Long-standing Portuguese estate São Lourenço do Barrocal has been in the same family for 200 years. The mantle has now passed to eighth-generation owner José Antonio, who spent 14 years refurbishing the entire property, breathing new life into a landscape with an old-world soul. Additions such as a Susanne Kaufmann spa and sleek new furniture lend a modern touch, but take nothing from the heritage of the buildings or the unspoiled meadows, olive groves and sun-soaked vineyards. Don’t be fooled by the simple elegance of the design, however – José’s hospitality has roots as deep as the holm oaks that stand sentinel on the estate.
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Welcome tea and cake, and (for over-18s) a glass of wine or cocktail and a tasting at the winery; adults staying three nights get a back massage, too
Double rooms from £820.90 (€966), including tax at 6 per cent.
Rates usually include breakfast: a buffet stocked with some of the region’s best local produce, including artisanal bread, seasonal fruits, charcuterie and home-made cakes and jams.
The descendant of a family with a longstanding connection to Alentejo, José is passionate about supporting the local community. As such, you'll find a range of regional handicrafts for sale in the onsite boutique, plus house wines and olive oils, artisanal breads and more fresh produce. Plus, around 80 per cent of the job openings here were filled by locals.
At the hotel
The 780-hectare estate has meadows, vineyards and a winery, centuries-old olive groves, stables, an orchard and walled gardens. Inside, there’s free WiFi throughout, a Susanne Kaufmann spa, a fitness studio, farm shop, concierge and laundry. In rooms: free WiFi, TV, air-conditioning, a minibar, Nespresso coffee machine, tea-making facilities, free bottled water, a digital safe and Susanne Kaufmann bath products.
Our favourite rooms
We like the rooms that were once used to house the estate's farm machinery, tools and brick kiln, as they are slightly bigger than the rest (shhh). If it’s one of the cottages you’re after, we’d pick number 28 or 29 – in our opinion, they’ve got the best views.
The 20-metre outdoor pool sits in a patch of fragrant meadow. A four-metre-tall granite rock is built into one corner – a tip of the hat to this ancient landscape. Instead of tiles, the pool has a dark, raw-cement finish, which helps it to blend in more naturally with the surrounding landscape. It’s flanked on one side by sun loungers with smart blue parasols. The main pool is for kids aged over nine, but close by is a 15-metre pool for families with a shallow area, where children can splash about and adults can watch from sunloungers around the side.
Each of the four treatment rooms at the hotel’s spa (open 9am till 8pm) is connected to a long, whitewashed corridor with a vaulted ceiling; inside, the rooms are very minimalist – you’ll find nothing that’ll distract your mind’s eye. There’s a hydrotherapy room with a cedarwood bath tub, seperate dry saunas for men and women, a relaxation room and four treatment rooms. All the spa products are by Susanne Kaufmann. There’s also a fully-equipped fitness studio; during the summer, you can join fitness, yoga and Pilates classes for an extra charge.
Bring something that you could ride one of the hotel's bikes or horses in. The hot air balloon ride also presents some seriously frame-worthy photo opportunities, so its worth packing your proper camera.
Because of the estate's age, not all of the communal areas are wheelchair-accessible, but several of the ground-floor guest rooms are.
Guests can have up to two pets, each weighing less than 15 kilogrammes, a room. Pets cost £75 a booking, and need be kept on a leash when outside guestrooms. They’re not allowed in the restaurant, pool, shop or spa area. See more pet-friendly hotels in Alentejo.
Very welcome. Extra beds aren’t available, but there are a limited number of cots (free, on request) which are suitable for children up to four years old. For under-13s, a futon (€80 a night) can be added to the Farm Room or Meadow Cottage.
Most rooms can fit a baby cot (free for under-5s) on request, but the Farm Rooms and Meadow Cottages will fit an extra futon for under-13s (for €80 a night).
The hotel can arrange treasure hunts in the vast grounds, cookie-making sessions and horse-and-carriage rides through the countryside, and there's a 76sq m unsupervised playroom onsite filled with toys, books and films to watch for four to 11 year-olds. It's open from 10am to midnight, and while it's an ideal drop-off point for parental date nights, under-fives must be accompanied by a guardian. Bikes are also available to borrow for free.
Kids aged nine and under can't go in the main pool, but there's a separate family pool with a shallow area and loungers for parents.
Kids eat remarkably well here from a menu of acorn-fed pork, sea bream fillets and chickpea hamburgers.
Following in the footsteps of his ancestors, owner José is committed to living off the land; the wine, oils, olives and vegetables used at the hotel all come from the estate itself. Other ingredients are sourced locally wherever possible, minimising the hotel’s carbon footprint. São Lourenço also uses recycled products where they can, and recycle their own waste, including waste water.
If it's warm, there’s a table outside under the awning, which has a great view (and scent) of the meadow.
Shepherd chic. Ok, we made that one up, but it’s true there’s no need to dress up here – this is a working farm, after all.
The hotel’s restaurant, Alentejo, has a refined rustic look, with stripped-wood tables and a timber-clad bar. On the far side of the room are a series of custom-made shelves displaying all the objects that were found when this building was cleared out – a sort of generational history told through family heirlooms. The food is focused around time-honoured dishes that let the flavours of Alentejo shine; tradition and authenticity are at the root of everything here, but the kitchen isn’t afraid of a little contemporary flair to keep things interesting. We’d recommend the partridge, which is prepared to a recipe that once belonged to José's grandmother; it's not only delicious, but also captures what this hotel is all about: the land and the family’s relationship with it. From mid-spring to autumn, when the kitchen garden is at its most fertile, dine alongside it at Hortelão, a seasonal alfresco eatery where organic veal, acorn-fed pork and such are grilled up with home-grown veggies for dinners with views of sundown and starry skies.
The bar is in the impressive lobby area, which has a sculptured ceiling and arched columns that create a corridor the length of the room. You’ll find the bottles and shakers at the far end of this – the light at the end of the tunnel, if you will. Like all the other rooms, it's stripped to the basics: the standout features are the elegant woodwork on the bar front and the contemporary lights that dangle overhead. Tasting the estate's own wines is obligatory, but if you’re looking for something slightly stronger, try the Quince Veltvet a slightly herbal blend of Portuguese brandy and fennel liqueur that’s a true taste of Alentejo. There's also a seasonal outdoor bar (open from mid-spring to mid-autumn) that serves guests relaxing by the pool.
The restaurant opens for breakfast from 7.30am to 11am; for lunch from 12.30pm to 3pm; and for dinner from 7pm to 10.30pm. Hortelão is only open for dinner from 8pm, in season. Wine flows in the bar from 4.30pm all the way through to 1am.
Room service is available between 11pm and 7.30am. The menu is focused around hearty comfort foods such as soups, sandwiches, traditional sausages and home-made cakes.
São Lourenço do Barrocal is a 200-year-old estate located in Portugal’s Alentejo region. The hotel and working farm has sprawling grounds, including meadows, vineyards, olive groves and shade-giving oak trees.
The closest airport is Lisbon; there are regular flights from the larger UK airports and closer European destinations. It takes around two hours to reach the hotel by car. Flights and transfers can be arranged with the Smith24 Team; call 24 hours a day.
Évora is the closest station; trains from Lisbon take around one hour and 45 minutes. The hotel is around 50 kilometres from the station. Transfers can be arranged with the Smith24 Team; call 24 hours a day.
Given the hotel’s rural location and the miles of Alentejo plains to explore, hiring a car makes a lot of sense. Most of the major rental firms are available at Lisbon airport. Car hire can be arranged with the Smith24 team; call 24 hours a day. The hotel has plenty of free, open-air parking spaces.
Worth getting out of bed for
There's plenty to do on and offsite here, whether you're learning how to whip up cocktails with the mixologists, trying the hotel's olive oil, biking or birding in the grounds or learning how to throw a perfect pot at a ceramics workshop in São Pedro do Corval. Be sure to pack your comfiest shoes, because there's a range of walks to cover all areas of interest: say, ethnobotanical treks, archeaological outings, historian-led hikes or star-gazing sessions. The sprawling estate runs alongside Lake Alqueva, a 250sq kilometre man-made lake with around 440 verdant islands. The hotel has painstakingly identified many of the best walking routes that run alongside it – ask the concierge for one that suits you. Just a few kilometres up the road is the Castelo de Monsaraz; you’ll get a panoramic view from the lake-surveying ramparts. Boat trips and watersports are also available, and can be arranged with Smith's travel specialists. Die-hard day-trippers will delight in the news that the estate is only 10 kilometres from Spain. With this region being so famous for Jabugo ham (black-pig ham), a border-hopping trip for tapas seems in order. For something really memorable, book a hot-air balloon ride high over the Alentejo. You’ll take off from the estate at dawn, rising over the monte itself, before crossing the lake and the tree-clad fields of the wider estate. The balloons can take up to 12 people at once; little Smiths aged six and above can come along for the ride. Those with vertigo – or just a thirst for fine drinkables – should take a tasting tour of the hotel's winery (open 9am till 6pm), which holds an impressive 80,000 litres; also onsite is a stable and horse rides can be arranged by day and night. And, if you'd like to pick up a new skill, sessions in chi kung and tai chi chuan can be taken in the spa (suitable for kids too).
