Continuing our series of interviews with our hotel owners , this month we feature Monte Saraz! A charming small hotel in Monsaraz, Alentejo!
Find about the experience of being a small hotel owner/manager!
As a Dutch, what inspired you to come to Alentejo?
I, Marc lammerink, visited Monsaraz for the first time in the seventies. My Portuguese friend and I camped in a little tent beside the Guardiana river, with Monsaraz in the background. She introduced me to Monsaraz, it was : ‘love at first sight!’
Since then I travelled the whole world as part of my work in local development programs. However, I always had the urge to come back to Alentejo and would visit it once in a while. It kept its beauty even after having seen amazing places in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
One day twelve years back I decided to look for a small house in the Alentejo….I ended up in Monte Saraz, not particularly a small house with its 1200 square metres of construction.
Why Monte Saraz? Why the Alentejo?
Monte Saraz came in view when I was looking for this ‘small house in the Alentejo’. When visiting a real estate agent in Evora I saw an aerial photo of Monte Saraz…I immediately was enchanted!
The house was situated near the glorious village of Monsaraz, in Alentejo. In my opinion one of Portugal’s prettiest, yet unspoiled regions: sometimes it is qualified as the “unknown Tuscany”.
I went to see it and a year later I was the new owner. I then could start to renovate the old farms and design a small boutique guesthouse. I now have been living here for more than 10 years…
This beautiful eighteenth-century farming estate had been partly restored by the previous owner, but there was still a lot to be done: partly renovation of what was already there and partly restauration of what were still remnants. For me it was a challenging project. But with the help of a team of local contractors we managed to exceed my expectations and had a marvelous time developing this project: Monte Saraz – Turismo de Habitacao (Historic Bed and Breakfast).
I don’t have a professional background in tourism, However, as a social scientist and traveller by profession: I worked in Africa, Asia and Latin America since 80’s as a researcher and development worker. This hands-on travel experience as a user, made it very clear what I wanted and certainly what I did not want as part of this boutique guesthouse.
What Inspired the decoration?
Architecture and interior design has always been my passion. So I wanted to develop something really charming, based on all my good and bad experiences. Pure beauty of the building, minimalist in decoration, rich in comfort but not overdone, good attendance, fresh good quality food, friendly and personal atmosphere, privacy, tranquillity, cleanliness and a beautiful garden, those are qualities I incorporated in Monte Saraz! First years of planning, designing and recovering with my than 14 years old son Ruben was a fantastic experience. As such Monte Saraz has been restored to its original state, offering repose and quality during your stay, provided in comfortable, separate farmhouses or in suites located in the main building.
We made sure to use traditional building techniques and local materials: xist, wood, artisanal bricks (from a nearby village, Sao Pedro de Corval), polished cement, walls at the spatula…, iron doors in the kitchens, which is all part of the traditional elegance. Expect whitewashed houses with smart interiors, but with comforts found in a modern residence, such as floor heating, free Wifi. During the recovery of the ‘monte’ many artefacts have been found, which have been elegantly repurposed in the different hide-a-ways of the place. Some pieces even date back to roman era such as arches, pillars and engraved stones. The wonderful swimming pool has been constructed in the place where in the past the oil press of the property was functioning. Of that period there is still a big arch in stone and some respectable pottery.
In the decoration we opted for a light style: we furnished and decorated in a rustic Minimalist style with comfortable and simple furniture, many called now “Vintage”, like a good number of Thonet chairs.
Furthermore, my daughter who is interior designer, suggested me to have different themes for the decoration of the houses: this resulted in the colour pallet we have applied. Houses are decorated in warm shades of yellow and red and examples of craftsmanship from all over the world (collected by myself during my numerous journeys around the world), it mixes the old with the new, giving it a cheerful and homely atmosphere. The enormous kitchen maintains the original vaulted ceiling, as well as the rustic marble benches, where old utensils and fresh products of the region are available, just like in old times.
What was a remarkable moment you shared with a guest?
It is difficult to remember one particular remarkable moment, as there been many: the nice thing with such a special place and rural tourism is that we attract many remarkable guests and with each we often have had special moments, like some architects that gave us their feedback in drawings in our guest book….almost every day there are moments of great interchange with our guests.
Because of my travel experience I often have very coincidental re-encounters. Two days ago I was sitting with a belgian couple and in two minutes we were travelling to Chile, specifically Talca and Temuco where I have been working so often.
We were almost walking down the road, where they had lived and I had worked during different periods. These things happen very often and make it so special to be in such a remote area of Portugal and still meet the whole world.
What would be your tips to get to know the region and its surroundings?
Allow yourself to fall in love with the Alentejo plain and discover this peaceful retreat in the heart of Alto Alentejo, where you will be able to enjoy the magnificent view of the medieval town of Monsaraz, savour the regional cuisine, go on walking or bicycle tours, visit prehistoric monuments, discover neighbouring villages or even enjoy the beauty of the lakes formed by the waters of Alqueva. Birdwatching and stargazing are also activities to which this region is especially suited.
What should guests expect when they book Monte Saraz?
A privileged space, in which to rest far away from the confusion of the city, the estate (‘Monte’) is surrounded by bird-song and by the renowned olive grove “Olival da Pega”. The houses give direct access to beautiful gardens dotted by ponds covered in water-lilies and inhabited by frogs whom will serenade you during the summer nights. Guests are invited to take their time relaxing, sunbathing, reading at their leisure, with perhaps only an interlude to bathe in the refreshing swimming-pool. From this area also full days of activities can be undertaken: discovering the typical portuguese villages, walking in the marble grove..wine tasting at Esporao among others.
Rosette and her husband Manuel are from the neighbouring Outeiro village and have been working with us since the start in 2004. She maintains the interior and prepares breakfast and he is daily maintaining the gardens.
I am quite happy: my guests find it a real oasis of serenity.