LATEST NEWSBeyond the Beach - The Alentejo Experience

Ever dreamt of owning your own country retreat? We talk to São Lourenço do Barrocal’s in-house architect Aidan McMahon on why the estate´s country retreats in the midst of Portugal’s idyllic Alentejo is a cut above the rest.

LATEST NEWS

Beyond the Beach - The Alentejo Experience

Ever dreamt of owning your own country retreat? We talk to São Lourenço do Barrocal’s in-house architect Aidan McMahon on why the estate´s country retreats in the midst of Portugal’s idyllic Alentejo is a cut above the rest.

When Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura won a Golden Lion in the 2018 Venice Biennale, even those involved were surprised. Of all the entries, the judges saw this as an audacious display of what architecture can mean today. His submission? Just two aerial pictures of São Lourenço do Barrocal, set side by side. The first showed the vast farmland estate in 2008, before its resurrection into a 5 star hotel, and the second, the changes, hard to discern, show just how sensitive the interventions were. Now Barrocal is ready to expand beyond the hotel, thanks to an innovative approach to land development that is attracting a niche of design denizens to build their own homes and join the community.

What kind of clients is this project attracting?

The majority of clients so far have come from the design world and have fallen in love with the expansiveness of the estate. The plots have no fences or walls to suggest a traditional perimeter, with spaces instead defined by the trees and vegetation set within the natural landscape. It’s an exciting canvas for owners with a passion for design because each plot is so different.

Wouldn’t these international designers prefer to be on the beach, somewhere, say, like Comporta?

There is a growing shift away from crowded beaches to more secluded places in nature, places which encourage a connection back to the land. Whether for families, couples or individuals, these homes can become a holiday retreat or a creative refuge in the middle of nowhere, yet still connected to the wider community established by the hotel.

What makes this project exciting from a design perspective ?

The diversity. Each plot offers its own journey, its own story. One plot may roll through a dense area of vegetation and then, suddenly, you pop out into a beautiful secluded clearing. Others are defined by huge boulders within the land, or amazing views over the estate or the castle.

What interests you as the in-house architect ?

There is a layering of natural spaces as you move throughout the estate that as an architect is really interesting and exciting. The design of the homes take the lead from the land’s natural attributes and the challenge lies in how to enhance these attributes through the designs. Each plot presents its own opportunity to make something really special.

What has been the process of conception for this development?

As José António Uva, the lead developer, lived many years on the land, we are very conscious not to lose his sensitivity to the estate. Apart from that, the design of the original masterplan is already very strong and has resulted from years of consideration, with each plot carefully defined through the opportunities they present. This is refreshing as the masterplan has not been developed with a mindset of dividing up the land into as many plots as possible. We see a huge value in less density and sustainable design that a lot of other developments miss.

How much creative license do buyers have when it comes to designing their homes ?  

Buyers have the freedom to approach the design in whatever way they choose, as long as they work within some planning guidelines. They can appoint their own design architect and we can provide local support, or we also offer full design services if that is more convenient. One of our recent buyers from the US is working with a New York-based architect for the design and we helping the process of municipal licensing and finding a builder, whereas in another plot we are design leads of a series of lightweight pavilions.

What is important to consider when designing your own home ?

As a lot of the clients are coming from different backgrounds, it is important to tap into that and determine individual requirements, and embrace that each home will be different. However, whether the house will be privately used or added to the hotel´s rental pool for an income is an important decision to make early; if it is for temporary use over a short period, people may not use the kitchen as much, for example. If the house is to become a family holiday retreat home it is then important to consider its evolution as family life evolves.

Why would you choose to buy as part of Barrocal, rather than your own individual land?

Generally, new owners share the idea that they are part of a bigger community.  When you buy a plot of land at Barrocal, you become a part of the estate, as much as the hotel and the vineyard is. It’s the balance between seclusion and privacy, set within a wider community that is something very unique.