Every end of year, I feel a strong need to spend some time for myself in a place far, far away. I'm a hard worker, I've always been. My weakness is that I think that only hard work will bring me forward. And yes, in the end it does but I probably would have come as far with less effort. So, it's no wonder that I feel exhausted by the end of the year. It's still a bit early but I already have my new year's resolution: do less, trust more in what's in for me in life.
In two weeks, I'll be spending some time off in sunny Algarve and calm Alentejo. For the past three months, I've found so many amazing places to stay at and visit that I might need much more than two weeks. I made an overview of our travels here. Last week, I discovered another amazing place that just opened this year in March – Dá Licença. We've already booked us in another beautiful place in Estremoz but luckily the owners Vitor Borges and Franck Laingneau invited us for dinner in January. We can't wait to visit their utopian guesthouse in Alentejo and to share our dinner experience at their «Table for two».
Until then, we invite you to scroll through the presentation below and get inspired!
Wishing you all a wonderful start into the week,
Text by Dá Licença
Pictures by Francisco Nogueira
A Hotel that you could also call a guesthouse, over which a wonderful serenity hangs. An almost unreal and utopian place of authentic and personalized luxury where one can experience time and space.
You reach Outeiro das Freiras, the name of the magical place where Dá Licença was born in March this year, via a sinewy slope through an olive grove. The scent of the fig trees envelops your arrival to this estate on the edge of Estremoz. Art encounters nature here and one is overwhelmed by the generosity of the space, the endlessly vast landscape and the welcome, which make this exceptional hotel, suspended in time, a place where nothing is left to chance and everything beckons you to stay and to linger.
First and foremost, the name The name strikes you as odd, but there is actually a very simple explanation: it comes from an old horse-riding tradition which dictates that the first thing you should say on entering the arena is dá licença, or “with your permission”. It is a ritual that Vitor and Franck learnt from their riding days in Portugal, a courtesy that they like and have adapted to the hospitality industry.
The place, the history and the project Dá Licença is the fruit of the work of a successful duo. Vitor Borges and Franck have brought their aesthetic ideas, sensibilities, tastes and ways of looking at the world to bear on this project. The result is a unique hotel noticeable for its commitment to quality and suffused with their experiences from living outside Portugal. Their love of the country was developed at their house in Normandy, a refuge from the noise and hustle of Paris. But the very first time they visited this spot, bathed in a deep red sunset and with a panoramic view of the Alentejo hills, they realized they were not going to create the holiday home here that they had in mind. The grandeur and scale of the land afforded them the chance to construct something bigger and, little by little, Dá Licença began to take shape, with the purpose of opening its doors to others, to tourism and to the arts.
Located 7 km from Estremoz and integrated into a national eco-reserve, the estate consist of 120 hectares of hills and over 13,000 olive trees planted on land rich in the white and pink marble of the region. Uniquely positioned, it has views of the forest of Serra d’Ossa, Evoramonte, Estremoz and the small Alentejo villages which become visible as the night sets in and their lights begin to shimmer.
The land once belonged to the nuns of the Convent of Estremoz, of the Order of Malta, who had a vegetable and an organic garden here, and later to a cooperative that produced olive oil until 1985-90.
The architecture and the interior Nestled in a rural setting, but contemporary in character, the hotel is built on older structures, the first buildings having existed here in 1840-50. From acquiring the land until opening the hotel’s doors took 5 years. Vitor and Franck counted on the support of the architects at Procale in Estremoz to rehabilitate a series of buildings which embrace the past, combining lines, volumes and modern elements in a dialogue between traditional and contemporary architecture.
Dá Licença consists of three buildings featuring a total of five suites and three bedrooms with extraordinary areas – 50 and 180 m² - decorated with style and elegance. It is impossible to pass by without noticing the bathrooms, which are as important here as the other rooms. Large in size with hand-sculpted marble sinks, two of them have fabulous marble bath tubs. With courtyards, small private gardens and lovely terraces, each bedroom has its own charm.
The main building, with a central courtyard, is composed by common areas, a dining room, several other rooms, a suite and two bedrooms. In a place like the Alentejo, the presence of water is essential, hence the stunning and perfectly round swimming pool that reflects the colours of the light and surrounding nature. For guests, there is also a more discreet emerald green infinity pool for private use. There is also a porch, flanked by a water tank, where you have breakfast in the open air.
The second building consists of two suites, each of which has its own private swimming pool. And the third building has two suites and a bedroom.
