I was born in Brotas, and for 35 years I lived here on this street, by the fountain. This is where I feel at home and where I spend my days: there are breakfasts to make, people to welcome.
Ten years ago I switched my old job for Casas de Romaria. These are the old lodging houses where the groups of pilgrims stayed for one month, during the celebrations of Nossa Senhora de Brotas. In the second week of August, the pilgrims gathered in the procession following the statue of Our Lady, a tradition that still happens today.
In a way, I feel like a guardian of the old customs and wisdom, of History (I always show my guests the church, so they understand the place they’re at), and of cuisine, by recovering all those flavours I grew up with.
I make my own jams with local fruits, and we have a habit of trading the surplus tomatoes or oranges with the neighbours. I also make what we call “bolos grossos” (a type of cake that is very filling), following my grandmothers’ recipes. The honey cake, made with local honey, eggs, and olive oil, is one of a kind!
I try to preserve the History of the houses. In one of them, I chose to expose part of the cork wall. People didn’t have bricks, so they used thick slabs of cork to build the houses. Locals donated a lot of the décor pieces, like the 200-year-old cribs. They gave me the best they had in their houses!
To our guests, we offer sunshine all year round and a street that’s a village within the village. We go for a walk, and we hear all the sounds of Alentejo, like the shepherd and his herd of sheep that go by every morning. It’s about 20 sheep, and the kids are always so happy to see them!
In this part of the village, all houses are built with “tijolo burro” (a massive clay brick), rocks, and cork. The windows are small to shelter the houses from extreme cold and heat.
Our story and mission
I was born and raised in Brotas. When I was little, there were so many people living in the village, and most of them worked in the fields. The village also had a carpenter, a cobbler, and a potter, which we still have today.
My parents didn’t work in the fields. My mother was the local seamstress, and everyone went to her for new clothes, and my father was a mason. I had a government job, at the city council of Montemor-o-Novo until ten years ago when I decided to resign and work in the tourism industry.
I no longer live on this street but the other end of Brotas. But this is where I still spend my days: I come in early to make breakfast, I’m around all day, and, even after going home after my kids come from school, I come back here if needed.
The procession still happens today, and those who want to show their devotion for the saint still come to Brotas in August. The throne where they carry the statue is extremely heavy, and people walk almost four kilometres while carrying it.
I like to discover what’s different about Brotas and share it with our guests. That’s why I also take them to see the church because without it people won’t fully understand the place where they’re staying (both the Casas de Romaria and the village), and that’s important.
When I arrived ten years ago, foreigners found it odd they could smell grilled sardines at 7 o’clock in the morning. But it’s what locals ate for breakfast. That and roasted sausage, coffee brewed over an open fire. Then they wouldn’t eat for four or five hours while working in the fields.
A funny thing happened one day when guests asked me where I hired the actors. Some of the people who live here are 80 and 100 years old, and they still dress the same way they did years ago, nothing has changed. The way they talk and the way I talk is authentic! And villagers are beyond nice. Even without knowing any foreign languages, they find a way to communicate with tourists.
A street that is a village
Beyond the sanctuary in Brotas, Torre das Águias (a Manueline style tower) in Vila das Águias is worth a visit, ten minutes from here. Our guests come looking to rest, for silence, sunshine, and, above all, for the flavours of Alentejo. When people ask me about a great place to eat, my answer is always “anywhere.” It’s a matter of knowing the seasons and the specialities of each restaurant before choosing. Even I still discover new dishes. One year ago I tried mint “migas” (a typical mash of bread and meat, seasoned with garlic) with fried dogfish (“cação”). The flavour is unmatched!
Glazed tile (“azulejo”) and pottery are some of the top artisanal products in Brotas, and we have a tile workshop right next to the church.
You can’t find the flavours I was raised with at a supermarket. Far from it. Some tastes and scents are unique in Alentejo, especially the smell of the fields. We use the same herbs on everything: rosemary, coriander, parsley, and mint. There are other special herbs we also use depending on the kind of meat and fish we’re cooking.
These days, you’ll find “migas” in restaurants all year long, but in the old days, we would only eat it at the end of Winter and beginning of Spring, when wild asparagus was in season. Then we had different types of “migas”, like the “migas gatas” (a kind of “migas” originally made with a piece of codfish tail), and the ones made with tomatoes or mint.
None of the Brotas’ residents fighting in the World War I and the Portuguese Colonial War perished. For the believers, this is one of the local saint’s greatest miracles. Older people use to swear to me that no one had died at war and I always thought it was a myth. But it is true.