Monument to Marble: Exploring Alentejo’s Mar...

Monument to Marble: Exploring Alentejo’s Marmòris Hotel & Spa

By: Ben Austin

Alentejo Marmòris Hotel & Spa is a haven for gastronomy, relaxation and a mine of marble

The Alentejo Marmòris Hotel & Spa is located about an hour outside of Évora, in the small town of Vila Viçosa close to border with Spain, which is famous for its Ducal Palace and surrounding marble quarries.

In fact, one finds almost everything there is connected to that beautiful and precious stone — even the public benches are made from it. The hotel’s proprietor, António Alves, is also the owner of a local quarry and thus, Marmòris, as the name would indicate, is dedicated to marble.

The entrance hall floor is made of exquisite imported Italian black and white inlaid marble, highly patterned and polished. The columns too are fashioned from the material and there is a sculptural artwork in foyer of trees, growing out of roughly hewn boulder bearing little marble rocks.

The rooms on the first floor are complete with a private terrace overlooking the courtyard, which is mostly taken up by the swimming pool (covered in the cooler months) attached to the spa. Modern and sumptuous, the suites are decorated with yellow and black fabric detailing, and a large mirror cleverly doubles at the click of a switch to the TV.

The bathrooms are, as expected, floor-to-ceiling clad with marble. In keeping with an intimate interior, the stone is of a glorious pink hue with streaks of black veins running through it.

The same applies to the inside of the spa downstairs, which is quite a treat, especially after a long drive up from the Algarve. The pool is of a perfect temperature and is fitted with spouting water fountains. There is also a long marble (of course) sitting Jacuzzi and small pool below with two perforated loungers delivering jets of massaging water for blissful relaxation.

The hotel’s in-house chef is the acclaimed Pedro Mendes, who has made rustic Alentejo cuisine his signature. Originally from Lisbon, Mendes began his professional life training to be a lawyer, but his passion for cooking and hospitality was stronger and he spent time working in restaurants in Paris and Belgium, before running the restaurant at Cinemateca film museum in Lisbon. He also spent a couple of years managing a gastropub in Dublin, Ireland, so he knows all about comfort food and the perfect pint of Guinness. He later went on to open one of the first sushi restaurants in Lisbon, which shows how versatile he can be. For Mendes, as with all the top chefs, the secret for a great dish is using quality ingredients. The Alentejo is a rich source of natural produce and, depending on the season, he can be found foraging for the very best produce or organically growing his own.

Apart from the gastronomy at Marmòris, the town offers some visual delights that cannot be missed. Vila Viçosa is home to the stunning Ducal Palace and the hotel provides a tour service by a dedicated “storyteller,” a personal tour guide for guests, who will delight you with the fascinating history of the Palace, from the first Duke of Braganza to the return of the Portuguese royal family under King Carlos I after the Napoleonic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula.

The royal family had to flee again in 1910, this time to England, due to a Republican revolution and the residences of the monarchy were closed to the public. It was not until 1984 that the Palace was re-opened and it currently houses one of the largest and most varied collections of horse-drawn carriages in Europe.

The other stop on the tour is António Alves’ quarry, just a few kilometres from the Palace. This is something to behold — a large gaping chasm, where monster trucks and excavators ceaselessly toil, and massive blocks of marble are hewn and hoisted up by industrial cables and cranes. They are then graded for quality and cut to order by diamond-edged saws. Not surprisingly, the vast majority is shipped out to the Middle East, where there is huge demand for this luxurious stone.

As the site is so spectacular, the hotel will soon promote the quarry as a unique and unusual space for events, complete with an overhanging viewing platform with transparent floor, not for the faint hearted or suffers of vertigo, but do not worry — they did a promotional shoot with a car parked on the platform, thus proving its weight-loading capacity. There will also be a traditional Portuguese restaurant at the top with panoramic view.

There is much to see and do in this area of the Alentejo, with Évora being a major attraction, boasting numerous historical monuments, a Roman temple, medieval walls and the famous skeleton-adorned Chapel of Bones. But closer to Vila Viçosa is the tiny village of Evoramonte (or Évora Monte), where you will find a castle dating back to around 1300. The view from the castle is truly breathtaking: in every direction all one can see is undulating countryside interspersed by villages dotted around the landscape.

The Alentejo Marmòris Hotel & Spa is a five-star hotel of the highest standard, yet it is also a family business with António’s daughter, Susete, managing the day-to-day operation as her father mostly oversees the other side of the business at the quarry. Its opulent marble furnish may be glitzy, but the hotel also has the distinct feeling of personal touch, from the impeccable dishes prepared and presented by chef Pedro Mendes to the special touch of the storyteller.

It may seem like a bit of a trek to reach Vila Viçosa from the Algarve, but it is well worth the journey and expense. Marmòris is far from the madding crowd and definitely appeals to those who truly appreciate fine dining and pampering, as well as those wishing to gain an incredible insight into the local marble economy and the rich history of the region.

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