São Lourenço do Barrocal, Monsaraz, Portugal

With its sharp cocktails and golden, estate-produced honey, olive oil and wine, this rural Alentejo retreat offers a beautiful blend of quietly luxurious R&R and feel-good activities

must be spring because the swallows are back and nesting at
São Lourenço do Barrocal, a 200-year-old agricultural estate in
Portugal’s sparsely populated, wine-growing Alentejo region – the
kind of countryside where the only road signs you pass are
“caution, frogs crossing” ones. With seven whitewashed, red-roofed
buildings arranged on either side of a wide cobbled central
thoroughfare, little, superficially, has changed here in the last
two centuries. Maintaining the integrity of the estate’s heritage
has not come at the expense of urbane luxury, though: home to two
farm-to-fork restaurants, a spa, outdoor pools, stables and farm
shop, the five-star retreat is balm for the city-vexed soul.

Eighth-generation owner José António Uva is today responsible
for 780 hectares of land roamed by wild horses and Salers cattle,
vineyards, a winery, beehives, orchards and an organic vegetable
garden. His family history comes to life through the photos and
personal objects displayed around the estate. On the wall of the
São Lourenço do Barrocal restaurant is his grandmother’s
handwritten recipe for a partridge starter (now a menu perennial);
elsewhere are black-and-white snaps of grazing flocks of Merino
sheep; the alpine ski resort where a relative was sent to cure
tuberculosis; gap-toothed little girls in t-bar shoes… The only
years missing from the collection are the 30 following Portugal’s
Carnation Revolution of April 1974, when the estate was
nationalised and occupied, its inhabitants evicted. Having fallen
into disrepair during this time, it took a lovingly executed
15-year renovation project to revive the palpably warm sense of
community that is evident from the moment you arrive.

Sit in the sun, sip a Barrocal take on a tom collins – gin
swapped out for the estate’s own limoncello – and snack on
sugar-dusted orange cake as you get your bearings, using the
hand-illustrated map of the grounds to help plan your stay. Because
while, yes, these surroundings might be conducive to finishing that
tricky second novel (or exploring transcendental meditation,
poolside), it would be a shame not to roll up your sleeves and give
some of the nourishing activities on offer a go, from beekeeping to
grape-stomping. Not forgetting a gentle bike ride through rolling
meadows punctuated by wildflowers and ancient olive trees. Just
look out for those frogs.


There are 22 rooms, two suites and 16 cottages, with spacious,
light-filled interiors designed by Lisbon-based duo Ana Anahory and
Felipa Almeida. Natural materials such as wood and ceramics are
complemented by handcrafted objects from the area, including
Alentejo-patterned blankets and rugs made on ancient handlooms in a
restored Monsaraz wool factory. Coffee and a French press, with
foolproof instructions, are provided, as are plenty of meaty
coffee-table books. Big bathrooms blend solid farmhouse tradition
with 21st-century élan, and come stocked with products from Suzanne
Kaufmann’s addictive Herbal Treats range.

What’s for breakfast?

Sheer joy, in abundance, served until 11am. A buffet spread in
the main restaurant offers enough homegrown goodness to set any
farm worker up for the day. Enjoy your poached pears in cinnamon
syrup on the al fresco terrace, to a soundtrack of Lusitano horses
whinnying, then contemplate the hot menu, which includes eggs
benedict made with speciality black pig bacon. Before leaving,
fortify yourself for the day’s adventures the traditional Alentejo
way, by knocking back a terracotta shot glass of strong local
spirit aguardente.

Lunch and dinner

Slow food reigns supreme at both São Lourenço do Barrocal and
Hortelão restaurants, with much of what’s on your plate having been
grown in the one-hectare organic garden or raised on the grounds.
Chef Celestino Grave sends out hyperfresh, colourful plates – think
melon gazpacho, cod fritters, veal tartare, and wild mushroom
sliders. Don’t skimp on dessert. Crowd-pleasers – not that you’ll
want to share – include a warm blondie scattered with edible
flowers and a melting-middle pumpkin cake.

Is there a bar?

There are two. Pair botanical cocktails and wines produced
on-site with staring at the sepia-tinted wedding portraits and
photos of picnic parties and wine harvests gone by, speculating
about life, love and which is better, the 2015 or 2016


Housed in the estate’s monastic former single farm workers’
quarters, the Suzanne Kaufmann Spa Barrocal, with its fitness
studio, dry saunas and relaxation room, is a highlight. Carve out
some time for the signature treatment: an aromatic footbath,
followed by an exfoliation with olive oil and orange and a massage
with arnica oil. Rosemary from the estate’s garden is now used in
some of Kaufmann’s products, which, until recently, only used herbs
from the Alps.

Thus purified, sally forth to discover the winery, farm shop and
stables, or sign up for one of the Barrocal experiences, which
include beekeeping, flower arranging, birding, cookery classes,
cocktail workshops, hot-air balloon rides and seasonal olive
picking and grape-treading.

What are the hotel’s eco-credentials like?

Self-sufficiency is baked into Barrocal’s DNA – in the old days,
residents would only leave once a year to go to the Monsaraz fair
to buy essentials they couldn’t grow or make themselves, such as
salt and cotton. An ethos of sustainability remains at the heart of
operations, as seen in the farm-to-table culinary concept,
commitment to organic production, mindful management of water and
other resources, use of solar panels, strong recycling and
waste-reduction practices, employment of local people (currently in
around 80 per cent of roles) and the use of high-quality,
long-lasting handcrafted products.

What about accessibility?

Some of the communal areas and guest rooms are

What’s the crowd like?

Discreetly stylish: among those we got chatting to were a
handful of erudite Alabama retirees and a well-behaved toddler
travelling with his own canary-yellow bicycle in tow.

Within a short walk I can find…

The estate. It’s huge. History buffs might want to tear
themselves away to visit the museum city of Évora, just under an
hour’s drive away, or the nearby Monsaraz village, with its
13th-century castle and views of the vast, five county-spanning
Alqueva Lake, the largest reservoir in Europe.

Things I should know

Part of a Dark Sky Reserve, this is one of the best places in
the world for stargazing. Join the Dark Sky Observatory astronomer
and his team at the estate’s old beehive garden, where, cosied up
with blankets and mugs of hot chocolate, you’ll view star clusters
and nebulae through the telescope in perspective-altering

The Lowdown

Doubles cost from £478 a night. barrocal.pt