“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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. 🤗
Joana and Sofia
© Photos by JO&SO and courtesy of Companhia das Culturas
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