Portugal is having a moment. At the time of writing this, I have three friends who are plotting long-weekends to the sun-soaked city of Lisbon this summer, and another who’s currently enjoying the stunning scenery of the Algarve. Since the pandemic ended and travel restrictions were lifted, it seems as though the desire for us Brits to explore more of Europe has become stronger than ever, and with good reason. In the 2 and a half hours it takes me to travel to and from my best friend's house in east london, I can be strolling around sunny Lisbon, or picnicking in Paris - an extremely appealing thought for those who hate travelling long-distance, and love fitting in weekend breaks.
So with European travel on the rise, and frazzled travellers in search of the best places to unwind, relax and recharge close (ish) to home, I wanted to put you on to one of Portugal’s best-kept secrets: São Lourenço do Barrocal.
A magical - and I don’t use that word lightly - 200-year-old estate dripping with charm and Portuguese history, it’s a 5-star destination that houses a winery producing first-class single-estate wines, a farm-to-table restaurant focusing on traditional Alentejo flavours and ingredients, a farm shop selling Portuguese contemporary crafts, regional delicacies and the estate’s own produce, and a spa by Susanne Kaufmann, the renowned Austrian organic cosmetics brand. Oh, and if that wasn’t convincing enough, it also features a natural outdoor pool, organic vegetable garden, vineyards, olive groves and stables with a horse-riding ring.
Taking time to reconnect with myself in an environment that prioritises simple, daily rituals was something I was looking for. I often find myself under a mountain of stress where even the things that usually bring me joy - like cooking a meal, going for a walk or getting in a workout - feel like chores, rather than privileges. Getting out of my head and back into my body seems like such a huge task at home, so I was eager to see if a long-weekend looks like at São Lourenço do Barrocal could help me do just that.
Where do you stay?
The appeal of Barrocal is that you truly feel as if you’re staying at a traditional Alentejo family home. In the same family for over 200 years, the estate has its heart in an ancient small farming village, which has been brought carefully back to life as a remarkable hotel of understated luxury, surrounded by ancient holm oaks, olive groves and vineyards.
The estate is small enough to feel homely for the duration of your stay, but large enough for that all-important privacy. For context, it wasn’t until day three of my stay when the heavens opening (cue, some very happy vineyards) resulted in a bustling restaurant come evening-time. Up until that point it felt as if we, along with the staff, were the only ones staying there. Ideal if you’re in need of a recharge, fancy a solo trip without being disturbed or are looking for a family holiday that mimics the feel of life-at-home, with a little more sunshine.
Speaking of family holidays or trips with little ones, there are 40 rooms on the estate, ranging from double-rooms with private balconies, to self-catered cottages. The cottages are a real stand-out of the estate, and would be perfect for families or larger parties to feel connected, yet secluded at the same time. The cottages overlook the rolling hills and green fields, so it feels as if you have the whole of Alentejo in your back garden.
As for decor, think farmyard chic, with all the amenities: waterfall showers, a big bathtub, an outrageously comfy bed and a semi-private balcony to enjoy your morning coffee on. The emphasis on homely (let’s start a count of how many times I say that word, shall we?) should be reiterated here. I’ve never visited somewhere that feels just as inviting on the inside, as it did on the outside. The whole vibe of the estate makes you want to properly relax, and by that, I don’t mean the typical end-of-a-long-day mindless scroll of the internet. I mean, truly make the most of the surroundings. Taking time out to enjoy a bath before dinner, rather than a quick shower. Having a coffee and reading a book sat outside, rather than on-the-go. It’s a home away from home, and you’ll feel spoiled in every sense the minute you walk through the door.
What’s on the menu?
As a semi-vegetarian (read: extremely fussy when it comes to meat) I was worried about the food on offer in Portugal, especially out of the city, as it’s not a country known for its vegetarian options. However, although the selection was small, I took delight in trying something new, authentic, and delicious every single evening. I was travelling with someone who’s lived in Lisbon for the last year, and also made a point to emphasise how much Barrocal had to offer vegetarians and vegans compared to other places they’ve experienced in Portugal.
There’s one main restaurant, and although the menu was small and considered, I was assured that guests staying longer than 3 days are able to request different dishes from the menu to switch things up so that there’s something new and appealing. A real stand-out when it comes to dining is the vegetable garden, set just outside of the pool bar area. Guests can overlook the stunning natural pool and enjoy perfectly cooked meals using produce grown right on site. Everything is planned so that ingredients are used up to minimise waste. And any extra produce is turned into beautiful preserves, dried herbs and infused oils for guests to buy at the hotel shop.
What’s there to do?
The whole goal of the estate is to relax, and find joy in the little things. So whether it’s a morning stroll through the vineyards, olive oil tasting, a dip in the pool or a ride on one of the horses, there will be something mindful to do during your stay. We took part in the bee-keeping experience, which saw Barrocal’s resident bee-keeper teach us about the importance of the bee, the different types of species, and the process of how they make honey. We were then shown their sustainable bee-farm, where ethical bee-keeping is at the heart. Small amounts of honey are only ever harvested for use in food, and for guests to take home, and the hotel’s top priority is keeping the local population alive, safe and thriving.
If bee-keeping isn’t quite your thing, maybe you could be persuaded by wine-tasting after a tour around the scenic vineyard. Harvested by hand, following an organic production method, Barrocal produce high-quality wines, which continue a cycle of self-sustainability, present in this agricultural property since its foundation in 1820. Or perhaps you want to try your hand at wild flower foraging, followed by a guided flower-arranging class, led by a local florist.
The estate also houses a beautifully tranquil spa and gym. I enjoyed a morning workout every day during my stay and although the area was small, it was easily one of the more welcoming spaces I’ve been in. The morning light creeps through the windows, and creates the most calming environment to stretch, meditate or workout in.
The Susanne Kaufmann Spa offers a wide range of spa treatments and organic treats perfectly tailored to the needs of the face and body. I was lucky enough to try their signature spa treatment, which started with a full body scrub, made from sugar, lemon juice, and olive oil and honey produced by the farm, reinforcing the focus on using nature in every aspect. The oil was then used for a full body massage that left me invigorated and relaxed simultaneously.
São Lourenço do Barrocal’s approach to sustainability looks to the past when building the present and future, making it ideal for the conscious traveller. Since its foundation in 1820 as a farming village, the community that lived here followed a self-sustainable path, where everything needed to live a happy and fulfilled life was either sourced or produced on site. This is the principle that Barrocal’s new, modern existence aims to honour, respecting the history, culture and traditions of its past.
The property enforces measures like the sensible use of resources, small-batch production, solar panels and sustainable gardening, as well as supporting the local economy by favouring local businesses, like the baker that brings fresh bread every morning or the master potters that supply many pieces that are used for decoration and service.
Aside from being physically beautiful, Barrocal prides itself on creating a family, home-style environment that many try to replicate, but little gets right. The staff’s passion for keeping the history of the beautiful estate alive, really shines through in every aspect, and you feel welcomed into the estate’s little slice of heaven from the moment you check in. I stepped foot into Barrocal feeling very in need of a reset, and I left after only 3 days, feeling recharged with a new appreciation for finding small joys in nature and the simplicity of every day. It’s a truly special stay that leaves a lasting impression.
You can book your stay, here: https://barrocal.pt/