[ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL] — Leaving the pine-canopied coastal lands of Comporta, you drive straight across the heart of Portugal’s beautiful Alentejo region. Covering 30% of the country, this is Portugal’s bread basket. 10,000+ square miles of endless fields of cork, olives, wine and wheat. When you read any article on Alentejo, you will undoubtably see bright photos golden wheat and dark green cork trees, mine will be no different. I’m here to visit one of Alentejo’s best boutique hotels.
It almost feels like a movie filter, everything all gold, dark green and brown. The pounding sun almost making everything a little fuzzy. The uniform bright white architecture of Portuguese house of buildings, starkly contrasting with the golden fields and green hills.
Driving up through the marshlands of Comporta and Setubal, you pass through the hill town of Alcácer do Sal, then the road drops down into a vast flat land, like the floor of a giant volcano, studded with endless cork trees. Millions of them. Most going back hundreds of years. In between the dark green leaves and brown trucks that look like they’ve had a haircut are olive trees, the same dark hues, casting shadows dotting the golden grass floor. I swear, these trees went on like this for a hundred miles.
I read once that a cork tree takes 70 years to mature before you can pull its first layer of cork. That means that one never plants for their own benefit, but for the benefit of future generations. There can’t be a more heartfelt agricultural crop. Then you see millions and millions of these, as far as the eye can see and think about all the love that went into these fields hundreds of years ago — they’ve been harvesting cork for over 300 years in these lands — generation after generation. Cork is still harvested by hand, no machine can do this work efficiently or effectively.
This is a giant post… because there is so much to do at this incredible hotel.
Deep in Alentejo, just a few clicks from the Spanish border, São Lourenço do Barrocal is a sparkling new hotel built out of restored barns and buildings on a sprawling 2000 acre farm estate. It took the owners 14 years to restore life these old agricultural buildings…and they killed it. Wait until you see.
They have their own organic gardens and grow and serve nearly all their own food. And I’m here to eat it. All of it. And their wine. And olives. And olive oil. And especially the lamb…
When you pull off the road and into the cork tree lined entrance to Sao Lourenco do Barrocal, you know this is going to be good…
I read once that a cork tree takes 70 years to mature before you can pull its first layer of cork. That means that one never plants for their own benefit, but for the benefit of future generations.
The “barrocal” part of São Lourenço do Barrocal comes from the Neolithic rock outcroppings that are dotted all over this region. Ends up, this region and this estate are the centers of prehistoric life in the Iberian peninsula and there are ancient monuments, houses and tombs all over the place.
Sao Lourenco do Barrocal is a restored 200 year old working organic farm in Portugal’s Alentejo region that’s been in the same family for eight generations. All these old farm buildings have been meticulously restored, turning them into 40 guest rooms, suites and villas, mixing the original architectural elements with understated design. I wish I could paint my house in these colors.
All the thick old agricultural details have been preserved — these sweet rooms used to house all the families working on the farm, now they’re turned into suites.
I tell ya, just about every building is looooong and impossible to capture in a single frame. But your eyes go from wide angle 👀 to zoom lens 🔍 on all the meticulous details in every square meter.
This is the main drag of the hotel, cobblestone paths lined with former agricultural buildings, now restored into sumptuous suites. Each out building has its own character and groupings of rooms. Most have terraces, there are even farmhouses and villas you can rent.
This is the view that brought me here. When I saw this on someone’s Instagram feed, I knew I had to go there. Like hearing the first ten seconds of a good song, I knew the rest was exactly what I’d love.
The estate at São Lourenço do Barrocal is vast, thousands of acres, but everywhere you look, there’s attention to detail in every square meter.
Keeping character with the thick walls of the two hundred year old buildings, but with special modern touches that surprise and delight around every corner.
All over this gigantic estate, every square meter is design to the T.
And the same thing you saw earlier looks completely different at different times of the day.
The perfect Negroni Spot™️
You know, it was still in their first year or so, so they are still getting the kinks worked out in terms of service. Had many disappointments in scheduling activities by telling one person, I watch them enter it on the computer, but then show up and there is no record of it. I came to ride horses, scheduled one ride, but the horseman had no record of it and all the horses were gone. Rebooked again and the vet unexpectedly showed up and vaccinated horses, so they couldn’t be ridden. Had a half day scheduled with the in-house archaeologist, but he canceled at the last minute and was fully booked for the rest of my stay. Had a massage lined up, but showed up, no record and they were fully booked. So, I came and did a lot, but also didn’t get to do what I wanted to do the most.
