From a picture-perfect beach club on the Atlantic coast to a series of discreet holiday villas, a sense of intimacy is at the heart of three new Portuguese openings that have caught our eye.
“It was love at first sight,” says star Portuguese chef José Avillez when monocle asks him to cast his mind back to the first time he saw the derelict, hillside farmhouse on the banks of Alentejo’s Alqueva lake. “I wanted to give the best of me and share this with other people,” he adds, thoughtfully, about the decision to turn the site into his first hotel with the help of his wife, Sofia Ulrich.
It was easy to see the place’s potential but even getting to the property – which is in the tiny village of Campinho, a little more than two hours inland from Lisbon – offers a sense of discovery. The estate itself is peppered with centuries-old holm oaks and native plants are allowed to grow wild. There are no other settlements or buildings in sight. “When we saw this house, we knew that the hotel had to be here,” says Avillez.
What started as a family project quickly ballooned. Today, Casa Nossa (“Our House”) is open to the public and spread across a 1,500 sq m property, with 10 guest rooms. That said, it’s designed to be rented out whole. Once the place is booked, chef Avillez gets to work and creates a fresh menu for every stay. “I don’t send it to the guests in advance, so there’s always an element of surprise,” he says. A healthy relationship with neighbouring farmers ensures that only the best local produce is used, highlighting the region, Portugal’s bread basket. “Our lamb is local and we only use Alentejo pork, which is the breed of Iberian ham,” he says. “We get our fish and shellfish from the nearby ports of Setúbal and Sines.”
This is a business but it’s obviously an immensely personal project for the chef, down to the decor of the house itself. “I wanted to be an architect when I was a teenager,” he says. “So designing this house was my chance of being an architect and helping to build it.” The two-storey estate was designed by Avillez himself, with the interior furnished by Lisbon-based Studio Astolfi and Ulrich. The dining area includes a long communal table designed for the sharing of food and conversation, with several cosy corners by the fireplace, large windows and a backgammon board. “We wanted to have different places around the house for people to be social,” says Avillez, as he shows us the event room. Boasting comfortable wide seats and a stage, the space can be used for cinema sessions or intimate concerts. Across the hall is the wine cellar and next door is the bar: a dimly lit, wood-panelled room perfect for socialising before dinner or for having a nightcap. “This artwork belonged to my grandfather,” says Avillez, motioning towards a sculpture.
Upstairs are a series of black-and-white photographs showing the family camping in the derelict farmhouse that was here before. “These were taken by my wife,” says Avillez. “We did a few camping trips with our children in the estate when we first bought the place. It’s not a hotel, really; we call it a house. It’s meant to feel like home.”
Off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean lies JNcQUOI Beach Club, the newest opening from Portuguese hospitality group Amorim Luxury. The group was established in Lisbon in 2005 and while it has five restaurants, a private member’s club and a forthcoming boutique hotel in the city, it felt that it was time to expand to Comporta. “The beach club is a gateway into our world,” says Miguel Guedes de Sousa, president of Amorim Luxury and co-founder of JNcQUOI.
Set on Pego beach, the venue is split between the Cabana, its beach service and the beach club restaurant, which has a certain je ne sais quoi about it – as the club’s name suggests. A South African team of artisans was flown in to weave its thatched roof, while its hardwood floors were imported from Sweden. The bamboo in the outdoor space “provides a seamless integration with the landscape”, says Guedes de Sousa. There are several seating options too: you can perch outside, sit indoors with a view of the kitchen or on the terrace. “Regardless of where you are sitting, you’ll see the sea and feel the breeze,” he adds.
White sunloungers are carefully lined up along the waterfront, complete with thatched parasols, side tables and cabana-shaped sunbeds. There’s full table service, a live DJ and beach chair rentals that start from as little as €25. “Even though we’re a luxury company, we want everyone to be able to experience our world,” says Guedes de Sousa. But the beach club is only the first step. “We’re creating a resort-type complex in Comporta with 48 villas, 16 club villas and a hotel designed by Vincent van Duysen, along with restaurants, an athletic club, a spa and more.” The project is taking shape behind the beach, meaning that upon completion, the brand will have a new hub by the sea. “Wherever we go, we want to create a community,” says Guedes de Sousa. “We have international ambitions and we are super excited.”
One of Portugal’s longest stretches of beach extends from Tróia to Sines, just south of Lisbon. Boasting almost 65km of pristine, white sand, it has become a prime destination for sunseekers and hoteliers alike. “I have always been in love with this area,” says Miguel Charters, co-owner of Pateos, a new collection of four holiday homes in the village of Melides. “I used to come here as a teenager with my wife, Sofia, who was then my girlfriend. We always said that we would build something special here.”
Pateos combines the mid-century modernism of Portuguese architect Manuel Aires Mateus with a deep sense of tradition. Wood, concrete and glass work together in a series of spaces that blur the boundaries between indoor and outdoor. “It was all designed so that people can maximise their experience of nature,” says Charters. “That’s why we experimented with patios where you are sheltered but at the same time outside.”
The villas riff on the tradition of the “Monte Alentejano”, says Charters, referring to the farm-based accommodation typical of southern Portugal, where small structures surround a larger, central one. At Pateos, four villas, which can be booked individually or all together for 14 people, are set along a pool and sunbathing area that overlooks the Atlantic. This feature was Charters’ starting point: every villa faces the water and is built to respect the topography, as well as to ensure privacy. “Seclusion is important,” he says. “We want to give our guests a change of pace. Most of them lead busy lives, travelling around the world, so it’s important for them to have a space where they can switch off.”
From the moment when you check in with Filipe Lopo, Pateos’s general manager, everything feels simple and seamless. “We want to evoke the kind of comfort that people feel at their grandmother’s house while providing an excellent level of service,” Lopo tells Monocle, explaining that housekeeping is kept behind the scenes and mealtimes are left up to the guests. “After all, your grandmother would make you breakfast whenever you want it and do your laundry too,” he says.
Glance at the surrounding hills and you will spy the first stirrings of Charters’ next project. “We have planted vines,” he says. “I hope that, in about five years’ time, we can make our own wine here. It will be an exclusive batch, mainly for in-house consumption and for sale at selected retailers.” Charters also plans to restore an abandoned structure to turn it into a wine cellar and create a second cluster of villas nearby. “It won’t be a copy of the existing ones; it will have its own identity.”