modern, spotlessly clean, well-equipped and well-lit.
One of the key advantages for me of staying in a Holiday Inn Express hotel is the 'free' breakfast buffet. Now we all know that 'free' is just another way of saying that it has been pre-paid inclusively in the room rate. But psychologically it works. For anyone expecting a fully loaded cooked breakfast, I should point out that a Holiday Inn Express breakfast has its limitations. It's more of a cold buffet with usually very few hot options, or in this case, no hot options at all. Nevertheless, it is possible to fill up, as we proved and this was one of the better Express buffets I have come across.
The breakfast servery was located in a partitioned area, which was opened up beyond the bar, along the back wall of the hotel. This had a lower ceiling than the dining area at the front of the hotel, but it had additional brown topped dining tables with low slung lamps above them. There was also access to an outside eating area, but we avoided this, as it tended to attract smokers and was in an enclosed concrete area between the back of the hotel and a high retaining wall and block of flats behind.
On the back wall, there were 2 hot drinks machines, serving various types of coffee, hot chocolate and hot water to go with the wide selection of tea bags. Mugs were stacked on trays, with spares on a shelf below the counter.
There was a selection of sweet spreads in small plastic containers: honey, plum and strawberry jams. A cold drinks dispenser offered the choice of peach, orange or multifruit flavors, which had the taste and appearance of randomly diluted squash.
Cereal dispensers churned out a choice of cornflakes, choco-flakes, Special K and muesli into bowls. There was a toaster with sliced bread and plates nearby. The display was interrupted by a door into the kitchen and then continued on a cold unit that stretched around the next corner of the room.
A tiered stand held a wide selection of apples, pears. bananas, kiwi fruit, bananas, and nectarines. For anyone wanting to smuggle out fruit for later in the day, this was the place to go. Having an overactive conscience it's not something that I tend to do these days, but I have in the past and have often watched with amusement as some hotel guests blatantly load up their bags with fruit, or even make sandwiches for lunch in full view of the hotel staff, in spite of notices deterring such practices.
There were also glass dishes of sliced kiwi, tinned pineapple slices, chunks of watermelon, sliced oranges and whole peaches. A small countertop fridge unit kept a selection of smooth yogurts cool.
There was a cold cabinet with sliced ham, turkey ham, sliced cheese, margarine, butter, chunks of cream cheese and a cheese spread. There was a choice of skimmed or semi-skimmed milk.
Nearby there was a tall tray rack for guests to place their trays of dirty crockery after use. This is a sensible time-saving device in a limited service hotel, where staff numbers are restricted, but a practice that has largely fallen into disuse in the UK.
If you are thinking that the list of food options is complete, you're wrong. Tables were placed around a pillar and loaded up with a selection of bread rolls, pastries, some with chocolate inside, buttery croissants, pastel de nata (a Portuguese specialty like an egg custard tart, which I can highly recommend), chocolate and plain muffins. This was also the location of a range of cutlery and the paper napkins.
Signage was in Portuguese and English, but we noticed that most posters on the wall were in English.
What's your favorite board basis?
A Few Small Issues During Our Stay
Our kettle was faulty. The top flipped open with steam. It was replaced quickly by a staff member, who came with a white kettle on a bigger tray with two more mugs and a selection of drinks.
On a few occasions, our keycard failed to work, which was slightly annoying after a long day sightseeing. Depending on who we got on reception, we sometimes were met with no apology or acknowledgment. After this happening 4 times, we complained and requested some points back, without much success. (Always worth a try though.) At times there's a lot to be said for the old-fashioned room key!
During our time at Holiday Inn Express Porto Exponor, there was an under-18s basketball tournament taking place nearby. Gradually the hotel filled with several teams. We noticed Portugal, Belgium, Sweden, and France. Tables were placed together at breakfast and reserved with the team's flags. It was interesting as a study in national characteristics but could be challenging at breakfast if you hit the wrong time. One day was especially busy when several teams coincided and long queues formed for the hot drinks. We later noticed a timetable at reception, which one team, in particular, had blatantly ignored causing the traffic jam.
Getting Out and About
The hotel is 8.9 kilometers from Porto's Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport. On arrival, the journey took us 10-15 minutes and cost 15.30 Euros by taxi. By the end of our stay, we had mastered the transport network and took the 601 bus from opposite the front of the hotel, which took a little longer, but was much cheaper. In the opposite direction, the 601 from outside the hotel got us into the center of Porto (Cordoaria), 9.5 kilometers away, in 24 minutes at best and a little longer at rush hour. On one occasion, early in the morning, a taxi took us 15 minutes to get onto the Cais da Ribeira by the river and cost 16.40 Euros.
The nearest beach, at Leca da Palmeira is a 1.8km walk away and the coastal saltwater swimming pools a further 200 meters. Matosinhos beach is 2.9km from Holiday Inn Express Porto Exponor. But if you are looking for a nearer location to take a dip, there is a municipal open-air swimming pool in Park Quinta da Conceicao, 500 meters from the hotel.
I would rate Holiday Inn Express Porto Exponor overall very highly. For a limited service hotel, the bedroom and bathroom were of a high standard. The breakfast buffet was excellent. Most staff members were polite and helpful, with the odd exception. For our purposes, the location worked well. Over the eleven night stay, we were able to have a mix of city sightseeing and local walks along the coast. If time is limited and you want to focus on a city break in Porto, you might want to consider hotels closer to the center. But these will come at a higher price. This hotel was a bargain buy for us, as we used IHG Rewards points to 'pay' for our room. I would recommend it.
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© 2018 Liz Westwood