What is the story of São Lourenço do Barrocal?
In the 1820’s an ancestor of ours bought a beautiful part of the Alentejo, known as the bread-basket of the country due to its agricultural riches. While the region constitutes over a third of Portugal, only 5% of the population live here, and up until the 19th century, it was predominantly royal lands. Then it started to be sold off in large chunks to farmers producing wine, cork, olive oil and cereals. São Lourenço was originally 9,000 hectares set around the hilltop hamlet of Monsaraz, a stunning Medieval village with a castle and impressive views. The property was privately owned for 8 generations. Then in 1975 it was nationalized by the government who came in after the revolution and took over the banking and farming industries. Squatters soon moved in, my parents left and moved to Brazil, and for 10 years, there was nothing anyone could do. By the mid 1980s when we got it back, it was derelict and no one wanted to start up the farm again. I had this dream of renovating the whole estate and growing organic produce, but it was scary! You had 8,000 square meters of 200 year-old buildings that were roofless and only fit for the resident cats and pigeons. I moved into a small cottage in 2002 and begun researching the land, talking to geologists and biologists to form a layer of intelligence to evolve into a master plan. A hotel made much more sense than a farm, as long as we could integrate the new creation into the farm’s way of life and not lose the deep connection to the land. Naively, I thought I could pull it off in 3 years. It took me 14. I was 26 when I started and I was 40 when we opened it. Along the way, there were some hard times when I seriously doubted if it would ever come to life. A lot of the renovations were done by hand; it was a serious labor of love. We wanted to maintain the original character of the buildings as much as possible, so it took us 3 years to collect 400,000 old wood-fired terracotta roof tiles from the surrounding villages to retile the roofs. The project was a collaboration between Pritzker prize winning architect Eduardo Souto de Moura and my wife Ana Anahory’s design company, Anahory Almeida. We wanted to breathe new life into the original buildings, converting the old dog kennel into a restaurant and the olive-oil press into a bar. The process was really a question of trial and error to feel into what worked where and how to live each space without having to change it very much, or worse, turn it into a pastiche. At end of day, it can’t be a wedding cake, fake without character, it had to remain what it always was. This brought with it all sort of issues related to how we could bring the comfort of a 5-star hotel into something that was meant for simple agricultural use. How did we do it? It was very much a case by case, there is no beautiful formula I’m afraid! You work it out window by window, roof by roof.