Virtuoso Life - January/February 2018 - 103
A trio of French girls in
cowboy hats and not much else
loll about playing cards.
vineyards outside the town of Montemor-o-Novo, had a Michelinstarred restaurant and spacious suites with retractable roofs that
opened so you could sleep under the stars. We then rode on to Évora, the region's capital, a stunning UNESCO World Heritage city.
There, in Enoteca Cartuxa, a contemporary wine bar, we feasted
on Alentejo specialties: roast rabbit salad, wild mushrooms, locally
made cheeses, and wines from the nearby Cartuxa Winery.
After a night at Convento do Espinheiro (a Luxury Collection property), a romantic monastery-turned-hotel with historic
cloisters, expansive gardens, and winetasting in the Gothic wine
cellar, we biked across undulating plains toward the Spanish border.
Scenes unfolded like a mildly hypnotic dream: bright-white churches framed by deep-blue sky, centuries-old villages where sturdy
men and women with walking sticks eyed us, towering eucalyptus
trees with their tangy scent. On the fourth afternoon, we rolled into
São Lourenço do Barrocal, an immense estate reached by a long
gravel drive lined with Alentejana cattle and holm oaks.
It was here, checking into our room at the year-and-a-half-old
hotel, that I realized we'd arrived someplace out of the ordinary. An
assortment of ancient manuscripts, old family photographs, and
vintage objects hung on the lobby walls in a chic arrangement. Our
room, a fresh breath of understated refinement in this old-world
landscape, occupied a converted farm building with an exquisite
reclaimed tile roof. Soft rugs graced kiln-fired terra-cotta brick
floors, cool and porous underfoot. French doors painted a milky
green opened onto a private terrace. Everything had a cohesive,
rustic simplicity that perfectly echoed the rural surroundings.
São Lourenço, it turns out, is a 1,927-acre farm that has belonged
to the family of co-owner José António Uva since 1820. Like many
properties in the region, it was expropriated by the Communist
government in 1975 after Portugal's Carnation Revolution.
"Out of the blue, my mother, who was seventh generation on the
property, was ordered out," Uva tells me later by phone. "My family
had to flee the country. We went first to Spain, then to Brazil."
It took until 1991 for the family to regain control of the land, and
by then their nearly 200-year-old herdade (a working farm estate)
was uninhabitable. "It was a long journey getting it back into production, starting with the wines," Uva says. In 2002, after working
in both corporate finance and advertising in London, Uva embarked
upon what would become a 14-year labor of love.
The result is marvelous. The vast property has been reclaimed
as a low-key farm resort that strikes just the right note of pastoral
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