“… everything here is made as if it was our own home, but it so happens that we share it with others.”
– MÓNICA, CO-OWNER
How did you come up with the idea to start Herdade da Matinha?
When we got married we started dreaming of having a guesthouse in the countryside. We really liked the idea of being surrounded by nature, of having a countryside house… a peaceful retreat, a place where there’s a lot of caring, loving and where people feel good.
We had always made this connection between the countryside and Australia because my sister lived there. We went to visit her a few times and we envied their lifestyle – the simple life. We decided to move to Australia to follow our dream, this was 20 years ago!
We were fully prepared to leave, we sold everything we had, we were all packed and the visas were sorted… but then we decided to come to Alentejo just for a last-minute weekend getaway and that’s when we realised how beautiful it was. Suddenly what we were looking for was a lot closer than Australia.
Here, we found the nature, the simple life, the beauty, the virgin forest, the silence, the space, the sea nearby and the unimportance of time.
How did you find this place?
That same weekend we started exploring and driving through muddy dirt roads. At some point, we saw a house which looked abandoned. We were drawn to it straight away. We started sneaking around and realised it really was abandoned.
After that, we went on a quest to find the owner, which we did. The house was pretty much in ruins but it was sort of habitable. That same weekend we made the decision. The owner sold us the house as he had no interest whatsoever in keeping it.
We moved in even before we’d exchanged contracts and without electricity, or anything! We went back to Lisbon, hired a van and basically started camping here.
How long did it take to get everything ready to open?
It took about a year to get it to a super basic level. We opened with two rooms but still with no electricity. We used fuel lanterns and people had meals at the table with us.
In the beginning, we used to host friends and friends of friends… that’s how it all began. It wasn’t easy to get here and sometimes the road was so muddy that we and the guests would have to stay in and eat whatever we had – bread, olive oil, olives, oregano, and wine.
The house was officially ready two years in. We opened with four rooms and electricity at last.
“We opened with two rooms but still with no electricity, we used fuel lanterns.”
– MÓNICA, CO-OWNER
What was it like living with no electricity?
One gets used to it. We hardly ate any meat or fish as there was no fridge and for that reason, we could only eat foods that didn’t go off. We lived a lot from the vegetable garden but we also had some tricks up our sleeves.
For example, we’d immerse meat in its fat inside this giant terracotta pot or we’d put the butter in a box immersed in water so that it wouldn’t melt.
The food side of things was tricky but the light was easily resolved with candles and we had someone that took care of the laundry for us.
It’s an amazing story. What was your experience working with hotels?
We had zero experience. But we had experience setting up a home and a hotel is not much more than our own home. We had always enjoyed things that were well executed. Having a hotel became an extension of our lives. It still is today – the music, the food, the decoration… everything here is made as if it was our own home, but it so happens that we share it with others.
How do you describe the architecture and interior?
Eclectic and organic. A house which has been adapted to both our lifestyle and to the environment. Carefully chosen materials. Simple and tasteful. It was a challenge to build a beautiful house with so few resources. Everything has been thought up by us, we’ve never hired anyone. Alfredo was born with a passion for architecture and he designs everything with function and form in mind.
Please tell us a bit about the rooms in the hotel.
The rooms tell a story about the different stages we’ve been through. The first rooms, the ones that already existed, were actually the spaces where the animals lived so we adapted the interiors to turn it into a hotel.
After that we’ve built the rest of the rooms from the ground up and therefore, they’re a bit more modern, more comfortable and functional.
We’re now on a third phase, we’re going to build a spa and eight suites, lodges – cabin style, with balconies and exterior individual fireplaces. This phase should be finished by the Summer.
What sets your guests’ experience apart from other hotels?
I think it’s a feeling. Above all, it’s a house with a lot of memories and we have a big love for this place.
When did you start having horses and how did that idea come up?
Our eldest son, who today is a professional showjumper, was passionate about horses and that grabbed our attention. Alfredo and I had no experience with horses but we thought it would be nice for people to enjoy. This only happened ten years ago. It was around that time that we also built the swimming pool, the yoga and massage room.
This is your family home which you share with the guests. Are there any funny stories?
There are always funny stories and guests also bring something interesting. We enjoy the exchange and each person is a story in them self. A lot of the people that come to visit us end up inspiring us in one way or another.
Thank you very much for this interview Mónica.
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 Herdade da Matinha.
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