Sao Lourenco do Barrocal
Clean, authentic, tranquil - the kind of spaces equally suited for taking a long mid-day snooze or getting a ton of work done, should you choose to visit for a workcation.
Between the heated floors in the bathroom, the perfectly sized soaking tub (I hate a soaking tub that’s slightly too long, you know?), and an outdoor patio for enjoying a glass of wine at twilight, our room at Sao Lourenco do Barrocal felt like home after about half an hour.
In addition to the cozy (and I mean that in terms of ambiance, not space - even the entry-level rooms here are quite sizeable) farm and vineyard rooms, there are 2- and 3-bedroom cottages perfect for families or groups of friends.
The hotel’s eponymous restaurant serves healthy, hearty Alentejo food - the produce comes from the property’s organic gardens, and the hotel’s own wines make a fine accompaniment to the stronger dishes like suckling pig.
In the warmer months, Hortelao, an outdoor grill restaurant, brings the farm-to-table concept as close to home as possible - your chef will dart fifteen feet over to the garden, clip some herbs, and pop back to season your grilled fish or meat right before your eyes.
The bar, off the reception area, isn’t huge - it probably seats about twenty comfortably, in small groups - but the coziness is part of what makes it so special. You truly feel like you’re in your living room, an effect heightened by the family photographs and letters displayed around the room in letterboxes.
Leather chairs warm to the contour of your body, making it marginally difficult to get up to grab another plate of cake and cookies during the daily happy hour; books and games line the shelves - a family or group of friends could easily pass hours here.
The spa and gym are stunningly simple in design - spacious and spare, the treatment rooms provide ample room to relax and fall into a treatment-trace. I had the Susanna Kaufmann Anti-Aging Signature Treatment, and I can honestly say it’s the best facial I’ve had in my life and I am only annoyed that I didn’t also schedule a massage.
The gym space is actually large and functional, a rarity at any hotel, much less one of this size. Of course, in addition to the gym itself, one has the extensive grounds available for running, walking, hiking, and horseback riding.
We had stellar service at every meal and on-site experience. Many of the staff were from the local area and all spoke of the property with warmth and sincerity.
Worth Going Out Of Your Way For:
I literally can’t think of a better example of “worth going out of your way for.” Maybe Kinsterna. Both are stunning examples of what happens when independence, passion, and authenticity combine with a laser focus on guest experience.
Without a doubt, my favorite hotel discovery of 2018.
The history of Sao Lourenco do Barrocal is dramatic and layered with meaning: a farm owned by the same family since the mid-1800’s, Sao Lourenco do Barrocal (“Barrocal” to the staff) was privatized during the 1970’s after Portugal’s revolution; by the time the family reclaimed the property in the mid-1980’s, most of it had been looted and was in disrepair.
Current owner Jose Antonio Uva, returning to Portugal after a stint in the London finance world, set about restoring and renovating his family’s property, turning it into a world-class destination hotel. Through the subtle magic of renowned Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura (who this year won the Venice Architecture Biennale’s top prize for his work on Sao Lourenco do Barrocal), Uva renewed the existing buildings without disturbing the essence of the original property - with the stunning result of tranquil, ascetic spaces that somehow still enfold one in luxury and comfort. Furnishings and accents are locally sourced (the blankets in the rooms are available both in the store on property and in the artist’s shop in nearby Monsaraz), while heated floors and herbal Susanna Kaufmann toiletries make the shower and bath a delight.
Hints of the property’s history abound - both the bar and the restaurant are filled with artifacts from the family (letters, photographs) and the farm itself (tiny animal skulls, old farm implements).
There’s a lot of talk in hospitality about authenticity - it’s rare to find a property that so fully speaks to and inhabits the notion.
While You’re In The Area:
Check out one of the many area wineries for tastings of Alentejo wines; head to Monsaraz for some photo ops and to visit the village shops. Honestly, though, on my next trip back, I’ll probably just hike around the property in the morning and call it a day.
Don’t Take Our Word For It:
Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
Complimentary farm-to-table breakfast for two daily for duration of the stay
Choice of a $100 spa credit, per room, once during stay, OR a complimentary 1-hour horseback ride through the estate
Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability