Invited by Wine Tourism in Portugal, Nelson Carvalheiro traveled, explored, and experienced the best Alentejo has to offer. The result was the ultimate Alentejo Wine Travel Guide that was already published on our blog. To make sure you don't miss out on anything, we are now publishing it segmented by categories.
This first part focuses on the Alentejo Best Wine Hotels and Best Wineries.
A number of boutique hotels have sprouted out in the last 5 years helping to cement the region as on par with other established wine destinations like La Rioja, Bordeaux, or Tuscany. It is always fantastic to see how well this was made where the local entities and culture, design products, and heritage were always present when these boutique and special hotels were built. I am listing the best ones here, but you can seek more unique wine hotels at the Wine Tourism in Portugal booking portal.
As I mention in my Best Wine Hotels in Portugal Post “Can you imagine what it is like to wake on the top of a mountain overlooking the Douro valley and seeing how the river serpents its way around the lush green footsteps of vineyards? The air is pure and healthy; a cloud dangles mid-height like a loaf of cotton pinned on the opposite hill. Ahead of you is a day of Portuguese Wine discovery, always accompanied by quaint and candid Portuguese traditional cuisine. Having the opportunity to speak with the Vineyard's owners and meet the simple people that make some of the world's finest nectars. Maybe even taking part in stepping on some grapes, if you are bold enough. I know that I will be making my own wine!”
For other hotel options in the Alentejo, you can use the Wine Tourism in Portugal Hotel search tool.
L’AND Vineyards Hotel
L’AND Vineyards is a part of only a hand full of luxury full-service 5-star properties in Portugal which were designed and built around wine. The big difference is that, unlike The Yeatman Hotel, the Douro Vintage Hotel, and The Vine Hotel, this one actually has vineyards around it, and has the cellar amidst its main building.
Note: I purposely left out other wine hotels which I love, like Quinta da Pacheca, out of this statement as they are not full-service 5-star properties.
So, very in a very truthful manner, L’AND Vineyards is a "Wine Resort" that offers a unique rural experience in an exclusive and contemporary ambiance. Looking at the photos, one would think that L’AND is set in a faraway vineyard, one that takes hours on back roads to be reached. Actually, it is just under an hour’s drive from Lisbon airport. As you come off the A6 motorway and make your way to Montemor-o-Novo, you will begin to see a gated and protected vineyard. It is within this secluded landscape that L’AND charms its guests. The drive from the gate to the main building takes a couple of minutes, and here is where you can witness this “life within the vineyard” feeling that L’AND works so hard to portray. The central building is a designed spaceship, surrounded by a lake (used to water the gardens and vineyards) and the outside deep blue-tiled pool. Two water features that offer plenty of water mirror photo opportunities. Besides housing the winery, the “mothership” houses the reception, library, restaurant, spa, and indoor heated pool. I personally liked the opening within the front desk overlooking the fermentation tanks in the middle of the building. A sight best enjoyed when they are being used during the harvest.
The L’AND Sky Suites
Besides the L’AND Restaurant, the best thing about the L’AND Vineyards hotel is the sky suites. These are detached from the main building, so there are no noises or confusion to hassle your downtime. Plus, you get a bit of a walk through the vineyards on your way to dinner, breakfast, or to a vinotherapy massage like the one I had. They are called Sky Suites because they give you the impression of sleeping "under the stars" when you open on the bedroom’s ceiling. I can vouch, for the spectacularity of this feature, but please be patient. It takes the human eye about one hour to adjust to complete darkness, so be a little patient and you will eventually see some starts. Something easier said than done after you have been tasting wine all day long as I have.
I stayed in Sky Suite 6, being told by Daniella from the Front Office that it was the best one, so if you read this, please ask for this particular suite. This suite has over 120 sqm, a private patio with a heated plunge pool. The entrance to the suite also features the most magnificent climbing Jasmin and an outside fireplace which can be lit from the harvest, all the way through spring. The interiors were designed by the architect Marcio Kogan and are made of slate natural stone and wood, ornamented with a set of art pieces and exclusive furniture and fabrics. I can tell you that the design of the rooms, does not compromise for one single bit its comfort, with me not having to fuss around with the pillow to be able to sleep the standing prof of this acclamation.
