6 months ago
Taking in the balcony view at the Palácio Estoril Hotel — with its glossy pool front framed by the Portuguese Riviera — a traveler may feel as though they discovered a peaceful oasis. But 77 years ago, in the midst of World War II, the hotel provided a haven for exiled royalty, aristocrats and spies, as the an international spy headquarters for the Allied Powers.
And one particularly famed spy.
In May 1941, a British Naval Intelligence officer by the name of Ian Fleming checked into the hotel. Not only did he document what the Palacio Estoril was like back then for posterity, he made the place legendary by using it for the creation of one of the most famous characters of all time — James Bond.
On a mission to sabotage communications links in case Germany invaded Spain, Fleming shadowed British double agent Duskov Popov, who most likely served as the inspiration for 007. Popov, code-named as “Tricycle,” was often seen flagged by two ladies. Much like a certain famous fictional British agent.
While hanging at the neighboring Estoril Casino, Fleming witnessed Popov bet $40,000 —a value equivalent to $600,000 adjusted for present-day inflation — at a baccarat table to fool an enemy agent, as the San Diego Tribune wrote. Fleming was shaken and stirred.
He took on a new mission: writing Casino Royale, his first Bond book, which was published in 1952. The hotel would further intertwine itself in the mythos by hosting the filming of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1968.
While no longer teeming with exciting royals and spies, a visitor can still stay at Palácio Estoril and bask in its glamorous aura.
One can roll up to the exterior of the hotel just like Bond (George Lazenby) did in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, even if it is not in an Aston Martin DBS.
Rooms range from 330 to 555 Euros a night (roughly $380 to $640). “Our guests often say they feel the magic atmosphere,” a Palácio Estoril representative said. “The feedback is very gratifying, recognizing our commitment to create unique experiences. They’re able to imagine how the hotel was during the Second World War.”
Those who can not make the trip to see it in person, can get a glimpse of the hotel on film. In its famous cinematic close-up, Bond is seen entering the lobby and quipping, “Everything seems up to the Palácio’s usual high standards.” One of the concierge, José, who still stands behind that desk today, makes his own film debut, handing Bond the keys to his room.
“This’ll do. This’ll do me nicely,” Bond says, walking into his suite and surveying the view of the grand pool, which is visible from every hotel room.
Be sure to spy the Bar Estoril (now nick-named the “Spy Bar”), which boasts a separate gin menu that lists 22 varieties in addition to Gordon’s. The bartender will surely be able to produce a martini that’s shaken, not stirred just as Bond likes them.