Sitting in the middle of a two thousand acre estate, Sao Lourenco do Barrocal is a working farm, surrounded by hay fields, thousands of olive and cork trees, a vineyard, ancient menhirs, cows, sheep and even an old Roman dam.
The views out here are endless. Fresh mowed hay, vineyards, orchards and 1000yr old olive trees. And mountain top villages just as backdrop.
The estate is so big, they have a large trail system and map for exploring. I went for a three hour walk. (Some may say I got lost.) I went to get a picture of Monsaraz grinning down on us, but there was always some view around the corner that always drew me further — my buddy Neil, an intrepid hiker, always taught me that there always could be something cooler just in the other side of the bend.
There’s a hole trail system, with mind-blowing things to see all along the way. They are even selling houses scatted about the estate. You can own a part of this, too.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, I soon found myself on some farm track, in search of an ancient Roman dam, not sure if it was an official path or I was just bushwhacking. But I kept on.
I round the corner and I hear a big and urgent hrrrrrump-snoort-snoort. I stopped in my tracks. There stood an 800lb bull steer🐂, the same copper brown as a shorn cork trees, staring straight at me. Pissed.
It was my own Three Stooges Moment. So comical. This grand beast, acting to typecasting, scratching his right hoof, not left, in the dirt, with a couple of extra Carmen Miranda cha-cha-chas of his other three legs just for the full cartoon effect.
Woooooooo, I said gently, thinking I’m now a Cow Whisperer. “Calma, calma…tranquilo..” I said, thinking I’m now a Portuguese speaker.
And there we stood 👁 to 👁. Suddenly, I realized being so close to Spain, we were probably in Toro Country and he was looking at my two left feet like he was gonna win.
Tapping into all of my Jesuit education, I knew I was the one who should back off. But first, I thought I should probably take a picture… I just know you guys wouldn’t believe all this. I pulled out my camera and… can you believe this?…. started to take a picture 📷
But that’s when it dawned on me.. cameras have a flashing red light 📸 something a red-hating animal is probably not going to like. So I don’t have a photo of this encounter.
Slowly I backed off. Inch by inch. Backing up like a garbage truck…beep-beep-beeep. . . . . . . . …….🚛
I backed ‘round a tree and ran home like a 9 year old girl. (She would probably be fearless, hence the statue in New York). And then I went home and took a shower.
The next day I went on a 7km hike through the estate, came around the corner and all the cows turned at once, “We’ve been waiting for you….” No sign of the stomping bull, thank god.
São Lourenço do Barrocal boasts its own unique beef herd of pedigree cows, whose origins lie in the native Alentejanas, crossed with specially imported French Salers and Limousin bulls.
In the first part of the last century, this farmstead grew and grew until it was almost a cooperative, with fifty families living in these same rooms, working the farm, growing all their own food. Very rare for such a large farm during those times.
Walking around under the big sky, you can see all changes of landscapes.
More trees…. siiiiigh.
I just fell in love with all these trees, the big blue sky and the puffy white clouds.
My guide had to cancel, so I wondered around on my own. I believe this is the olive tree that is one thousand years old.
It’s just mind blowing that this great menhir was stood up on its end RIGHT HERE over 7,000 years ago — only a hundred meters from my bed(!) — and now soaks up the hot Alentejo sun from rise to set. (It’s a good tanner… like Alicia Vikander.). The hotel has their own archeologist that gives regular tours and explains all these ancient things. I was all set for my tour on the last day, but he had to cancel due to a family emergency.
The “barrocal” part of Sao Lourenco do Barrocal comes from the Neolithic rock outcroppings that are dotted all over this region. Ends up, this region and this estate are the centers of prehistoric life in the Iberian peninsula and there are ancient monuments, houses and tombs all over the place.