Wine Tasting with L’AND Sommelier (Gonçalo Mendes)
L’AND only produces a very small amount of wine. It is just for their clients and for the consumption of the L’AND restaurant. This is evident when one looks at their total vineyard area – just 6 hectares. For the last 5/6 years, they have averaged about 9000 bottles of production per year. Still, in this micro vineyard, they planted 4 varieties of white grapes: Antão Vaz, Arinto, Roupeiro, and Verdelho, and 5 varieties of red grapes: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Alicante Bouschet, Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Gonçalo explains how the Verdelho grape is Portugal’s go-to variety when it comes to producing white wines, and how the Arinto variety takes its fullest form in the Alentejo terroir. Antão Vaz is an autochthonous grape from the Alentejo (from the Vidigueira area) and surely the one with the most representation on the white wine market from this region.
Rather than transcribing the technicalities of the wines, or what goes well with the selection of cheeses, salmon, jam, and charcuterie from the region, I will tell you about the man. It is most likely that you will meet him if you ever visit L’AND and I think it is important to know the man behind the choice of wines at your dinner.
Clearly, Gonçalo is a professional who loves his job and since he is a local, he speaks very heartily about the wines from the land where he was born. “The Alentejo has so much raw potential, so many untapped resources to offer to its visitors, that I am afraid that the recent wine tourism spotlight that is being shined in this area, will eventually lead to mass tourism and spoil the one-to-one, quiet and long-lasting experiences one has with the territory,” says Gonçalo. He goes on to explain that guests who come to the L’AND are very knowledgeable about wine and very specific with what they are looking for. These are clients who are making their 5th, 7th, or even 10th wine tour, so they are most interested in three things: what is local, what is genuine, and something new that they never tasted before. This is the approach, Gonçalo takes in choosing the wine that makes up the list at the L’AND Restaurant. He tells me that he also travels a lot within Portugal to taste wines and to meet the producers, so don’t try to outsmart him on Portuguese wines. Now he just needs to gain some international experience and he will be someone to look out for in the future. Good Luck Gonçalo.
Breakfast at L’AND
Like Mario Morais (General Manager of L’AND) mentioned in our dinner the night before, if you want to get a Michelin Star in a Hotel restaurant, you have to start with breakfast. I absolutely loved this quote, and it will be one that wishes to refer to every time I visit an aspiring property. For those who think that coming to the L’AND for breakfast means that they will get a mile-long buffet, they best head back to Lisbon. The items on display are fairly reduced because the majority of the food is cooked to order: just for you. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this, and how much this plays to my personal wishes for what a proper luxury breakfast should be all about.
The organic detox juices are another good example: the green one is spinach, cucumber, ginger, granny smith apple, and lemon. The red one is beetroot, orange, carrot, celery, and a red apple. These come in very handy first thing in the morning to cleanse your tongue and your thirst from all the wine drinking of the night before. Another great example is their Granola, which Miguel Laffan boasts about, as he makes it himself. The pancakes come with local cottage cheese (requeijão) and honey from a honeycomb from a local organic producer which is on display in the breakfast room. Even my poached egg came on a warm cast iron pan. Precious…Also to be noted, this was the only place in my whole journey where I was served a proper latte macchiato for breakfast.
Convento do Espinheiro
Built in the XV century, Convento do Espinheiro was been one of my favorites Heritage to Hotel Conversions in Portugal. As you will see further ahead, I have dinned and stayed here in the past. Quite a few times I might add. I always loved to stay here, as it is almost like you are living the life of the Portuguese Royal Family when they used this convent as their home every time they were in Evora. Plus, it is a living museum, with sacred art portraits and statues. The convent even has its own church, with walls lined with Portuguese azulejos and ceiling frescoes.
