We’d come to Herdade da Malhadinha Nova for its stellar chef. And working winery. And golden Alentejo scenery. Oh, and the glittering infinity pool, set in green, green gardens. Did we mention the spoil-you-rotten spa? With peaceful private casas and charming country suites it's the ideal Portuguese hideaway.
Get this when you book through us:
10 per cent off in the spa and restaurant, and a jar of home-made jam to take home
Double rooms from £264.75 (€300), including tax at 6 per cent.
Rates include Continental breakfast, which is served sociably around one table in the bar.
Relax in the sleek spa: have a Turkish bath, get bubbly in the Jacuzzi, and indulge in a massage – there are wine- and olive oil-based Thalgo treatments.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (24 and 25 December) and from 1 January to 1 February.
At the hotel
Spa, gardens, library, selection of CDs and DVDs, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: Dux bed, flatscreen TV, iPod dock, Bulgari bath products. The Suites at Casa das Pedras and exclusive-use Casa da Ribeira and Casa das Artes & Ofícios each have a private pool too.
Our favourite rooms
Flower has zingy lime-green styling; it’s also the only room that has direct access to the pool. Families will appreciate the extra leg-room offered by the Junior Suite, or the utter peace and quiet – plus some very slick mod-rustic styling – in the exclusive use Casa da Ribeira and Casa das Artes & Ofícios, which handily have a fully equipped kitchen and private pool..
There's an infinity pool set in the vineyards, with dark wooden decking and vivid blue tiles. Book a Suite at Casa das Pedras or one of the hotel's exclusive-use casas and you'll have a pool to yourself. Guests staying in a suite at Casa do Ancoradouro will have access to a shared swimming spot.
Wellington boots for stomping through the vineyards and olive groves; a nail brush to clean your toes post-grape-squashing; riding boots and jodhpurs for exploring the countryside on horseback.
Guests get free bike hire, a wine tour and a tasting, to help them settle in.
This hotel is better suited to couples - leave the children at home!
Stake out seats clustered around the glass walled-corner, for the best vineyard views.
This is the first building guests come to (rooms are set further back, in the thick of the vineyards and cattle fields). The set-up hints at food’s importance here – the chef, Joachim Koerper, has a Michelin star, and his take on typical Alentejo fare – chickpea stew, giblets, game, and delicious chocolate tart – lures in locals too. Decor-wise, the restaurant has a split personality: one half feels rustic, with wooden furniture and a fireplace, the other side is modern, with glass walls and white and emerald wicker chairs.
There is a little drinking area in the main hotel building with relaxed lounge music and glittering bottles, where wine tastings are conducted and breakfast is served.
Breakfast is served from 8am–11am (either in-villa or at one of the estate's casas); lunch is from 12.30pm–3pm; and dinner is an à la carte menu served from 7.30pm–10pm.
Items from the restaurant menu can be ordered during the hotel's set dining times.
Faro airport is an hour and a half drive, served by Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) from all across the UK, including Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool and London Stansted. EasyJet (www.easyjet.com) flights also depart from various UK airports, including Newcastle and London Gatwick. International travellers are likely to need to change in Lisbon, two hours away by car.
Beja station is 22km away, served by Comboios de Portugal (www.cp.pt), and with trains to/from Evora, Faro and Lisbon.
From the A2, you'll need to exit and follow signs for Beja; the hotel is a turning to your left. It’s definitely worth having a car, so you can explore your surroundings. Hotel parking won’t cost you a euro.
Worth getting out of bed for
A dynamic duo – Luis and Bruno – are the hotel’s ‘Guest Experiences team’: ask them about grape picking and grape-trampling (pulverising the fruit with your toes) during the August harvest. Try out the Jacuzzi and the Turkish baths in the spa, and indulge in treatments. Have a yoga lesson, go horse riding in the vineyards and countryside, and have a cookery class with the hotel’s Michelin-starred chef. Embark on a boating adventure – the hotel has three man-made lakes (you can go fishing, too). Luis and Bruno can arrange hot-air-balloon rides, canoeing, and day trips to Evora for some sight-seeing: the old town counts mediaeval walls and a Roman temple among its historic lures. Quad biking, target shooting, treasure hunts and orienteering missions will keep older children and teens entertained. Have a guided wine tasting with one of Malhadinha’s expert wine makers – you’ll sample the Monte da Peceguina red, white and rosé, and nibble typical local cheeses.
If you manage to tear yourself away from chef Joachim Koerper’s creations, Hotel Vila Gale Clubé de Campo (www.vilagale.pt) at Herdade da Figueirinha, Santa Vitória, has a rustic restaurant with a greed-defying buffet of traditional Portuguese dishes (the cod and veal are particularly tasty). The dining room has wooden beams and a striking central fireplace, and the little bar serves potent cocktails. Pousada de Sao Francisco (+351 284 313 580; www.pousadas.pt) is a Portuguese restaurant chain which adapts its menu to highlight local cuisine and specialities. The hotel’s closest branch is at Largo D. Nuno Álvares Pereira, Beja.
