Every time I find myself feeling blue or disheartened, I try to remember all the wonderful places I’ve been so far, all the people I’ve met and crossed paths with, and how everything worked out in favour of my thriving and blooming in this crazy, messy, amazing world. In 2017, I was lucky enough to be part of the Food and Lifestyle Photography and Styling Workshop led by Sanda Vuckovic Pagaimo and Marta Greber, a week filled with learning and more learning and practicing and more practicing with the most inspiring people of all time, which took place at São Lourenço do Barrocal, in Monsaraz. Those days were nothing short of overwhelming and astounding, and my memory often roams towards that time when I’m in need of some inspiration.
After a two-hour drive from Lisbon — you can take the train to Évora as well, and then catch a taxi for those final kilometres separating civilisation from the middle of nowhere, and I say this in a good way — you arrive at this farm estate as if you were entering paradise itself. The oak and the olive trees seem to almost hug you, as if nature could absorb us and let us stay forever in its bliss.
Before São Lourenço do Barrocal was what we see and experience today, it already belonged to the family of José António Uva, and it was where he spent most of his childhood. When it became clear to him that he had to keep his family’s history and the estate’s ancient heritage, the rejuvenation project began, headed by renowned Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura — who won the Golden Lion at the Venice Architecture Biennale thanks to this massive venture that took 12 years to complete.
As the Marketing Director, Susana Lourenço, puts it, this is «above all a peaceful atmosphere that draws on the vastness and natural beauty of a 780-hectare estate, with a 19th century ‘monte alentejano’ in its core, which is the hotel as we know it today. There is a contemporaneity that merges with the native architecture of the region, and an authenticity that is felt through different places and faces. In spite of the tranquillity, there’s plenty of activity: there are people crossing the cobblestone pathways in every direction possible and the roads that link the pool to the horse-riding arena, Mr. Manuel taking care of the vegetable garden and the orchard, the farming team pruning the vineyards, guests riding bikes through dirt paths, swallows flying, and even a hot air balloon lifting off into the clouds every now and then».
One of the main foundations of this 5-star wholesome project is the importance they give to what’s made locally. Its roots, its history, it all comes down to being self-sufficient and living as a community in the best way possible; to recover what was once the countryside life as a whole, yet with their minds set in today’s reality. Sustainability and organic production are also cornerstones of São Lourenço do Barrocal, as they bring several kinds of produce to life and put this fierce idea of what it means to live an active and balanced life further, in the most all-encompassing places of all.
Inside, there is also a sense of ecology and taking care of memories and otherwise forgotten objects. The entire interior design project was carried out by Anahory Almeida, the architecture, interior and furniture design studio based in Lisbon that has been in charge of a number of great projects around Portugal. The rooms are pleasant and comfortable, as if it were forbidden to do anything else but sleeping and resting. The spa is gorgeous and filled with Susanne Kaufmann products and a myriad of treatments. The restaurants offer local cuisine with hints of Alentejo all over its dishes and signature flavours.
São Lourenço do Barrocal is, as you can clearly see, more than just one thing. Within the estate, there is a number of small projects inside bigger ones, like a Russian doll of surprises. «A winery, a restaurant — actually, there are two, since Hortelão opened a few weeks ago in our vegetable garden to breathe life into the evening on weekends with grilled food and live jazz music —, a spa, a horse stable with arena, a store, an organic vegetable garden and orchard, olive groves, vineyards, and cattle breeding. These are different approaches to the same overarching concept, tiny details that mesh together, intertwine, and create a bigger organism, a more interesting project, modern, genuine, diverse», adds Susana.
A place driven by what’s natural and what the ‘monte alentejano’ brings them every day, a rich community that takes pride in local values.
All pictures © São Lourenço do Barrocal