Restaurante Sem Fim, which has taken up residence in a historic olive press, is a 10-minute drive. The large pressing machines still stand in the middle of the room, making a great centrepiece. It’s a very traditional place, with dishes that celebrate the region’s flavours. On weekends, the bar and restaurant are abuzz with local chatter, proving this relic of bygone days is still a vital part of the community. Restaurante Taberna Al~Andaluz is another local option, around five minutes away by car. This small, two-room restaurant is owned by José Morgado, a real epicurean and a man ever delighted to share his knowledge of the region’s food and wine. Try the lamb stew, which is a specialty here.
It’s not hard to fall in love with Alentejo. Here, you find yourself surrounded by ancient oaks, olive groves, vineyards and endless cork trees. There is a special kind of peace.
Driving up a long, cork tree-lined driveway, marked only be a simple sign on the main highway, we arrive at São Lourenço do Barrocal and fall in love all over again.
It’s a place, like so many others in this region, brimming with history and magical stories. José António, its young founder, is the eighth generation of his family to live at São Lourenço do Barrocal over the past 200 years. When José was just 26 he quit his finance job in London and moved back to the 780-hectare estate with a vision – to spend two years living on the then-abandoned estate to begin to understand the property, the land, the soil, the seasons…
He lived alone in what is now the tiny pool-house. A couple of years later he enlisted Pritzker Prize-winning Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura and together they set about making his dream to rejuvenate the family estate into a reality. It took 14 painstaking years.
This former farming village is now one of the most beautiful, peaceful and welcoming accommodation experiences you’ll ever find. The interiors are so dreamy and so instantly calming. Anahory Almeida, a pair of incredible Lisbon-based interior designers (one of whom happens to be José’s wife), seem to get it right every time. A beautiful pale-ish green is used throughout – it’s so fresh but so warm at the same time.
Most of the wooden furniture is handcrafted by local artisans, every little interior detail thoughtfully considered, and old family traditions and mementos honoured in frames or on shelves.
The Susanne Kaufmann Spa has some of the biggest treatment rooms I’ve ever seen, all of which come off a striking single-vaulted 40m aisle. I settle in for a long soak in the beautiful round cedarwood bathtub and follow up with one of the most luxurious facials – I hadn't heard of Susanne Kaufmann before this but trust me when I say her all-natural, organic skincare line is quite heavenly.
There is horse-riding for those who fancy getting out into the surrounding nature. You can even ride all the way up to the nearby hilltop medieval town of Monsaraz. (Tip: while there, stop in and meet Mizette Nielsen at her rug shop. She’s quite the character.) The horse stables themselves are also an architectural delight.
The beautiful thing, though, is that you don’t need – or want – to do much at all. Its beauty lies in the perfect simplicity and the calm of the surrounds. We took some time to relax by the pool and learn that another one is soon set to open.
The restaurant, which serves seasonal produce mostly grown on their own grounds, is as impressive as any big city one. Even their own São Lourenço do Barrocal wines are served. The extremely friendly staff all hail from local villages and not one of them had any hotel experience before taking the job at Barrocal, yet their professionalism and love for what they do is so obvious. Even a couple of former matadores and bandarilheiros now work as waiters, having previously only known the inside of a bull ring. I love watching the way they stand to attention at the table while taking your order, still signs of the formality of being in the ring. It’s incredible.
Everything just comes together so perfectly here. The light, the trees, the architecture, the design, the friendly staff, the food, the spa… And all under the watch of one of the most lovely and professional hotel managers I have ever met, Ana Faustino, who keeps this very special place running as beautifully and perfectly as it does.
It is one of life’s greatest pleasures to spend some days here. I recommend adding São Lourenço do Barrocal to the top of your wishlist immediately.