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Writer Henry James used to say that “summer afternoon” were the two most beautiful words in the English language. With this in mind we went looking at the sunset at two of the most charming hotels in Portugal: one in the North and another one in the South. What do these hotels have in common? A sense of peace one wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world.
Both national and international press define São Lourenço do Barrocal as a five star “monte alentejano”. But after three days at this magical place that blends, as very few do, unpretentious luxury with the simplicity of the countryside, Vogue risks saying that this hotel is much more than that: it’s somewhat of a spiritual retreat. Located in Alentejo’s countryside, where the silence is absolute and time seems to stop, this 780-hectare property, with over 200 years of history, has a longtime philosophy of preserving nature. It seems like a cliché but nothing about Barrocal is ordinary or vulgar. There’s a sense of belonging in every nook, or had not been the current owners of this hotel (or should we say “curators”?) the eighth generation of the family that built this agricultural property. Only five minutes away from Monsaraz, the unique medieval village over Alqueva, Barrocal is nothing but a dream come true. Above all of the peace that it provides as soon as we start approaching the stone road that severs the horizon inviting the guests to the unreal and enchanted environment. Formalities are not welcomed. Here cars are replaced by long walks in infinite paths or bicycle rides, that blend in with terrace tables and chairs, randomly placed in front of what we usually call the “reception”. Since the placement of the buildings has been the same for about two centuries, apart from the magnificent intervention by the architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, mainly visible in the winery, the biological vegetable garden and the pool area, with a rock crossing the whole area (precisely called barrocal and to be found in several parts of the property), it is no wonder that the “foundation” of the hotel are the long houses with blue doors that allow for the spacious bedrooms and suites and some family houses. But all of this is information you can get from the internet. What is impossible to report would require direct contact with the smell of the vines, the olive groves, the flowers, the horses, the centennial trees and all that exists in the property, that creates the feeling of purity and authenticity. It has become a habit to say “less is more”, however here it seems to be the concept underlying every detail. The farm to table concept embraces the best of Alentejo’s typical cooking and is the basis for every bar and restaurant’s menu in Barrocal (we recommend a sunset dinner in the São Lourenço do Barrocal terrace, where the vines assume forms of magical creatures as we go through the menu, between the “Vira-vira da nossa vitela com migas de espargos” or the “Lombo de bacalhau no forno com batatas e pimentos” or even “Chouriço de porco preto alentejano assado em Medronho”). At the Susanne Kaufmann Spa, a place devoted to beauty, serenity and holistic comfort, it is possible to try different massages, treatments and products, all of which have an organic cosmetic basis, adapted to the specific needs of both the face and the body. Note that Susanne Kaufmann is an internationally known beauty guru, making the use of these products invented by her a privilege. Something not to miss, because life is short, and we never know when we will be coming back to the places where we were happy: a wine tasting (that requires reservation but what does that matter when the White wine is as good or better than the Red wine?), a picnic in the middle of nowhere (exactly what you are imagining) and a night of star watching (the universe is infinite but there are astronomers that can teach us how to find the Polar Star and why there are planets that last longer than others). To learn more on www.barrocal.pt or by phone 266247140.
It is impossible to do the Lisbon-Lamego route without thinking, even in a innocent way, that we are about to taste the best Port in the world. Ok, maybe we’re not just focusing on that, since Six Senses Douro Valley, located in a majestic hill surrounded by mountains covered in vines reaching the margins of the Douro river, is known as one of the most charming hotels in the world – worthy of a postcard, one that you do not need to see in order to believe in. The architecture of this hotel contributes to this image, a fully remodelled 19th century house, in which the gardens and vast forest (where the air you breathe is purer than any other and where the walks, even those in the hardest walking paths, turn into unforgettable experiences) merge with its surroundings. The luxury can be found everywhere: from the naturally lit bedrooms and suites to the impressive Spa composed of ten treatment rooms, a fitness center, a yoga studio, a nail bar (who has never dreamed of drinking organic wine whilst getting their nails done) an alchemy bar (where you can make your own beauty products) and an interior pool where you can listen to music… under water. What to do at Six Senses? Everything and nothing. We’ll explain: between dozens of possible experiences, such as guided tours to the wine farms of the area, boat rides, cooking lessons, helicopter toursor tile workshops, the hard part is choosing. There are those who prefer to spend their days in the magnificent pool, surrounded by palm trees, enjoying the sun (in the summer the temperatures can go as high as 30 degrees) contemplating the silence – there is absolutely no noise other than the sound of the bees reminding us that we are in the heart of nature – waiting for lunch time, or snacks or dinner, all great excuses to try the typical Douro region gastronomy. A lot of the options available at the different bars and restaurants (in Vale Abraão, chef Josper Grill is responsible for the informal tasting menu that is as delicious as it is unforgettable) are from the vegetable gardens of the hotel and the region of Douro, assuring the sustainability stand taken by the hotel. Let’s not forget that the scenery, that makes us forget reality and believe we are in a movie, a UNESCO World Heritage site, justifies the concern in maintaining the environment as it is – unique, green, alive. And the Port the reader has been asking since the beginning? The correct way to put it would be “the Ports”. It would be weird that in Douro we would come across only one kind of Port right? That does not happen, the options are as many as the castes available to the most demanding visitor. Close your eyes and imagine the best wines in the world are available to you. Seems like a dream doesn’t it? Here it is possible. To learn more in www.sixsenses.com/pt/resorts/douro-valley or by phone 254660600.
Translated from the original, as part of Vogue Portugal's The Nonsense Issue, from July/August 2021.
Full credits and story on the print version.