The History of this place is ancient: there are records of Neolithic settlements in the property, the menhir that exists here is the tallest in Portugal and still bears visible marks, and there is also a Roman dam. Visiting the estate is a true voyage through time to our days, with olive trees dating from pre-historic times. But the property only became part of the family around 1820, when my ancestor Manuel Mendes Papança bought 9,000 hectares from the Royal House of Bragança after the liberalisation of the lands. He decided to turn this house into the centre of his farm.
He followed a very logical plan, considering that all raw materials came from the property and everything was managed in a self-sufficient way. They had ovens to bake bricks, a bakery, a dairy, they cured meats, and they produced cheeses, wine, and olive oil.
When I got here in 2002, the first thing I did was putting together a team to help me create a self-sufficient 21st-century property out of a place in ruins. I lived here for two years, at that little house that’s now the pantry of the pool, to have a full grasp of the space and the lifestyle.
Architect Eduardo Souto de Moura was responsible for the renovation of São Lourenço do Barrocal and AnahoryAlmeida did the interior design. Without tampering with the original structure, Eduardo Souto de Moura was able to suit and adapt the different spaces to the hotel, the restaurant, the spa, and to the organic vegetable garden. The staff is local: we don’t have to internationalise the food nor the service culture, and I have no interest in serving something like a Caesar salad for example. There’s a way of being that’s our own, local, a way of introducing ourselves and connecting.
In addition to having the privilege of enjoying a region that has a farming culture linked to handicrafts and the transformation of raw materials, those coming to São Lourenço do Barrocal have the opportunity to see a fully working property. In a way, it’s like travelling back to its beginnings, because the processes we use are timeless and the style of producing wine or olive oil organically is not that different from the ancestral methods.
In the nineteenth century, it grew to become a thriving small farming village, providing enough livestock, grain, vegetables, and wine to sustain up to 50 resident families year-round, making the best possible use of a landscape punctuated by granite outcrops, the so-called ‘barrocais’, so characteristic of this area of the Alentejo and of the particular landscape of the property.
Our story and mission
Unlike with Barrocal, the family house in Reguengos was never inhabited and, when I was little, it was our holiday and weekend home. My mother lived here until she married and my family lived here for a long time. We lived in Lisbon but my father lived here, and until I went to University we had a close relationship with the Alentejo. Then I worked abroad and only returned seven or eight years later.
The project of Eduardo Souto Moura for São Lourenço do Barrocal was awarded the Golden Lion at the Biennial in Venice. The hotel, in turn, has already been recognized by Condé Nast Traveler as Best Hotel in the World on its Gold List and also with its Readers' Choice Award. Recently, it was acknowledged as Top southwest Europe switch-off by Monocle Travel Top 50 awards.
It took us 14 years to build Barrocal. The successful adaptation process by architect Eduardo Souto Moura is what makes the space interesting. In the common areas, the family memorabilia are like the connection with the History of the place. In the same way that we share the architecture and the trades, we also share something more personal, which is a History of eight generations in which all family members took part. It’s a feeling of attachment to a place. We’ve been open for business for three years, and people appreciate that.
To continue a centuries-old History
As a child, coming to Alentejo made me feel free. At the time, we didn't have house keys: the door was always open, and we were always in and out, riding our bicycles. Being a kid and feeling free is an awesome feeling. When my kids are here, they get out of the house and ride their bikes. They run, they go to the vegetable garden, they help care for the horses. They take the first step and go looking for things, and it’s that spontaneity and going looking for things that I remember well. That’s what Alentejo still enables you to do today.
One of the things I find very interesting in Alentejo, and at Barrocal in particular, it’s that it’s not too planned.
Vastness is what most impresses our foreign clients. We’re not used to this vastness anymore, to this empty and not urbanized space. A place where you feel the seasons, Nature’s silence, the birds, the flowers, and all that comes with it… Our lives are a bit digital, we struggle to pay attention, and Alentejo makes you do that almost naturally. Unlike in other areas of Europe like Tuscany or the South of France, it’s not staged, it’s exactly like this. The landscape wasn’t built here; it was designed like this through time.
The statue in front of the City Council at Reguengos de Monsaraz is of my ancestor, Manuel Mendes Papança, founder of the estate, Mayor, and winemaking trail-blazer of the region. He was the first to incentivize the creation of a certified wine region. He would give away land to those who committed to planting vineyards, who would not only use it but own it.