People in some form or another have been living here since 30,000BC. You know how I get excited about Roman stuff, but this old stuff makes that look as new as a Vegas suburb. Dolmens (tombs) and Menhirs (big uprighted stones) and circular temples like Stonehenge are dotted all over this region.
Dolmens (tombs) and Menhirs (big uprighted stones) and circular temples like Stonehenge are dotted all over this region.
On this estate alone, there are more than 16 different ancient neolithic dolmen poking out of the golden grass, or tucked under the shade of a sturdy tree. I had no idea all this was here when I originally booked.
It’s the craziest thing to be walking around and see all these man-pushed rock formations huddled together under the cork trees, knowing that some hunter or gatherering family was gathered inside these stones cooking something dead with fire. 🔥🍗 It’s like a Flintstones Amusement Park, but it’s the real deal. And no tickets required. “Willllmaaaaaaaaaa!”
The Greeks and Romans were also here, natch. They were pushed out by the Celts, then Moors and then hairy Goths and the other Medieval nosepickers that usurped each other later. You can ride the hotel’s horses or walk out see the ancient Roman dam still in place…. pffffft a measly 2,000 years old.
They have their own vineyard, their own organic orchard, raise their own special breed of cows, clucking chickens and even grow their own grains. Vineyards are tucked into corners and they make their own fantastic wine. The place is so big and the Alentejo sun shines 275 days a year, they can and do grow or raise most everything they serve.
There is one main restaurant with inside and outdoor seating and a wonderful outdoor cafe out by the pool. The food was great, the service a little stiff, but friendly when prompted. The wine they make on the estate was fantastic, had it for every meal. With a Negroni, of course.
You’re only two hours from the ocean, so even though you’re in the interior farmlands, everything is fresh.
Just a perfect outdoor dining terrace, located right next to the pool
I read that the owner sourced ancient tiles from all over Alentejo to restore the roofs of all the buildings. Hundreds of thousands of tiles.
Each room is spotlessly nestled in the old buildings, walls thick.
So many things to do at this hotel. Make sure you book several days to take them all in. Here are just a few of the activities I was able to do.
As in my previous post, you can take this amazing balloon ride over nearby Monsaraz, the huge Alqueva reservoir and if the winds are right, right over Sao Lourenco do Barrocal.
Monsaraz is a nearby hilltop castle town overlooking the golden fields and endless stubble of trees of Alentejo. Gorgeous little village.
Don’t do what I do and go on a cloudy Monday. When nearly everything is closed and… um, it’s cloudy.
Go at sunrise or sunset when the horizon turns golden to match the grass fields.
Sao Lourenco do Barrocal has a great horse riding program on their fleet of prized Lusitano thoroughbred horses, the oldest saddle horses in the world. You can roam the thousands of acres of the estate, do a sunset ride up to the nearby hilltop town of Monsaraz, even a full moon ride under the bright stars — this area of Alentejo is known for its Dark Skies viewing.
I really was looking forward to riding one of these great beasts, but there was a mix up in my reservations and then the vet made a visit and had to give the horses vaccinations. Actually, I think Pedro the horse whisperer actually took one look at me and thought to himself: “Hmmmm, this guy looks more like a pool boy than a ranch hand. Soft hands. Let’s pull the ole Vaccination Routine… ”. Next time.
“Oh look, they have a pool!”
You should go here.
Here are all the posts I’ve made on the beach town area of Comporta, on the coastal side of Alentejo.
You can take a faster driving route, straight up the E1 then across the A6, but it is exactly the same time — two hours, two minutes — to cut straight across over the winding two lane roads that dissect Alentejo, with upclose views of life that hasn’t changed in generations.
Here’s a guide to Alentejo from The Guardian. And one from NY Magazine. And The 10 Best Things to Do in Alentejo from Culture Trip. And a beautiful story on Alentejo from Conde Nast Traveler.
A guide of the best hotels in Alentejo from The Telegraph.
Here is the hotel’s website. And a review of the hotel from The Telegraph. The hotel is also very well known for its famous Suzanne Kaufmann spa. Another review from The Evening Standard. And from the ultra hip Wallpaper. And the design website Arch Daily.
And a fantastic review from my favorite Portuguese boutique hotel site, Jo&So. Check them out for all good things.
— Last Visited July 2018 — dining terrace
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