The road was jammed full. No way of getting through. Sheep. Hundreds of them. And more importantly for Mrs Smith, baby lambs. This was our wooly welcoming party to the striking Baixo Alentejo countryside, Portugal’s most agricultural region. A lack of any cars and no one in the local villages speaking any English gave us a lovely feeling that we were in proper Portuguese Portugal, real and unspoiled, unlike much of the anglicised Algarve.
The Herdade da Malhadinha Nova Country House & Spa sits atop a typical Portuguese farming estate in the middle of this rural landscape, surrounded by vineyards. Herdade da Malhadinha is also a working winery. Cue tours and tastings, and a green-and-gold sprawl of vineyards and olive groves. It’s the kind of place where male peacocks and turkeys stroll around side by side, an incongruous but touching companionship.
Overworked and underplayed, Mrs Smith and I arrived exhausted for our out-of-season weekend. We were greeted by Bruno and an attention to service and detail that, in moments, had us relaxed. And in typical British style, despite October gale-force winds, I jumped straight into the infinity pool while Mrs Smith arranged lunch on the terrace. An unheated pool at that time of year was, ahem, ‘refreshing’, but incredible.
With a view devoid of any other signs of human life, the tranquility was uninterrupted and it felt properly secluded. Then, from the pool I spotted some flying salami. Admitting that our alfresco meal was perhaps not the best idea, we settled instead into the main room of the country house. Wooden beams, a huge fireplace, plump sofas and an impressive wine bar where the bottles are back-lit on library-like shelves complete with sliding ladder (thankfully though, unlike a library, you don’t have to give the contents back). Expect to become well acquainted with Alentejo staples here: chickpeas, game, moreish chocolate sweets.
This was the first of a spectacular series of meals at the hotel. Oh-so-tender steak from ‘pureblood’ Alentejo cattle reared right there on the farm. The tenderness according to Bruno is because they are ‘very lazy cows’. So there you go, there is an advantage to being a lazy cow. (And a word on Portuguese tapas – it’s similar to Spanish tapas except you’re eating it in Portugal. I am making this assumption based on the time I asked a Welsh B&B owner what exactly a Welsh breakfast was and received the curt reply that it was ‘exactly the same as an English breakfast but you are in Wales now, boy!’ I was 35 at the time.)
Grapes may vie with guests for attention, but both are tended with care. This is a place with a family feel, more a modern country home than a pay-up-and-go hotel. We’ve heard it’s easy to find yourself doing very little of anything (if you can resist the temptation to have a photography or painting tutorial, stretch out and breathe with a yoga class, or tear up the turf on quad bikes, that is).
Rooms are named with whimsy, and in honour of the owners’ children’s drawings: Grape, Flower, or Bee, for example. Ours, one of only seven, was more minimal than the main sitting room: cool and simple with everything you could want – a massive bed, a massive shower, a massive bath and a telly (oh, and a view of the vineyards). We heard tell too of a spa below, with a large Jacuzzi and massage rooms. Relaxation is clearly paramount.
That evening we were escorted to the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant by Land Rover. Housed on the estate, there we were also treated to a tour of the vinification plant that makes up the rest of the building. I’m not sure how I imagined a wine press to look, but it wasn’t like that. Huge stainless-steel containers and many-buttoned control panels: it looked like it belonged in a Bond film. The director in me couldn’t help thinking that the location would have worked well for a chase scene – plenty of hiding places for baddies to jump out from, chrome casing for bullets to ping off, and wooden barrels to be caught in the crossfire, leaked red wine symbolising the impending bloodshed…
Oops. As you can probably tell, my imagination wandered slightly despite the interesting talk we were being given. Perhaps it was because of Mrs Smith’s incessant questions, a couple of which were either misunderstood or politely ignored. (‘If the person treading on the grapes has cheesy feet, does that affect the taste?’ Oh dear.)
Restaurante Gourmet da Malhadinha, the Michelin-starred restaurant and its chef Joachim Koerper, didn’t let us down, despite stratospheric expectations. And neither did the English menu translations: ‘Shrimp from Algarve Coast, his salad perfumed with gazpacho vinaigrette’. We never found out what Mr Shrimp’s perfumed salad was like, but what we did have was incredible. Despite elaborate listings, food was simple, delicious and very fresh. Mrs Smith was well looked after for wine with tastings generously given. By her own admission she’s no connoisseur but she knows what she likes and she liked the inexpensive Antão Vaz a lot. A bottle of the red Monte da Peceguina was then taken back to the hotel’s sheltered terrace, to enjoy from under a blanket, watching the stars.
From tipples to feathers: another feature of the weekend was spotting the rare elegant birds with elaborate black-on-brown crests and wide white ruffled wings that frequently dropped by. Great busturds, apparently. I smiled to Mrs Smith as we watched another land in Herdade da Malhadinha’s sprawling grounds: ‘Lucky bustards, I’d say.’ And testament to just how relaxing our weekend was, Mrs Smith smiled back. Only two nights and she was even enjoying my puns: what better endorsement that this hotel guarantees good spirits do you need than that?