Slow living in Cacela Velha

By: Alexandra Stilwell

Set in an olive and carob grove, with a view of the sea, Conversas de Alpendre is a family-run hotel, where switching off is inevitable

Several years before this life-changing pandemic came along, a family from Lisbon was already longing to change their lives, to drop their corporate jobs in the Portuguese capital and get away from crowds. They started a new chapter when they fell in love with an old farmhouse in the Eastern corner of the Algarve, turning it into a delightful boutique hotel.

“This had always been my parents’ dream,” explains Marta, who runs Conversas de Alpendre with her parents. “They always wanted a big house to host family and friends.” And that is exactly how it feels when we arrive and pull into the flower canopied drive and ring the bell; it feels like we are arriving at a friend’s house.

Wearing a long summer dress covered by an apron, and a warm smile, Marta joins us in the car park to welcome us. As we walk across the garden to the main house, she tells us how this once derelict farmhouse was lovingly transformed into the boho-chic hotel it is today. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Marta and her family had their share of hardship but came together to overcome it and turned a dream into reality.

Set in the hills above Cacela Velha, just a few kilometres from the nearest beach, the property is covered with large olive and carob trees and has a soothing view of the sea. There is also an orange grove, fig and arbutus trees, and guests are encouraged to get involved in the harvest.

The main house is a charming white building with a large porch, which gives the hotel its name, as Conversas de Alpendre translates to Porch Conversations. This softly lit terrace with its seagrass lampshades and comfortable chairs invites us to do just that with our hosts. “We see many guests arrive stressed from the city, asking us where to leave their luggage and check-in. We tell them to leave that till later and invite them in for a drink,” says Jo o Carlos, Marta’s father, as we sit down for a coffee. “There’s no rush here; the aim is to switch off and make yourself at home.”

The hotel features several suites and a family apartment with a Jacuzzi, a restaurant, a library and a saltwater pool with large plush sunbeds. The atmosphere is relaxing, with soft bossa nova music playing in the background. The whole place exudes peace and tranquillity.

Marta and her mother, Cristina, did the decoration. Together they let their imagination run free to create a style that brings rustic details together with modern comfort, using a lot of wood and natural materials, including local tiles and craftwork, as well as items they brought back from their travels.

In total, there are 12 rooms, all of which have names reflecting the hotel’s mindset: no stress, no boss, no worry, and so on. The spacious rooms in the main house are ideal for family holidays, whilst three options — a cabana, a storehouse, and a treehouse — spread out across the grounds were designed for more intimate stays. From afar, the cabana looks like a pile of logs but actually conceals a luxurious room with a deck and private pool. Meanwhile, the storehouse is a large studio with a mezzanine and has an outdoor table shaded by an old carob tree. Finally, the treehouse, set six metres up a vast carob tree, has its private reading deck with a fabulous view and even has a small lift to bring luggage up.

One thing the family was adamant about was that breakfast should be a pleasant experience, never rushed. It starts at 8.30am and ends whenever guests want. “There is no buffet; everything is served at the table and tailored to guests’ wishes”, says João Carlos. Many of the fresh fruits they serve come from their garden, whilst the bread, jam, cheeses and other products come from local producers and the market.

The restaurant serves light snacks at lunchtime, which can also be served by the pool, and a fixed menu in the evening. Self-taught chef Gonçalo Esteves is notorious for his surprise menus. “We never know what he’s going to cook,” admits Marta. His exquisite dishes combine Portuguese and Spanish flavours based on local seasonal products. After all, Spain is just 15 kilometres away. To accompany the menu, the wine list, featuring small producers, was carefully created to give guests a taste of several Portuguese regions.

Relaxing by the pool with a book, enjoying a massage, or sleeping under an ancient olive tree are guests’ favourite activities at Conversas de Alpendre. But it is worth leaving the grounds to explore Cacela Velha and its surroundings. Borrow one of the hotel’s bicycles and ask the chef to prepare a picnic basket to keep you going. You can also explore the coast by boat, ride through an avocado grove or play golf at one of the five nearby courses. One thing is certain; you will never want to leave.

Marta and her parents are so passionate about their project that they have decided to open another hotel. They are currently refurbishing an abandoned 18th-century palace in the centre of Tavira, turning it into a 19-bedroom hotel called Colégio Charm House — another ideal spot to switch off and make yourself at home.

Prices at Conversas de Alpendre range from 140 to 450 per night, depending on the room and the season.

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