When I’m at the farm, there is always a partridge on my window sill when I wake up. It must be nesting nearby. When partridges begin to mate, they move closer to the houses to protect themselves from foxes.
Throughout the year the landscape changes: the almond trees shed their white flowers that are replaced by the green leaves, then flowers begin to bloom in the fields. At the orchard, the same thing happens.
I came to Alentejo in 1990. I was drawn to the sunshine and the landscape, to the infinity of the horizon. I open the door and can walk through a farm that has it all. Some people like what they do and some people love what they do. I’m the kind that loves what they do.
In 2008 we purchased Herdade da Amendoeira, then abandoned and in ruins. I didn’t actually want to own the property, but my wife fell in love with the place. We started slowly, with a few cows. The cheese factory was abandoned, but we reinstated it, first by using milk we bought from other producers and then breeding our own herd. We then purchased the Destilaria Montemorense (a local distillery) and brought it here. The property had their own beehives, so we began to produce honey too.
The long-term relationships we build with people here makes me feel good about the place. The farm foreman has been working with me since 1990 and Irene, our cook, has also been with us for 15 years. People here experience nature and the countryside in an entirely different way. They’re not always checking the time, they’re more available, more aware.
Destilaria Montemorense was founded in 1893 and today, although we have modernised the labelling and bottling processes, we still use copper distillers for alcohol with local herbs.
Our story and mission
When we bought the farm, it was completely neglected, with weeds growing everywhere. We had been breeders of 100% limousine breed cows for a while, and we then began to rebuild the farm. We bought milk to kickstart the cheese factory, but we couldn’t guarantee the same quality in every batch. We realised we either produced our own milk or we had to shut down the cheese factory. Today we have a herd of 1,300 sheep, and we make our cheese the way we know best: with milk, salt, and a natural coagulating enzyme (“coalho”, in Portuguese).
The honey we produce is mainly from rosemary and eucalyptus, and it’s delicious. We usually sell all of it three months after we produced it.
I’ve worked on farms all my life, and I know that in these types of business the profit margins are minimal and it takes a long time before you see results. I like to be active, to always have work to do and be busy. The rural tourism project came as a consequence of rebuilding Herdade da Amendoeira. These days, I split my time between Cascais and Amendoeira, but I always feel drawn to Alentejo.
To our guests at Herdade Amendoeira, we offer silence and nature. We don’t have motorcycle or bicycle rides because the goal is to relax. Guests park their cars and enjoy the tranquillity. You can visit the cheese factory, the distillery, the animals, go for walks by the creek. We also have cheese workshops, and we suggest visiting some of our partners.
A place to relax
One of my favourite things about this place is how people behave differently. When we walk into a café, everyone says good morning and people are more available to help. Sometimes we go out to work and stop for lunch on our way back, and we notice people don’t live around the clock. I believe that people who work with animals are more sensitive than those who work with machines. They learn how to respect nature’s cycles, after all when a cow is birthing a calf we can’t press a button to make it go faster…
Besides the natural heritage, tapestries are another well-known attraction in Arraiolos.
My other connection to this place is through the local cuisine. I love Alentejo cuisine, and 90% of the meals that miss Irene cooks for me are the so-called one-pot-dishes. Miss Irene’s cooking is experiential, but it stands apart because of the quality of the ingredients. Cooking a dish with a free-range chicken or a duck is entirely different from cooking with a supermarket bought one, even if the label says “free range”!
This area was always an impoverished one, and people were forced to learn how to cook with what they had. Fish like “cação” (dogfish), that lasted for longer and that people living on the coast turned down, was abundant here and it’s cooked like nowhere else in the country! At Herdade da Amendoeira we always serve seasonal fruit -- it’s not much, but it’s what we have, and it tastes fantastic!
Not many people know this, but the Arraiolos castle is one of the few in the world with a circular design.