For years, Vale do Gaio was a postponed dream. My connection to the place happened by chance. I didn’t use to come to Alentejo much, but one weekend I came here with three other couples, many years ago when Vale do Gaio was still owned by Pousadas de Portugal. I noticed it was an unexplored place but with great potential. All my life I dreamt of having a hotel, so the idea to renovate this place one day stuck with me.
Then, the Pousadas were put on sale, and I thought I could buy only this inn. But at the time hotel chain Grupo Pestana purchased all the inns, and I thought that was the end of my dream. One day I got a call from a friend of mine telling me the inn was being sold separately. I found out the application period would end in two days and I rushed to hand over my proposal, convinced I wouldn’t get it. I did get it, and I became the owner of the inn on 1 January 2008.
Today, I try to be here most of the time. There’s no better place than Vale do Gaio for those who need rest. Here you’re able to unplug and even I feel like I’m going a little rogue because of that. But there is always something to keep me busy. Furthermore, these days we have to remember that doing nothing is also an activity. A much-needed one sometimes!
The cedars around the house are ancient. They’re clearly not endemic species of Torrão… They were planted here by the engineers who built the dam in the 1930s.
Our story and mission
When I took over the old inn, although I kept most of the structure, a lot of it needed renovation work. The lack of previous investment was obvious: everything was old! This is a place that lives, mostly, off its view. Therefore we invested a lot in the terrace, placing lounge chairs, bean bags, and tables, all with an unobstructed view of the lake. It’s mostly in the Spring, with all the flowers blooming and the lush green around, that Vale do Gaio is at its best.
The photos on the inn staircase and corridor were taken here. Mostly by Miguel Pires de Lima, a friend of ours, others by me. But his are the best ones…
The restaurant was, initially, the house of the engineers who built the dam. They came from the North of Europe, and you could tell that by parts of the house structure. I made the windows larger, to let all this light in and provide a better view of the lake, but I’m considering renovating it soon. The view of the dam is peaceful, and the food is fantastic. Although most of the dishes are local, I tried being creative with recipes that aren’t from Alentejo, but that somehow have something that connects them to the region. After all, Alentejo cuisine is the richest in the country.
The magic of a lake
I couldn’t love Alentejo more, and I love the local people. They’re extraordinary, kind, and I like socialising with them. But you need to be in the right mood to unplug from the city bustle. I’ve seen people stressing out here because they think there’s nothing to do, but you need to disconnect and realise you’re coming to a place that’s great for relaxing!
Alentejo cuisine is, in fact, the richest in the country but I think 90% of the times it’s always the same. So we tried to have an innovative approach at the restaurant.
I’m fed up with the city life, so I don’t see myself returning to Lisbon. Every time I visit, I feel more like not going back. Even if it’s just for one day, I don’t find it pleasant anymore.
The Vale do Gaio dam, also known as the Trigo de Morais dam, has a reservoir the size of about five square kilometres. It was built in the 1930s and the 1940s -- it was designed in 1936 and inaugurated 13 years later.