Cooking, culture and nature take centre stage at Santiago Hotel Cooking & Nature, a gastronomic getaway that combines contemporary architecture with agrarian surroundings in Portugal’s Alentejo region. As well as being easy on the eyes – the contemporary white building is surrounded by lush green gardens and evergreen trees – it’s easy on the wallet, too, and a great choice for foodie families. Tapping effortlessly into the experiential travel trend, the hotel can arrange for you to get muddy on local farms and hands-on in its communal kitchen (but won’t mind a bit if you opt for just getting lightly bronzed by the pool).
Noon. Earliest check-in, 3pm. Both can be flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from $105.81 (€87), including tax at 6 per cent.
Rates include a daily buffet breakfast of cheese, cold cuts, jams, fruits and cakes – almost all the items you’ll see are home-made or sourced from within a 20-mile radius.
There’s a boutique grocery on-site selling regional delicacies, so you can recreate your favourite Alentejan dishes at home. And, if you take a shining to your spatula, you can take it with you – all the kitchenware used in classes and demonstrations is available for purchase.
The hotel closes annually from 2 to 31 January.
At the hotel
Food market, gym, chef’s garden, on-site parking. In rooms: cooking kit (apron, spatula and wooden spoon), canvas bags, sun hats and free WiFi.
Our favourite rooms
All the rooms look out over the castle-crowned hilltop town of Santiago do Cacém and are decorated in bright whites and light blues for a breezy, beachy feel. We have a soft spot for the Sunset Rooms – their grassy private terraces have chairs and a parasol, perfect for soaking up the last of the evening light, local wine in hand.
You’ll find cool breezes out by the unheated, family-friendly pool in the toasty summer months. The pool is closed during the winter (from November to early April).
There’s no spa on-site, but massages are available in your room on request.
Bring your sportiest wardrobe and things to get muddy in, so you’re ready for visits to nearby farms, sublime surf spots and twisty trails.
The petite gym has a little of everything you need – TRX ropes, a treadmill, a stationary bike and free weights – so you can squeeze in an effective workout between meals.
All ages are welcome; cots are available on request, meals can be adapted for little Smiths’ tastebuds and adventures can be tailored to suit the whole family.
You bet – it even has a certification for responsible tourism to prove it. All food is locally sourced, organic, fair-trade or free-range; and the hotel uses earth-friendly cleaning products and energy-saving light bulbs.
Grab a spot on the long communal dining table, the best seat in the house for chef watching.
From Lycra to pressed linens, anything goes – though you won’t regret a forgiving waistband.
Chef Daniel Censi reigns at À Terra, the hotel’s sprawling open-plan restaurant and main gathering hub. You can watch his team of chefs at work in the open kitchen – there are even TV screens showing a close-up of their handiwork, so each meal is also a live demonstration. The thoughtful Mediterranean menu is a celebration of the slow cooking methods, ingredients and history of the region – many of the flavour-packed dishes are authentically cooked in a wood oven or over a barbecue. Though the dishes change constantly according to the harvest, you can count on plenty of locally produced cheese and pork, variations on Açorda (an Alentejan stew), fresh fish, clams and oysters from the nearby Atlantic shores and aromatic herbs from the chef’s garden just outside.
There’s no separate bar, but the restaurant does a fine line in local wines – be sure to order a glass of Castelão Branco, a white wine made by the Herdade do Cebolal estate half an hour away. For something stronger, try one of the signature or classic cocktails. We loved the Cheirinho, made with local brandy, coconut, orange, honey and home-made bitters.
Breakfast is from 8am to 11am; lunch is from 12.30pm to 3.30pm, and dinner is from 7.30pm to 10.30pm.
A limited room-service menu of wood-oven-cooked pizzas, hamburgers, soups and salads is available during restaurant opening hours.
The hotel occupies a modernist white block just minutes from the heart of Santiago do Cacém, a historic hilltop town in Portugal’s rural Alentejo region. Here, you’re just 20 minutes by car from some of Europe’s finest (and most deserted) beaches.
Lisbon Airport is the closest, an hour and a half’s drive from the hotel; hotel transfers are available for €150 each way. Faro Airport is slightly further, two hours’ drive away.
With so much to explore, hiring a car makes a lot of sense. Most of the major rental firms are available at Lisbon Airport. When you arrive, the hotel has free parking on-site.
Worth getting out of bed for
Up and at ’em – Santiago Hotel is all about getting out of your room and plugged into the local experiences. We suggest starting with the food-related ones in the hotel’s enormous communal kitchen. To that end, you’ll find a ‘cooking kit’ in your room, complete with apron and utensils, which practically dares you to wander downstairs and start stirring something. A number of hour-long cooking classes and demonstrations are free with your stay; half-day classes (which often involve a trip to the local market) start from about €85 and include a three-course meal at the end. Super-keen cooks can enroll in two-day masterclasses at the cooking academy to immerse themselves in a specific subject.
Amid all this eating, cooking and, um, eating again, you’ll need to work up an appetite. Luckily, Silvestre, the canny concierge, can match you with your perfect Alentejan activity. You’ll be pleased to hear that food is never far away, though – whether it’s a hardy hike, horseback ride, jeep tour or electric-bike excursion, they all have obligatory snack stops built in. Water babies will find lots to do on the wild Atlantic coast, just 20 kilometres from the hotel – surfing, paddleboarding and scuba diving are all on tap.
You can also learn the fascinating stories behind the sustainable farms, distilleries and vineyards that surround the hotel on tours, picnics and tastings.
And when you’re tuckered out, find your Zen in one of the cabanas by the outdoor pool, lapping and napping till your next meal.
The closest town, Santiago do Cacém, is a sleepy place with not much nightlife, so we suggest staying at the hotel to eat. When the food is this good, looking for other places is practically a sin anyway.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this epicurean escape in Portugal and unpacked their local treats and trail shoes, a full account of their cooking break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Santiago Hotel Cooking & Nature in Alentejo…
If the thought of sleeping until noon and being waited on hand and foot makes you feel a bit icky, you’ll like the sound of Santiago Hotel, a revved-up and action-packed spot in a beautiful corner of Alentejo that goes large on local experiences and easy on your credit card. It’s not that you won’t relax here – there are evergreen gardens, a cabana-ringed outdoor pool and bright, beachy bedrooms – it’s just that sloth isn’t really its watchword. There’s just too much to do: farms to visit, deserted beaches to discover, hiking trails to conquer and cooking techniques to master in the communal kitchen. You’ll be bright-eyed and ravenous at the end of the day, with stories to swap over mouth-watering Mediterranean dishes at À Terra. And, in the morning, just saunter up to Silvestre, the wizard-like concierge, tell him your wish (windsurfing, mountain-biking, wine tasting…) and he’ll conjure another day of Alentejo adventure from his enviable Rolodex of partners-in-fun. Get out there, tiger.
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