Fazenda Nova is a small luxury hotel with just ten suites in the heart of the eastern Algarve near Tavira.
How would you describe Companhia das Culturas in a nutshell?
Companhia das Culturas is an eco-rustic hotel in Portugal's Algarve region. There are 9 hotel rooms and suites, as well as 4 apartments. Here we define luxury in a more natural way, with meals prepared exclusively with produce from the neighbours or our own farm, lots of invigorating sunshine, and good company. We're like an anti-resort with 40 acres of land, a working organic farm, a saltwater pool, turkish hammam and a yoga room. Guests can feel a sense of the world passing here, through the historical architecture and the traditional way of living.
Please tell us a bit about the history of your agroturismo in the Algarve.
Until the ‘60s, it was a very busy farm with a lot of people working there. Agriculture was very important in this region. There were several farms in the area, even one which was close to the sea and with a boat to bring the fish. There was a regular fair at this farm to exchange goods, so it was a really important economic center, in a way creating an almost self-sufficient environment.
Today our property is still a working organic farm producing carob, olives, almonds, oranges and figs, which are used mainly for the boutique hotel. The main production, though is apricots. We grow around 10.000 to 20.000 kilos of apricots every year that we export to Northern Europe.
How long did it take you to refurbish the property and when did you open the agroturism hotel?
We opened for agroturism in 2008. But for seven years before that we were busy refurbishing the ruins that were on the farm. I was kind of a curator planning how things would look and we, together with the architect Pedro Ressano Garcia, wanted to take our time to learn how the ecosystem worked with the weather. For example, we don’t have air conditioning, we have fans. Every room has a door and a window for better air circulation.
Please tell us a bit about the architecture of the hotel.
All the buildings on the property were done at different times. It started at the beginning of the 19th century and due to family needs or industrial advances, other buildings started appearing. They would put in another door or window here or there. Our renovations were a lot like that. The new additions are mainly about function. But the old walls remain and you can get a sense of the history.
What‘s interesting is that you can see the different ‘layers’ in the building process, how it has changed throughout the years. Our renovations have become part of the history of the property. The materials we used were all gathered from the land, we call it ‘taipa’ or rammed earth. It is a technique for building using the raw materials of earth, chalk, lime and gravel. But we also used modern techniques for the roof to improve the isolation for example.
To you personally, what is so special about this hotel and the farm?
I really appreciate the landscape. There’s a kind of spirit here that is incredible. The trees are centuries old, they are very imposing and strong. And I guess in order to survive in this very dry climate they need to be very strong. So in essence, it gives you a perspective on life as they will still be here when we are gone. And the landscape is large, the horizon seems endless.
What kind of activities do you offer your holiday guests?
We have marked paths for walking or cycling. Our guests can also work on the farm in helping with the harvest in May with the apricots — but nobody wants to help us... (laughs). Together with a young and creative chef we also organise a little workshop where our guests can go collect different traditional plants and herbs and then prepare them together with the chef, again in a traditional and contemporary way. And as already mentioned before, breakfast is very important to us so we are offering a breakfast workshop. Other workshops we have are using plaster to help rebuild the walls, to lean about the building techniques. Also, one of our neighbours — he is a french pastry chef — offers a workshop on making truffles with figs. Most of these activities are done in April, May and June and guests can learn about how the tradition can be a filter of the contemporary.
Looking back over the past three years, what has been most rewarding to you about running a small boutique hotel?
To welcome people to our agroturism. And I really like the idea of being almost like an ambassador of our farm and the region. Since we have opened the agroturism hotel, I’ve also been a lot more positive. I’ve met some very nice people and families. I think our concept, that we don’t have TVs, music or ambiance in that sense, make people appreciate the simpler things. It makes them very curious as well as impressed by a more traditional way of living.