Luxuriously redecorated, the Convento do Espinheiro is today considered a national monument, that works with renowned brand Luxury Collection of company Starwood Hotels & Resorts. This ensures quality and consistency of service delivered by the team led by Maria Carapinha, the Hotel’s General Manager. This Hotel is also inserted in a sumptuous garden of 8 hectares, where guests can wander in privacy and take the most of the soft Alentejo Landscape.
Brilliantly fitting the old and the new, Convento do Espinheiro has added a new “design Section”, with the addition of 36 contemporary rooms with views to the pool and the interior garden. This was where I stayed. Inspired by the 1950s, the Design guest rooms welcome guests with a balanced combination of modern decor and 15th-century heritage in a spacious living area. Design guest rooms are all located in the new wing of the hotel; with a modern design to reflect the glamour and luxury of the 1950s and showcase stunning views of the resort's vast landscape.
On top of all of this and what I love more about this hotel is the Divinus Restaurant and the work done by Chef Bouazza Bouhlani. Converted from the convent’s ancient wine cellar, Chef Bouazza presents the Guests of Convento do Espinheiro with genuine flavors of the Alentejo region’s gastronomy, with a touch of sophistication and refinement.
There is a new cuisine attraction at Convento do Espinheiro called Taste do Chef. An old garden hut, which was transformed into a traditional Portuguese eatery serving Traditional cuisine typical from the Alentejo. It is located next to the convent’s garden, where chef Bouazza produces no-fuss heartwarming dishes like cold gazpacho soup, fried black pork cubes, and homemade sericiaia. Also, don’t for the pool at sundown, especially on hot summer days.
Herdade da Malhadinha Nova
Herdade da Malhadinha Nova is located in Albernoa, in the heart of Baixo Alentejo, and offers comfort and design in relaxed harmony with its surrounding landscape. Even though it is the furthest of the Wine Tourism businesses when you depart from Lisbon, owner Rita Soares has set up her business in a way that her guests feel that the long journey was totally worth it.
First, she enforces a two-night minimum for all guests that stay with her. I was the obvious exception, because of my tight schedule. I could only afford to stay one night. This was duly noted in the first line of conversation when she drops the hint that even the world’s most influential wine Guru Robert Parker, stayed for 3 nights.
Rita’s idea was to create a sort of retreat, where its guests did not need to leave the property for the two nights they are her guests. Beyond the 600 hectares that the estate occupies, the vineyards and the olive fields where guests can walk and have picnics. Herdade da Malhadinha produces its own olive oil, its own beef, and black pork, it has a respectable restaurant, a Lusitano horse stable for those who wish to ride, a spa, and plenty of bird watching lookouts. One can say that it is like a condensed Alentejo Theme Park.
More so, its concept is based on offering experiences wrapped in the theme of wine, as well as Wine Tourism, Hotel, and Restaurant. Wines are the Herdade da Malhadinha Nova ex-libris and reflect huge respect for Nature and for all the passion and dedication taken for their creation.
The vines were planted in 2000 taking now the total area of 33 ha. (81 ac.) - 27 ha. (66 ac.) on production and 6 ha. (15 ac.) of the new vine. The ecotourism experiences and the modern Cellar, combining traditional winemaking methods with technology, are some of the best reasons to visit the Herdade.
On top of everything, they produce Monte da Peceguinha, my absolute favorite all-time white wine of the Alentejo.
Torre de Palma
In the heart of the Alto Alentejo, lost in time near the village of Vaiamonte, you will find this real treasure. Inspired by the lifestyle of the distinguished Basilii family - the ancient inhabitants of the nearby Roman ruins of Torre de Palma - and by the Alentejo traditions, the Torre de Palma Wine Hotel is more than just a hotel, it was born to be home in the Alentejo. Owner Ana Isabel Rebelo reconverted this property in a way that merges tradition with the audacity of modernity. For this she employed designer Rosarinho Gabriel, who became famous for her work at the Areias do Seixo Hotel.
