A Conversation with Eglantina about Companhia das Culturas

LAST UPDATED
November 11, 2015

Eglantina is the owner at Companhia das Culturas, a quirky eco boutique hotel with beautiful vintage decor in Castro Marim, in the southeast Algarve.

A Conversation with Eglantina about Companhia das Culturas

“This farmhouse had belonged to the family for seven generations. It was important for us to respect the heritage.”
– EGLANTINA, OWNER

How did you come up with the idea to start Companhia das Culturas?

This is a redevelopment of a farmhouse that has belonged to the family for seven generations. It used to be an urban centre that once housed workers and that served to store and transform agricultural products. With the dismantling of traditional agriculture at the beginning of the 1980s, we needed to give it a new direction.

How long did it take to get everything ready to open?

A long time. The first phase took ten years, it was a stage during which we had to understand the place, the ecosystem, and also the available financing options to keep from resorting to loans, we worked on the basis of how much we could afford and invest by ourselves.

Did you have any experience working with hotels?

None. It wasn’t an option, but the answer to the question: what to do with a heritage that we need to take care of? As well as continuing with the agricultural production, especially the organic rain-fed orchard. The hotel was the most logical answer.

How do you describe the architecture and interior?

It’s called the “chã” architecture which can be found in the region. Since its construction, in the mid eighteenth century until now, it has undergone several interventions resulting in influences from different periods.

Additions, such as the needs of agricultural activity, which resulted in new emerging materials and construction techniques. The Modern Style of the late 20s is noticeable – the doorways and high windows, geometric tiles in the main house or the garage for the harvesting machine in the 40s, creates a contrast to the adobe houses of the workers and for storing or for the animals.

The last intervention was done in collaboration with the architect Pedro Ressano Garcia, who worked to adapt what was already here, to the purpose of hosting people.

A collaboration with the architect Pedro Ressano Garcia. One of the rooms reveals an original beautiful stone wall which hasn’t been plastered over on purpose.

Please tell us a bit about the rooms in the hotel.

Each room is a room in itself. One has an adobe wall, another has a part of a stone wall which hasn’t been plastered – each allowing the feel of the multiple layers of time. The window openings are also all different, but all open onto a patio.

There isn’t a corridor, instead there is a labyrinthine courtyard. The lime, the stone, stroked cement, wooden ceilings with a wash of white paint and some objects made of cork are the most used materials.

What’s your favourite object in the hotel?

A coffee table which is now in the communal living room, an old olive oil mill with a glass… I like it because it’s weird, it’s crazy. Also, in the living room there is a massive mirror which is on the floor against the wall and a cabinet with wood on the outside and sheet metal on the inside – it’s vaguely weird too.

One of Eglantina’s favourite objects is this massive vintage mirror which we too love.

We find it amazing how relaxed the whole place feels yet we can tell every object is very carefully placed – you have some truly beautiful vintage pieces and furniture. Where do you find them?

Some belonged to the house, others I just keep finding in vintage shops. Some are cleaned or recovered but I also transform some objects, adapting them to their new needs. The aura of the objects is about time and this manifests itself in their marks, inconsistencies and imperfections.

The corkbox is like a beautiful art installation and we really enjoyed the yoga class. How did the idea to build it come up?

It used to be the garage for a threshing machine. The construction of plastered brick and vain tile roof was very badly insulated. By working with what has been given to us, and seeing as we are part of the cork oak ecosystem, and in some ways also cork producers, its intensive application – on the ceiling, the walls and on the floor – it was a choice that made sense.

The corkbox is an old threshing machine garage turned into a unique room – made to practice yoga, tai chi, qigong or to dance. But here you can also just enjoy a total silence, or listen to music or watch a movie.

We loved the different delicious breakfasts we got every morning, very original. Where do you and your team get your inspiration from?

We got the inspiration from the ecosystem, keeping up with the principle of working with what is in place at the time – meaning locally sourced and seasonal. We don’t use any processed products from the food industry, or anything from the big urban areas. We work with our own products and those from our neighbours. We see the act of eating as a political one.

“We work with our own products and those from our neighbours.”
– EGLANTINA, OWNER

The food at the hotel has such a strong focus on local seasonal produce. What do you think are the ingredients/flavours that surprise the guests the most?

The fresh fish from the coast, the meat from grazing livestock, the vegetables and the fruit which are daily picked from the garden, and the carob which is little known outside the region. What really impresses guests is the flavour of the products. Instead of hiding the flavours, our kitchen values them; it celebrates the products and its producers.

Based exclusively on the Southern Portuguese diet, the breakfast and small dishes served at Companhia das Culturas, are made entirely from local produce of the season: eggs straight from the coop, fruit from the orchards, vegetables from the garden and other nearby plants, sheep and goat cheeses, smoked meats, and preserved fish from Isla Cristina to Faro – salted or smoked.The compotes and chutneys come from the farm’s own fruits.

According to the season, guests can participate in some of the farm’s activities – picking fruit, aromatic herbs and greens – as well as their transformation and conservation.

You’ve recently opened the Hammam (steam room). Can you tell us more about this?

The Hammaam is part of the Roman and Arabic tradition of public baths that were a mark throughout the Mediterranean. The Inquisition in the sixteenth century forbade them. We’re inviting and welcoming back the salutary baths that existed in the region for more than six centuries.

Is there a gem in the region that tourists are not usually aware of?

The salt marshes and the small Museum at the Castle of Castro Marim, which tells the story of the Phoenicians in search of gold, silver and copper which was abundant in the Lower Alentejo and traded through the Guadiana.

What sets your guests’ experience apart from other hotels?

I think that we’re part of a family of hotels that takes hosting as a gesture of being available without being subservient, and as a gift.

What’s your favourite hotel worldwide?

Hotel Therme Vals – 7132, a project by Peter Zumthor.

7132 Hotel is Eglantina´s favourite hotel worldwide.

Where do you tend to go on holiday and which hotels do you stay in?

When it comes to picking a spot I’m very flexible and random. My priorities are the location and the architecture. If I’m really tired of my job as a hotel manager then I need to switch off so I might look for a very basic hotel, just with a comfortable and clean bed so that I stop myself from observing every detail.

Thank you very much for this interview Eglantina.

Thank you too!

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Obrigada,
xx
Joana and Sofia

Check out our full report on Companhia das Culturas

© Photos by JO&SO and courtesy of Companhia das Culturas

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