A Conversation with Balthasar about Três Marias in the Alentejo

April 25, 2019

Balthasar is the friendly owner of Três Marias, a simple and beautiful rural hotel nestled among the serene countryside of the Alentejo Coast.

A Conversation with Balthasar about Três Marias in the Alentejo

“I love living here. I love being here all year round, so much so that I find it really hard to leave.”

You were born in Switzerland. How did you end up moving to Portugal?

I’m Swiss, but my mother is Portuguese. I’ve always known this region, and in 1997 I decided to leave my job in Switzerland to move here and start something new.

How did the idea of opening a hotel come about?

Well, it all began during the outbreak of mad cow disease (BSE). People were looking for alternative meats and ostrich was a very popular choice. So I decided to start a place for the incubation of ostrich eggs, so that whoever had ostrich eggs could bring them here. The business was a success for a while but eventually mad cow disease subsided and bird flu arrived, which meant people weren’t interested in ostriches any longer.

Therefore I had to find a new business strategy. We already had a restaurant here called 'Três Marias', and because I’d built my house to be closer to the business, I decided to build two bedrooms for guests, family and friends. During the summer, customers from the restaurant would often ask to rent the rooms. The idea to turn the ostrich egg incubation business into a rural hotel came from that. This was back in 2007, and currently we have 15 rooms.

Três Marias back in 2007
Três Marias now.

How old is Daisy, the resident ostrich?

Daisy was born in 2006, she’s 13 years old.

You are one of the founding members of Rota Vicentina. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Rota Vicentina is a network of walking trails comprising of a main route – called the Historic Way – the Fisherman’s Trail, and several Circular Routes, some which are going to be launched in a few weeks. One of these routes also includes a 1,000km cycling route so that Rota Vicentina becomes more diverse by offering both walking and cycling options.

The project Rota Vicentina started as a tiny thing, and today it embraces the whole region with nature and outdoors tourism, which is good because it means that the people who come here are seeking exactly that.

Rota Vicentina’s website is an excellent resource for anyone interested in finding out more.

As one of the founding members of Rota Vicentina, Balthasar’s passionate knowledge about the area is captivating.

When we stayed there, most of the guests staying at Três Marias were walking the Rota Vicentina. However, it’s also an excellent base for surfers. Which other activities would you say people like to do in the area?

Walking and surfing play a massive part in the region, the other top activities are cycling, horse riding, canoeing and birdwatching. There’s also a whole range of workshops promoted by people that use our place, from yoga retreats to art therapy workshops.

The spectacular beaches of Costa Vicentina are considered a mecca for surfers.

We love the general look & feel at Três Marias, how do you come up with the ideas?

Each home has its own soul, and its soul reflects the taste of the owner.

I come from a family of architects. I’m not an architect myself but I’ve seen a lot in my life, and maybe I have a different sensibility because of that. My brother is an architect, and he has helped me a lot, mostly they are my ideas but with a lot of help from my brother.

It’s easy when we are architects for ourselves. When an architect works for others, they have a lot of restrictions – the client’s wishes, the budget, and all the building permissions related to the location.

I love living here. I love being here all year round, so much so that I find it really hard to leave. My favourite time of year is spring as it’s the time when I can enjoy Três Marias most, before the high season kicks in.

I take a lot of pleasure in doing things up, I find the building work extremely creative. It’s as if we can make our own sand castles. I’m always fantasising about what to do next.

“Each home has its own soul, and its soul reflects the taste of the owner.”

What inspires you?

I can’t tell what inspires me, it’s a combination of things. One thing I know is that if I could go back to the beginning, there’s a lot of stuff I would have done differently, but I think it’s always like that.

What’s your favourite object at Três Marias?

Perhaps Daisy, my ostrich (laughs). The ostrich for me is very special, after all, all of this happened because of the ostriches.

Daisy, the resident ostrich.
“The ostrich for me is very special, after all, all of this happened because of the ostriches.”

Describe your perfect day.

With good company, my partner and kids. That’s my perfect day. Yesterday it was raining, and we played board games. We played Naval Battle and Trivial Pursuit. It was great.

I also like to do DIY and gardening, I want to picture how everything will turn out. The garden is something that takes time, a house you can build in six months, but a garden takes at least six years to grow as you want it to be. We are always wondering how it’s going to turn out when it finally starts growing.

Thank you very much for this interview Balthasar.

Thank you too!

Here's hoping you create new memories here in Portugal. Tag us on Instagram (we would love it if you do!) and let us know how it goes. 🤗

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Joana and Sofia

Check out our full report on Três Marias

© Photos by JO&SO and courtesy of Três Marias.

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