In the foothills of Portugal's charming ancient village Monsaraz, a sprawling 7.8 million square-metre estate filled with life, sunshine and an incredible array of outdoor activities, awaits. The family farmhouse has run through 200 years of history and most recently, is under the leadership of Mr José António Uva, who added touches of understated luxury to its refined façade. Countryside allure is one way to describe the setting, where one can experience the joys of its surroundings, from horseback riding to traditional pottery, and of course, the incredible wines sourced directly from the on-site vineyards where one can tour prior to tasting. We speak with Uva on the property's best outdoor offerings for every type of traveller ...
Taste The 200-Year-Old Wine History
A wine tasting is always a great way to understand the wine culture and history of Barrocal, on one hand, and Alentejo as a whole, in a broader sense. You can do a standard tasting or go for one of the more elaborate ones, like the one where you start by riding our horse-drawn carriage through the estate’s vineyards and overall 780-hectares, before doing an al fresco tasting in the wild. It’s always amazing to see how the rhythms of nature completely change the scenery from time to time. We also have a new option which I’m really excited about: a vertical wine tasting where you’re able to see how the same wine from different years evolves and changes through time. All of this is perfectly paired with some bites thought to highlight the specific traits of each wine.
Getting Your Hands Dirty With Clay
The minute you walk into Barrocal you’ll come into contact with traditional Alentejo pottery. This area, in particular, especially our neighbouring village of São Pedro do Corval, has a long legacy of potteries and expert master potters and from the very beginning, we always tried to make this very visible. We have several pieces that are either vintage antiques from my family or new, custom-made ones spread all over the hotel. We go even further as advocates of this big piece of cultural heritage by organising pottery workshops for our guests. With the help of a local expert, everyone will have a chance to learn how to shape their own pieces on a potter’s wheel.
[Photo used with permission from Ollie Richards at wetravelportugal.com, the original content can be found in their guide to Monsaraz]
The Centuries-Old, Medieval Monsaraz
This is definitely one of the calling cards of the region. The Monsaraz medieval village is just a five-minute drive from Barrocal and going there is something I always advise you to do when you’re staying at the estate for the first time. It’s this tiny village, perched high on a hilltop, that’s surrounded by castle walls. It has a few little shops and simple, regional restaurants, all of which are nestled inside small whitewashed old houses – this is a 13th-century settlement. Personally, the best time of the day to visit is just before sunset. The view from the castle is absolutely breathtaking and seeing it with the orange-violet hue of the summer sun going down is fantastic.
Exploring The Fauna And Flora Of Alentejo
The fact that Alentejo is the largest (it’s bigger than Belgium, for example) and a more sparsely populated area of Portugal has helped to preserve its natural landscape. We are very lucky to have a great example of this biodiversity and we see its discovery as a great way to understand what this region is. A way we do that is with our ethnobotanical hikes, which take place inside the estate and are led by a local biologist that knows every detail of what you’ll find along the way, from the most curious of plants to folk customs. Besides this, the same expert – Nuno Guégués is his name – also does our birdwatching expeditions, another very entertaining yet peaceful experience. My kids really enjoy another of Nuno’s activities at Barrocal, the bird nest building workshop.
A “Ceiling" Full Of Stars
One of the first things I notice as soon as I arrive at Alentejo from Lisbon is the sky. It feels much bigger and is beautifully overwhelming. Since the landscape of the region is mostly made out of plains and rolling hills, and the traditional architecture is based on small, ground level houses, your eyes don’t get cluttered and you’re able to feel it a lot more. The Alqueva/Monsaraz zone in particular, where Barrocal is, gets even more unique because the absolute lack of light pollution makes it a privileged location for stargazing (this area is actually the first Starlight Tourism Destination in the world). At Barrocal, you can experience all of this with a private stargazing session, with the local experts from the Dark Sky Alqueva Observatory that set up their telescope in the estate and show you every detail of the stars, planets and constellations you’ll find over your head.