Austrian beauty

By: César Brigante

Cosmetic brand Susanne Kaufmann is a global cult

Born on the slopes of the Austrian Alps, the founder has found an unexpected soulmate in São Lourenço do Barrocal, but with much more in common than it would first seem.

In little over a year, it is the second time that Susanne Kaufmann comes to the Alentejo. While her business entails having a close relationship with her partners, in this case, as she explains, it’s about more than just work. Falling in love with the recently discovered region, as well as with the hotel she considers one-of-a-kind  and completely in line with the philosophy of her eponymous brand,  are more than enough reasons to come back whenever the opportunity arises.

The Austrian we met during the height of a heat wave, just over a year since the opening of the hotel that boasts the only spa in the peninsula with her signature, is considered a kind of modern-day skincare and beauty guru in its more natural element. Having graduated in hospitality management, Susanne was a fifth-generation hotelier whose family owns the small Hotel Post Bezau in the Bregenz region, famous for its natural beauty and very sought-after for its ski resorts.

But she was more focused on a different career. It was under her guidance that the hotel was renovated in 2003, using local construction techniques, materials and know-how. The work undertaken blended tradition and modernity, in a clean environment bordering on minimalist, and brought with it a brand new feature: a modern spa and a product line conceived specifically for this wellbeing space.

The result of a chance encounter with a dermatologist friend who produced organic cosmetics, as Susanne explains, the line, which at the time comprised 24 products with natural active agents, was developed around traditional pharmacopoeia based on local botanicals. Besides the quality, what sets it apart from other products on the market is the high concentration of active agents which, according to Susanne, can be up to 80%.

Clear environmental concerns, sustainability, a link to the community and a clean image are values that have guided the project from the start and which are obviously present in the organic cosmetics. It was those same values that contributed to catching the attention of António Sousa Uva, responsible for turning the centuries-old family farm in Reguengos de Monsaraz into a unique tourism project. Of a stripped-back luxury, the central element is the hotel with 50 rooms and, among other facilities, a spa.

A trip to Bregenz to meet Susanne in person and invite her to be a part of São Lourenço do Barrocal translated into love at first sight: the history of São Lourenço do Barrocal, the philosophy of the project, the location….all that and more not only spoke volumes to her own approach, but also fit in perfectly with the identity of her brand. And so, it was only natural that, as José António expected, Susanne Kaufmann arrived in peaceful Alentejo.

Among the row of houses, which once accommodated day labourers and fulfilled other roles relating to the everyday running of the estate, and now converted into generous rooms, a small and discreet entrance opens up to the spa. Inside, a reception area leads to a vaulted hallway, perpendicular to the street, along which the changing rooms and the various treatment rooms can be found. The silence, the candlelight, the high ceilings, the whitewashed walls and the austere tile floor contribute towards a serene, almost monastic, feel, conducive to the treatments and holistic approach to wellbeing championed by Susanne Kaufmann.

The treatments available at the São Lourenço do Barrocal spa are the ones that Susanne originally developed for the Bregenz spa, created around the specificities of the products. Having drawn inspiration from various cultures, mainly traditional Chinese medicine and her native Alpine region, the therapies featured in the spa menu were conceived essentially for natural anti-ageing, with the highlight being the Susanne Kaufmann Anti Aging Signature treatment for the face or body.

On the beauty front, there are several treatments designed to improve and repair the skin, with facials for women and men, as well as manicure and foot care, while body treatments include various massages and detox treatments, from medicinal baths to scrubs that are designed to purify the skin and mind. All treatments are administered exclusively by a Susanne Kaufmann-trained team of beauticians and therapists, an essential condition considering that this is a signature spa, as the businesswoman herself makes a point of mentioning.

There are just 15 hotels worldwide today that, like São Lourenço do Barrocal, feature a Susanne Kaufmann spa, among which are Das Stue Berlin, the Ritz Carlton in Vienna and the new Four Seasons The Surf Club in Miami. However, in the Alentejo, Susanne seems to have found a spa that, more than a refuge, is an extension of nature and the serenity she exudes. This is as holistic as it gets.

Besides São Lourenço do Barrocal, the complete line of Susanne Kaufmann products can be found at Skinlife, in Lisbon’s Chiado.

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