São Lourenço do Barrocal
Time to say goodbye to the stunning Alentejo coastline and to continue my journey inland, where tranquility and space prevail, with narrow roads meandering through a landscape full of cork oaks, olive groves, vineyards and quaint little villages and interesting cities. I make a short stop in Évora, with its beautiful historical centre; a UNESCO world heritage site. A beautiful city to wander around in for a day: Roman remains, a stunning cathedral, shops and a large selection of restaurants ….and then I head on to Monsaraz, the region famous for its textiles and ceramics. It takes me a while to find this journey’s third Hideaway: an exceptional project where a century old farm was transformed into a luxury hotel. I can understand how guests may be misled, for São Lourenço do Barrocal is still in part a working farm and the outside was kept as authentic-looking as possible…so no beautifully polished walls or smooth buildings but actually a century old estate where workers used to surround their homes with cobblestone paths and meadows, creating a complete village (monte, as the Portuguese call it).
The 780 hectare estate produces its own wine, olive oil, cork and at present has 220 cows. This farm has been in José Antonio Uva’s family for over 200 years now, and he is the eighth generation. Over time, the estate increasingly fell into disrepair, while the youngsters left the rural villages to seek happiness in the cities. José left as well, but his heart was here. After much deliberation he took the plunge and returned to transform the estate into a luxury hotel, a farm retreat. But he didn’t want to build just any luxury hotel, his goal was to create the perfect synergy between the outdoors and the comfortable indoors; he wanted his guests to really experience the Alentejo! And after twelve years of renovating, São Lourenço do Barrocal was ready to open its doors….
I am majorly impressed when Ana Faustino, the hotel’s charismatic manager, shows me around. It is obvious that even the tiniest detail was considered in the interior design and that no expenses were spared. There are 22 spacious rooms, 2 suites, 16 cottages with their own living room and kitchen, all of them featuring 1 to 3 bedrooms. They are all gorgeous and understated, and local materials were used as much as possible. Perfect harmony are key words here.
High time to settle myself and undergo the São Lourenço do Barrocal experience. …after all, I only have 24 hours (which turns out to be way too short ;-)). Leaving my lovely and spacious room somewhat reluctantly, I walk around the estate, visiting the stables and the horses (for the horse lovers amongst us) and wandering through the vegetable garden. I marvel at the ancient gnarled olive trees and megalithic dolmen (if only they could talk) and find the swimming pool a bit further away in the garden. Unfortunately it’s too cold for a swim, it’s early spring when I’m here, but it’s definitely a ‘bare necessity’ during the hot summer months in this area.
Unfortunately, there is no time for me to take one of the free bicycles, for I have planned a visit to the Spa….what can I say, it’s a hard life for Mrs. Local Hideaways :-). Once again, it soon becomes clear that this is not just any luxury hotel: this Spa uses the holistic organic products and treatments by Susanna Kaufmann. Exclusively, I might add, for Susanne Kaufmann is extremely critical in who she partners with; a perfect symbiosis must exist between herself and the Spa in question. I float around the cedar wood bathtub for a while and after a refreshing shower it is time to get dressed for dinner.
The restaurant is located in another building… you really feel like you’re walking around a small village here – and is cosy and comfortable. The open cabinet that covers the entire rear wall is a real eyecatcher. In it, the family relics are displayed. Not in a slick kind of way (even though it looks beautiful), just some old appliances and photos etc., each telling their own story. Time for dinner, all seasonal and local produce – farm to table –transformed into modern dishes. It’s delicious… back home I still crave the lovely starter of fava beans with regional sausages and strawberries. Of course, everything is accompanied with wines from the estate, and I’m all rosy when I climb into bed that night!
And as if dinner the previous night wasn’t enough, the next morning a lovely breakfast extravaganza awaits me…. so extensive, organic and delicious! I have planned to visit Monsaraz for the day, my favourite city in the Alentejo that I visited several years ago and really wanted to return to. Timing is very important when you go here, make sure you arrive either before or after the tourist buses, and then you’ll have this beautiful white village, perched on a hill with a stunning view of the Alqueva reservoir (the largest in Western-Europa), practically all to yourself. Take it easy, wander through the narrow alleys, visit my favourite shop for a beautiful hand-woven carpet and have a bite to eat in one of the restaurants, it’s lovely. I was there early in the morning, when the light is extraordinary and reflects off the white plaster walls.
It was clear that I didn’t have nearly enough time at São Lourenço do Barrocal, but enough to conclude that this place is absolutely worth the splurge. You will be pampered, it is the ultimate location to relax luxuriously and the synergy between this hotel and its magical surroundings is perfect! São Lourenço do Barrocal exudes the Alentejo soul and is unique in its Portuguese kind!
More about the Alentejo in my blog: Alentejo – Portugal’s diamond in the rough!
Photo credits: #2, #7, #8, #10, #11, #16, #18 by Local Hideaways. Rest by Nelson Garrido.