A Conversation with Catarina Francês about her rural hotel Cucumbi

LAST UPDATED:
July 4, 2024

Cucumbi is the creation of Catarina and Tozé, a charming eco-rural guesthouse set on an organic farm in the peaceful village of Barrancão.

A Conversation with Catarina Francês about her rural hotel Cucumbi

“This land previously belonged to my father and his wife Isabel, a passionate vegetarian and musician who inspired our family to view nature differently.”
– Catarina Francês, co-owner of Cucumbi

We had a lovely stay at Cucumbi. It provides a special opportunity to stay at an authentic Alentejo farm. We love the rustic decoration, and the land is stunning. How long have you had this place, and what drew you to it?

2024 marks the sixth season of Cucumbi, which we opened on 7 June 2019. This land previously belonged to my father and his wife Isabel, a passionate vegetarian and musician who inspired our family to view nature differently. For about 16 years, they struggled to maintain it alongside their professions in Lisbon.

Eventually, they decided to sell the property. That’s when Tozé, my husband, convinced me to buy it. He always dreamed of owning a farm, so we decided to continue the path Isabel and my father had started, selling organic eggs and vegetables and upholding the vegetarian tradition.

They set the foundation for us. I knew one thing: I wanted a gorgeous and simple place, and only my friend Sofia could transform it into what I envisioned aesthetically.

What led you to create Cucumbi?

We believed we could achieve financial sustainability by balancing farming with accommodation. Initially, we planned to open the accommodation for just 4-6 months a year to break even. However, we got excited and started investing in ways to improve the guest experience, adding more to the project each year. With help from family, friends, and guests, we built Cucumbi gradually.

From the start, we knew our friend Sofia should handle the interior design to create the right atmosphere. Fernando, a hospitality expert, helped us organise accommodation procedures. Tozé managed production with my son António, while my son João assisted with guests and interns. My daughter Helena, along with some friends, helped in the kitchen.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, my entire family was able to be around. With my three children and my nephews and nieces and friends, we organised Cucumbi over two summers with everyone's help. By season three, we began hosting interns from different nationalities, which brought more richness and fun to our experience.

“The greatest reward is seeing the happiness of our guests at Cucumbi.”
– Catarina Francês, co-owner of Cucumbi

Can you share any challenges and rewards you've faced in creating and running this agriturismo?

Being a small-scale business, financial sustainability is a constant challenge, as is finding the right people to be involved with this project. However, we've been fortunate to have a lot of fun and amazing people around.

Since the first season, Ariela has been part of the soul of Cucumbi. We've also had Artur, Fernando, and Sónia, who was our chef for two summers, as well as Marta and all the interns we've hosted. Zé started as an intern in season three and returned in season five to become our manager, a position he holds to this day. Custódia has taken care of the chickens and eggs, and Luis has been in charge of the sheep and the land from the start. Two years later, Sr. Damião took over the infrastructure.

We couldn't forget all the guests we've met along the way. Many of them have brought joy, shared experiences, and formed lasting friendships with us. At Cucumbi, we've learned so much because of the amazing people who stick with us. Every day, we learn from everyone who crosses our path, taking their praises and criticisms alike. It’s like a never-ending masterclass in life, served with a side of fun and laughter!

The greatest reward is seeing the happiness of our guests at Cucumbi and the learning and sharing we've experienced along the way. Guests, friends, and neighbours have all supported us on this journey.

“Every day, we learn from everyone who crosses our path, taking their praises and criticisms alike.”
– Catarina Francês, co-owner of Cucumbi

Cucumbi is known for its commitment to organic farming. Can you tell us more about it?

We've been a certified organic farm for over 20 years. We believe that nature teaches us the best ways to farm, mainly by avoiding monoculture and pesticides and retaining as much water as possible in the land. Our regenerative approach promotes a healthier environment.

For us, being organic means embracing nature, social responsibility, and community. We aim to heal the land and people to foster a peaceful and harmonious environment.

Our core goals include selecting sustainable procedures for the land, using eco-friendly products, and taking steps to create a positive footprint in every sense.

Cucumbi has been a certified organic farm for over 20 years.
“We aim to heal the land and people to foster a peaceful and harmonious environment.”
– Catarina Francês, co-owner of Cucumbi

What are some of the sustainability initiatives you've implemented at Cucumbi?

We prioritise Portuguese products and with that we have discovered amazing projects and excellent products with similar mindsets. Sofia Albuquerque, the interior designer, chose natural materials for the interior. Our land has been certified organic for over 20 years, so we use only ecological cleaning and laundry products. We use a machine that washes laundry without detergent. Since 2020, we've partnered with Terra Crua on regenerative agriculture and reforestation projects, improving water retention and planting trees annually. Above all, we strive to create a positive work environment, fostering a family atmosphere and ensuring our team is engaged and fulfilled while providing the best experience for our guests.

Are there any experiences you think your guests shouldn’t miss while staying at Cucumbi?

Guests shouldn’t miss swimming in the lake, walking our 6 km trail in the morning, and enjoying our aperitif moment every day at 7 pm and relaxing in this peaceful and beautiful environment!

The lake at Cucumbi – ideal for a peaceful paddle-boarding session or a refreshing swim amidst the gorgeous rolling hills and golden fields of the Alentejo landscape.
Catarina's favourite object at Cucumbi is this tree sculpture, suspended from the ceiling in the main house.

What's your favourite object at Cucumbi?

The tree on the ceiling in the main house because this was the first room to be ready after the restyling we did with Sofia and it is extremely simple and beautiful.

Do you have a favourite guesthouse or hotel in Portugal or abroad?

I love the aesthetic of the buildings at São Lourenço do Barrocal and Pensão Agrícola. Many years ago, my husband Tozé and I had an amazing experience in Areias do Seixo, both aesthetically and in the living spaces. Internationally, I admire Future Found Sanctuary by Newmark in Cape Town, The Post in Ghent, Belgium, and Brunton Boatyard in Cochin, India.

Thank you very much for this interview Catarina 🙂

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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Obrigada,
Joana and Sofia
- JO&SO

Check out our full report on Vermelho Melides

© Cover portrait of Christian Louboutin and photos of the rooms courtesy of Vermelho Melides. Other photos by JO&SO.

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