Unlike traditional local interiors, which are more closed and protected from the heat, the rooms are surprisingly generous in area and have no doors, each one extending into the next. There is a minimal and monastic side to Dá Licença, but it is never less than cosy and inviting. Luxury here is also about space and time. There is room to socialize but there are no lack of places to be by yourself, reading in the library, in a room which opens onto another or in the privacy of the bedrooms. Although the hotel is in the Alentejo, a region of high temperatures, it has no air conditioning. From the granite floor to the marble bathrooms and original “blinds” filtering the sun, everything is designed to cool you down or warm you up, depending on the season.
Art, handcraft and nature Art and nature are deeply ingrained in the soul of Dá Licença. They complement and rival each other, forming a cohesive whole that give the project its raison d’être, based on strong philosophical underpinnings. Both of the owners have had a life-long connection to art. It is a common passion, but each has their own sensibility and taste. As far as styles and art movements are concerned, Jugendstil and Anthroposophical Design are given particular prominence. The former is a more graphic and geometric Scandinavian variant of French Art Nouveau. The latter is derived from the early 20th-century philosophy of Rudolf Steiner and promotes a form of thinking independent of sensory experience. It uses organic, cubist and crystalline forms, applied to furniture which highlights function and materials.
There is a clear emphasis on the ideals of the Arts & Crafts movement, which argues that art exists everywhere, both inside the home and in the garden. It eliminates the boundary between interior and exterior, and removes the distinction between high and low art. It was a return to the “savoirfaire” of folk culture and beauty, where artists and artisans could do everything, from painting to tapestry, sculpture and cabinetmaking. There are arts and crafts everywhere, ranging from monumental pieces in a bathroom to sculptures as you turn a corner in the garden. To assemble the collection has taken a lifetime of discovery, with pieces acquired all over Europe, on a journey that takes you to France, Norway, Finland, Italy and Portugal.
Communing with these styles are contemporary items that give a touch of modernity here and there. Such as the imposing chimney in the shape of a drop of water in the entrance from 1960, the sculptures by Rui Chafes and the ceramics by Susana Piteira. And then there is the omnipresent marble – a clear homage to the region’s identity. Vitor designed the side tables, lamps and other pieces and had them made by Francesco Pluma, a local craftsman who also created some of the sculptures. As for the bath tubs, toilet bowls and sinks, they were patiently and skillfully molded by a local artisan working in the quarries. And for a touch of colour and heat, blankets were created by Mizzete Nielsen. Care and manifest pleasure was taken in using local people, boosting handicrafts and local production.
Having said that, Dá Licença does not mean to be a museum and gallery. There is art everywhere, but informally so; it is not intended to be exhibition-like and imposing.
Breakfast and suchlike Local produce from the surrounding area or from Estremoz market give the kitchen its theme and dictate how the day begins. The dedication put into breakfast is well known. The produce changes as the seasons come and go, but it includes indispensable Alentejo-style bread, a delicious homemade cake, yoghurts, granola and the famous cold meats of Dom Octávia. And eggs, if you request.
For lunch and dinner, the menu is a surprise. You tell them what you like and what you cannot eat. And it is not unusual to find Vitor in front of the stove. You can eat at the long table or choose one of the three smaller ones for a more intimate experience. The space, where everything is private, is dynamic and designed to make you feel completely at ease, with original and personalised service.
The gallery & restaurant Set below ground level, before entering the hotel itself, is an old oil press where you find the gallery with the private art collection focused on the style dearest to Franck: Jugendstil and Anthroposophical Design. This beautiful renovated space with room for 30 people will be the future home of a restaurant with a terrace for al fresco eating at lunch and dinner. Everything is ready, with equipment that would make many a chef envious. But it is still unknown who will be lucky enough to head the kitchen.
The partners Vitor Borges (1969, Portuguese) has huge experience of the arts and fashion. As a teenager, he dreamt of becoming a painter and a cook, but the conservatism of his parents led him to study modern literature after high school rather than fine arts, as he would have wished. He has had a highly eclectic career, as one would expect of someone with an equally creative and rational mind. The business side was developed in the pharmaceutical industry. He then gained experience of management and marketing at a multinational, travelling all around the world. He worked in the textiles industry in Italy and finally settled in Paris, where he was general director of the textiles and silk department at Hermès for six years. Along the way, he managed to realise his dream of being a painter for two years.
Franck Laigneau (1970, French) –Like Vítor, Franck has also had a very diverse career. Chance, and friendships, led him into acting, where he worked in television and theatre for 5 years. At 20, he was a trapeze artist, an area he fell in love with for a time, and then he went on to study psychology. But his future was dictated by an interest in art galleries and antiques. He entered the art world as an autodidact and over the last 20 years has dedicated himself to Jugendstil (a Scandinavian form of Art Nouveau with a graphic and geometric style) and Anthroposophical Design, two relatively unknown art movements on which he has become a major authority.
Useful information & prices Bedrooms - from € 270 Suites - from € 350