I had just finished University when a friend invited me to come to Alentejo. It was love at first sight, for my husband, who I met at the time, and for Alentejo. I’ve been here for 20 years.
Today, I’m the oldest employee of Convento do Espinheiro, and I was lucky enough to witness the final stage of renovations of this magnificent monument which dates back to the 15th century. Despite the fact that today it is a contemporary and comfortable accommodation with all the features of a luxury hotel, it is undoubtedly the history of this unique convent which makes us stand apart and is consequently a tremendously important part of our daily activity. That is reflected in the daily guided tour we offer our guests and where the Concierge shares all the secrets and stories of the convent, in the daily wine-tasting session with our Sommelier, in the monthly bread-baking activity where we invite our guests to learn the art of Alentejo bread baking, using the old wood oven once used by the monks, and in the passion and respect which our Chef and his team have for the local ingredients and the traditional cuisine, with which they create unique dishes for Divinus Restaurant.
This region is truly captivating and magnetic, something that cannot be explained. And so is Convento do Espinheiro. To come here is to feel the peace and authenticity of Alentejo. You will not feel indifferent.
This was the preferred retreat for the kings of the Avis Dynasty, and there’s a story: Prince Afonso, the son of King João II, was promised in marriage to Princess Isabel, the daughter of the Spanish Catholic King and Queen, and their first meeting was here at Convento do Espinheiro. Legend has it that, at the time, they “got together” in one of the rooms, which was a scandal. On that night, a very strong storm hit the convent and the monks saw it as a bad omen. The truth is that, shortly after, Prince Afonso fell off his horse and died. If that was caused by the bad presage or not, we’ll never know.
Our story and mission
The convent was abandoned for many years, since the mid-19th century, when the religious orders were extinct. It served different purposes before being purchased by a family in Évora who then sold it to the current owner. Together with a good part of the team that is still here today, I witnessed the end stages of the renovations and it was fascinating to see the rebirth of this magnificent monument which we do our best to dignify, opening its doors not only to tourism but also to the local community. A large part of the older population of this parish have known this convent all their lives, and today, we affectionately we welcome them in our Church, where Mass is celebrated on the first Sunday of every month.
When we began hiring staff for what was to be the first five-star hotel in the region, instead of hiring qualified and experienced candidates from Lisbon or other bigger cities, we chose to employ local people and provide them with intensive training. There is no doubt the Alentejanos are hospitable, genuine, and friendly people.
A luxury hotel cannot limit itself to selling accommodation and meals. It's about much more than that. Above all, we sell experiences and we offer our guests knowledge about our rich cultural heritage, our traditions and customs. Service for example, is about more than just the application of the techniques learned in the hospitality schools - the human factor is increasingly valued. The impact caused by the greatness of this monument is undeniable, as well as all its facilities, restaurants, pools, spa, etc. But there is no doubt that the way we welcome our guests, the pride with which we share with them the best that Alentejo has to offer, this is what is captivating for those who visit us.
I love to go for walks inside the city walls and to get lost in its narrow streets where I am constantly finding something new, be it a beautiful old manor, a traditional grocery store, a sunny patio where I can have my coffee, or one of the city's high points from where I can always see the convent standing beautifully far out on the hill.
There is so much to do in Alentejo, and everything is “just around the corner”: get lost in the narrow streets of picturesque towns and villages, wineries to visit, restaurants that serve delicious traditional food and whose owners love to make you feel at home, and for those who like culture and history, well, you can literally get lost here.
Évora’s rhythm is different, and the same can be said of locals’ lifestyle. Évora has about 50,000 people, and it's growing, but it’s impossible to walk across Praça do Giraldo and not stop at least a dozen times to greet someone I know. This is a warming feeling, but above all, it is wonderful to feel that we have time for others, and that people have time for us. In today's hectic world, this is priceless.
If you asked me now if I'd like to move back to Lisbon, I can reply without a touch of hesitation - no. I wouldn't change the Alentejo for anything else.
According to a legend, a local shepherd saw an image of Our Lady appear over a hawthorn (“Espinheiro”) around 1400. A small chapel was built at the location, which became a regular pilgrimage destination. Later, the Church was built and, finally, in 1458, the convent was founded.