She added interior style and persona to this hotel, although sometimes, it can feel that it is too much designed and less practical. Nevertheless, this is what makes it special and I have to congratulate them both for wanting to make such a distinct and self-conscious project in this remote region.
There once was a tower here that reached up to the sky and gave this place its name. The views from its ramparts could not be more idyllic. At dusk, the sun slowly sets and lights up the sky, painting it pink and orange, leaving us with the peace that is typical of the Alentejo landscape. A few minutes later the inevitable happens, and we fall in love with Torre de Palma. In a renovated manor house of the 14th century, the Torre de Palma Wine Hotel has been luxuriously restored and features simple and sophisticated lines. Dating from 1338, the views offered from this manor house made us dream and wish to make this a place you can enjoy.
The Palm Tower Wine Hotel has19 thematic rooms in different Alentejo houses as well as a rural loft, an old barn, and the manor house with the master suite. The hotel offers indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a spa and a wellness center, a library, and the Basili Restaurant. After a lot of hard work, this year the dream has become the reality with the birth of the Torre de Palma, Wine Hotel. All the places and corners of Torre de Palma, indoor or outdoor care. Is a place full of history and charisma, where we can find more than a relaxing and delightful hotel to be in.
In the same aggregated manner of Herdade da Malhadinha Nova, Torre de Palma is a “destination” in itself. Because of their remote locations, they understood the need to add several layers to their product. In the case of Torre de Palma, they take form in the walks around the estate, farming, horse riding, Star Gazing, birdwatching, spa treatments, and Alentejo cuisine workshops.
Although my visit at Torre de Palma was short-lived I got to ride a Lusitano mare named Azeitona (more details below) and have a traditional Alentejo cuisine workshop with Chef Filipe Ramalho. We made Açorda Alentejana, where the garlic, red pepper, and pennyroyal infusion were made in a vacuum pot. A novelty, I admit, but clearly aimed at impressing the foreigners. Even more when he caramelizes the sardine loins with a blow torch in front of you. He also made me a reinvention of Sericaia with lemon sorbet, which was good, but made the mistake of filling the cocktail glass with Chantilly. Chef Filipe is very young, he is only 26 years old, and has the talent to look out for in the future. I just wish he tones down his kitchen “mavericksness” a bit.
Best Wineries in Alentejo
Herdade dos Grous
The cellar Herdade do Grous has the guidance of the renowned oenologist Luís Duarte. He is responsible for the making of the best wines on this farm. My favorite wine of Herdade dos Grous - Herdade dos Grous Reserva 2013 (Red).
Monte da Ravasqueira
Connected to José de Mello's family for several generations, Monte da Ravasqueira is located in the municipality of Arraiolos, one hour away from Lisbon, and covers a vast area of the typical Alentejo landscape. My favorite wine of Monte da Ravasqueira - MR Premium 2013 Rosé.
In the beautiful and untouched landscape of the Alentejo plains of Campo Maior, the architect Siza Vieira created an original building, a horizontal whitewashed volume. The wines of Adega Mayor have obtained, at the national and international level, unanimous recognition from critics having conquered over 100 awards already. My favorite wine of Adega Mayor - Reserva do Comendador 2011 (Red).
Herdade da Malhadinha Nova
The Cellar of Malhadinha Nova is traditional and sophisticated and brings together a unique set of characteristics favorable for the production of distinctive wines of the highest quality. My favourite wine from Herdade da Malhadinha Nova – Monte da Peceguinha 2014 (White).
Herdade do Esporão
The Herdade do Esporão presents itself as an Estate steeped in history, producer of outstanding quality wines. The Esporão vines are located in the heart of Reguengos de Monsaraz, where wines are more balanced and seductive, simultaneously thriving and pleasant, luxuriant, and with good aging potential. My favourite wine from Herdade dos Esporão : Verdelho 2015 (White).