The Transformation and Revival of a Country Estate in the Portuguese Alentejo
In early Spring we visited Sao Lourenco do Barrocal in Portugal, a vast estate of 7800 hectares in the heart of the Alentejo, which was once a traditional farming community, but has recently undergone extensive renovation to transform it into an hotel of understated luxury, while also developing and changing the farming activity and creating a new type of community that could have meaning for the 21st century. Sao Lourenco has been in the ownership of the same family for 200 years and was once self-sufficient enough to support around 50 families, all living and working on the estate producing olives, wine, cereal, cattle and dairy. The obvious way to preserve the best aspects of this way of life is surely to share its many blessings with others.
As one of the ways of making this place of natural beauty into a community, several building plots are being offered in an exceptional setting. The houses that can be built here amongst ancient rock boulders, the barrocas after which the estate is named, will have to follow the sensitive aesthetic of the main development. The architect John Pawson has set the tone by designing the first one.
During the Portuguese revolution of the 1970s there was a brief period of uncertainty leading to farm occupations including Sao Lourenco, which brought about its decline over the years, with the farming village, known as the Monte, falling into a state of disrepair. When José Antonio Uva took over the estate from his mother he already knew that he wanted to preserve the local architecture, but re-purpose it for contemporary use. It was almost too late to save the crumbling buildings of the Monte, but he took to it with such passion and commitment that made the herculean task possible. 300,000 reclaimed roof tiles had to be found, an olive mill became a bar, an old farm building became a restaurant. We are proud that The French House provided a large part of the lighting for this project. Nowadays the estate grows organic produce, has its own vineyards and vegetable gardens to provide fresh produce for the restaurant. Guests can go horse-riding, hiking or cycling, enjoy picnics on their walks, do yoga, simply lounge by the pool or enjoy a relaxing Spa treatment and star-gaze at night to finish it all off.
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