A Conversation with Rui Liberato de Sousa about Pensão Agrícola in the Algarve

LAST UPDATED
October 20, 2015

Rui Liberato de Sousa is the co-owner of Pensão Agrícola, a stunning six-bedroom boutique hotel in a genuine Algarve countryside setting.

A Conversation with Rui Liberato de Sousa about Pensão Agrícola in the Algarve

“This is a place where we want people to feel happy.”
– NUNO, CO-OWNER

How did you come up with the idea to start Pensão Agrícola?

We have always enjoyed travelling and hotels. Around five years ago we started looking for properties in the Algarve… we saw a lot of them until we found this one. It took us four years to create the concept and to get everything ready which involved choosing the materials, the objects, the garden architecture – it takes time!

The story behind this small farmhouse. Once owned by the Silva Gomes family, was built in 1920 as a wedding present to the owners’ only daughter and it remained a working farm until 1970. After 40 years of neglect, the memories of more prosperous times have been preserved and incorporated into the current project by Atelier Rua, Maurice Levy and perfumist Lourenço Lucena.

What was your experience working with hotels?

Neither of us had any experience at all in the hotel industry but we both had a lot of experience staying at hotels as guests. A guest once said, joking, that she could tell I had experience at throwing dinner parties.

How did you find this house and what drew you to it?

We found the house when we were looking in the area. It wasn’t really what we had in mind but it was the perfect location. What really impressed us was that the house was still full of stuff, from the furniture to personal belongings – there was a story behind it all. We fell in love with the house, we felt connected to it.

One of the spaces as found in 2011. It took four years for Pensão Agricola to open.

How do you describe the architecture?

We kept the main house structure as it was but there was a lot that was in ruins, where we built from the ground up. We wanted to preserve the traditional Portuguese – Algarve architecture whilst at the same time giving it a contemporary touch. We were always careful to maintain the features we could, from the original doors to the ceilings.

Another important thing for us was that all of the rooms would be as private possible, and communal areas should be used as social spaces. All the rooms have windows in different directions and none of them faces each other. We paid a lot of attention to the architecture but also to the environmental and agricultural aspects.

Tell us what’s special about this region?

We’re very close to the best beaches in the Algarve and the sea is slightly warmer than in the rest of Portugal. The weather is amazing, there are some fantastic restaurants serving local cuisine and it’s the wildest area in the Algarve. There are huge crops that go up to the sea and the river valley is a unique natural beauty. There’s also the cultural aspect of the nearby villages, Cacela à Velha and Tavira, which are both very interesting. It’s a 20-minute drive to Spain which means very quickly one can experience a totally different environment and cuisine. It’s only an hour’s drive from both Seville and Faro.

What sets your guests’ experience apart from other hotels?

Well, we had a guest here, who happens to be a director at Vogue, and she described it very well; the real luxury is not a 5 star hotel, the real luxury is to arrive somewhere and to feel at home and to be greeted by someone who makes them feel like they’ve always been here. That’s our concept and our goal – for people to feel good, to have a good bed, to sleep well, to eat well and feel welcome. Every little detail should be perfect, not just the architecture and the decoration.

We had a guest who arrived around 9 pm, we had lit the fire and the music was on. When she arrived, she started crying. I was really worried and didn’t know what to do. We soon realised she was crying because she was so happy to be here.

“A guest arrived and started crying, I didn't know what to do… we then realised she was crying because she was so happy to be here.”
- RUI, CO-OWNER

What’s your favourite object in the hotel and where did you get it?

My favourite object is an art piece by Joana Astolfi which shows an old hotel key cabinet but there’s only one key which is viewed through a magnifying glass. Instead of showing the number of the room, it reads ‘Heaven’. We knew when we first saw it that it was perfect for us.

Rui loves an art piece which is on display in the living room, by Portuguese artist Joana Astolfi: “It’s an old hotel key cabinet but there’s only one key which is viewed through a magnifying glass. Instead of showing the number of the room it reads ‘Heaven’.”

What’s your favourite hotel worldwide?

From the top of my head I’d say Posada del Faro in Jose Ignacio, Uruguay. And another one which is very different, a bit bigger – Hotel Raya in an island called Panerea, in Italy. The location is the most important thing. There’s no point in going to a beautiful hotel in a horrible place, although you also wouldn’t want to go to a beautiful location and stay in an ugly hotel!

One of Rui’s favourite hotels is the charming Posada del Faro in Jose Ignacio, Uruguay.

Where do you tend to go on holiday?

I love travelling and I like to try a bit of everything. The last trip I went on was to Nicaragua where it’s all about eco-lodges and the jungle. But I also love New York and big cities. I like to explore, I value authentic places with a lot of character. Places with a story, with their own cuisine and culture. Places which are well looked after and of which its own people are proud of.

We fell in love with your breakfast, very impressive! Can you tell us a bit about it?

The breakfast is simple but high quality. Fruit, cakes, fresh bread and juice, seasonal fruit and then we give it a little touch. It’s something all the guests love and mention but it’s actually quite simple. It’s more about the quality of the produce and the presentation.

We loved the breakfast – it was super generous, varied and absolutely delicious. We won’t disclose much more to keep it as a surprise.

Any plans for the future?

We want to build more rooms and offer more experiences such as Tuk Tuk tours and being able to hire a classic car or a Vespa. Even in high season, it’s possible to access desert islands, we want to be able to take our guests there and leave them with a hamper and parasol and for them to give us a call when they’re ready to leave. We want people to come and enjoy the Algarve even in the busiest seasons.

How did Ernesto the donkey end up here?

Ernesto was a 40th birthday present for Nuno and for the farmhouse. He was then a 5-month-old donkey. We just got a girlfriend for Ernesto and they’re both moving in this summer too. We’re planning to start a donkey family.

Thank you very much for this interview Rui.

Thank you too!

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Obrigada,
xx
Joana and Sofia

Check out our full report on Pensão Agrícola

© Photos by JO&SO and courtesy of Pensão Agrícola

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