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São Lourenço do Barrocal – where luxury and sustainability meet.

In the same family for over 200 years, the estate has its heart at the “monte”, an ancient small farming village, which has been brought carefully back to life by Pritzker Price awarded architect Eduardo Souto de Moura as a remarkable hotel of understated luxury, a rural retreat, located in Monsaraz, on a 780-hectare estate. It became an unassuming luxury hotel, surrounded by vineyards, ancient holm oaks and olive trees, that also comprises two farm-to-table restaurants, a winery, a spa, horse stables, and a farm shop that sells the various products grown on the estate, which, despite its age is still known for its fruitful harvests. There, the feeling of being at home is intimately connected with the sense of belonging to the vastness of the land. It is located in Alentejo, the least developed region of Portugal, but the heart of its agriculture. São Lourenço do Barrocal’s approach to sustainability looks to the past when building the present and future. Since its foundation in 1820 as a farming village, the community that lived here followed a self-sustainable path. Everything needed to live a happy and fulfilled life was either sourced or produced on site. Barrocal’s new life as a luxury resort would have to honour the history, culture and traditions of this place. In the nineteenth-century, it grew to become a thriving small farming village, providing enough livestock, grain, vegetables and wine to sustain up to 50 resident families year-round. With its own schoolroom and bullring, it was home to a tight-knit community who dwelled there happily for many years. Self-sustainability was a natural course and an obvious inspiration for the farming and hospitality project that lives today. Sustainability was a key concern of São Lourenço do Barrocal in every aspect of the estate’s rejuvenation project. During the construction stage, the whole project was designed with due regard for the region’s materials and architecture, always favouring the work and expertise of local artisans and suppliers, saving from derelict this 19th-century building complex. By employing local materials (fired-bricks, adobe roof tiles and limewash), which support complex structures (vaults, arches and trusses), the refurbishment project is an example of respect for the local culture and its adequacy to a hospitality program. The careful and skilled manual labour required in this rehabilitation should be noted, especially the structural recovery of the seven buildings; all foundations and roofs were reinforced using only handmade bricks and old tiles (about 70,000 solid bricks were used and 250,000 adobe tiles have already been rehabilitated). This care and attention to detail is also seen in the interior decoration of the project: reused several items from the estate – family photos, no-longer-used agricultural/farming equipment, among many examples -, recycling and upcycling several other elements like old wooden shutters that became coffee tables or former ledgers and accounting documents that became works of art. All the new elements of this interior design orientation were also chosen for having deep connections with the culture, history and traditions not only of Barrocal but also of the entire Alentejo region. Overall, natural, long-lasting quality materials like wood, leather, glass, wool and iron were given preference over inorganic ones. The commitment towards the local community, its history, the connection to the land, the local economy and small businesses is an essential part of their underlying strategy. Fostering a type of tourism concerned in respecting and experiencing the authenticity the area has to offer, including its culture, landscape and nature, is something they see as unavoidable – and desirable. All of this materialised itself in several initiatives that span through areas like direct and indirect employment options (Alentejo is the region with the highest unemployment rate), supplier preferences and the proximity to local experts in fields like archaeology, biology or crafts, for example.It’s because of this that today we have a policy of always recurring to local businesses whenever possible. What makes a hotel different from one place to another is the way it can pass along a sense of authenticity. This is achieved by introducing the people that visit them to the cultural and historic elements of the region they are in, the legacy one has, the people that live and work around. By showcasing the region and highlighting its best and most interesting features, by putting the customer in contact with people that are actually from the place you are in, is a way to promote a truly special and unique experience. By doing so one also supports this socio-economic ecosystem and make it grow. In day-to-day operations, there is special attention given to waste management, treatment and reduction. The Alentejo region of Portugal is traditionally very hot and dry and, for that reason, water is a precious (and, unfortunately, sparse) commodity. With that in mind, Barrocal established several water-saving and treatment protocols and systems that aim to better manage the water usage not only in the hotel but in the agricultural project as well. There are special processes of cleaning and reusing the pool water, for example. The water is cleaned and recycled often and re-used later on in the irrigation system of our vegetable garden and meadow. Their olive groves and vineyards, too, are cared for and organised in order to thrive with no need for artificial watering (the geological characteristics of the soil, rich in granite and clay, are crucial in this as well). Animal waste, especially manure from the horse stables, is collected and sorted daily for later use as compost fertiliser. Other organic residues, like tree trimmings or cut grass are also collected and added to this process. There is the obvious separation of waste, standard recycling practises, but we are investing in an even more thorough way of doing these processes. Energywise, there is the obvious and frequent use of low consumption, LED lights. The lighting of the project, both the interior and exterior areas, is thought to be sparse and subtle, with no excessive use of very intense lightings – especially because the region is a unique and distinguished area of low light pollution (one of the most relevant in Europe), making it ideal for stargazing activities. Barrocal’s gastronomic farm-to-table concept is intimately linked with the fully organically certified agricultural production. There is a daily effort to incorporate as much as possible the vegetables, fruits, herbs, olive oil, wine, meat and other locally grown ingredients. The “zero food miles” principle is a big priority that even leaks itself to other aspects of the project like the SPA – that uses our olive oil and herbs in some treatments – or the farm shop – that sells some of their greens as well as olive oil and wine. There is also a very big connection established with the community via the supplier list. It is always a priority to favour local producers of bread, cheese, river fish, among others.