It’s that strange time between seasons, when the crisp days of winter have departed but the warmth of spring has yet to arrive. It always makes me daydream about jetting off for a bit of Vitamin D, so I thought I’d share some memories from a recent trip to sunnier climes – a quick break in Portugal’s Alentejo region with my mum.
I love travelling with my mum, and we try to slot in a girls’ getaway once a year. We normally head to a city for a few days of cocktail-fuelled shopping, but after a frantic few months we were both keen to swap our norm for some rural serenity. Portugal seemed the obvious choice: great value, easy to reach via easyJet flights from Bristol, and brimming with fantastic places to stay.
Our base was Imani Country House, a beautiful boutique hotel set amid a sea of orange groves just outside the pretty little city of Évora (a couple of hours from Lisbon). It was born from the ruins of a sprawling farm, and it looked like any other rustic estate as we bumped up the driveway, past donkeys braying in fields and cows dozing under silvery cork oaks. But inside was a different story: a striking mix of vintage and modern, with sleek furniture, swathes of glass and vivid artwork everywhere we looked.
The hotel was the brainchild of TV producer Mariana and her actor husband José, who clearly have an eye for style. They spent months turning the whitewashed shells into a very special place to stay, and the result is wonderful. I particularly loved the quirky touches dotted about – we found a display of antique sewing machines in a bathroom, an old child’s bike above a bed, and salvaged neon signs in the garden. There was even a retro motorbike parked up in the dining room.
Our rooms were in the old stable block, which spreads up a slope from the main building. They had polished-concrete ensuites beneath soaring rafters, plus lavender-fringed terraces looking out over the fields to the rooftops of Évora shimmering on the horizon – perfect spots for morning coffee under the sun, and evening drinks as the moon rose overhead.
Our stay coincided with a sizzling heat wave (temperatures in the 40s every day; blistering even for Portugal), so our days largely revolved around dips in the two pools and lazy snoozes in hammocks strung beneath the orange trees. We also spent a lot of time sampling local wines from the honesty bar and making friends with the resident cat, who quickly cottoned on to our love of felines and made a beeline for us each morning . The whole place was pin-drop peaceful, and the only sounds we heard were birds twittering in the branches above and the gentle humming of a tractor somewhere in the distance.
But we did manage to muster enough energy to explore Évora itself – a tangled maze of sun-bleached alleys and fountain-filled squares enclosed within ancient town walls, with the ruins of a Roman temple at its heart. We spent a lovely day pottering around, dipping into cafés and frescoed churches to escape the heat. We also traced the course of the city’s crumbling aqueduct, whose arches incorporate a row of tiny houses, and tasted yet more wine in the delis.
It was exactly the kind of break we needed, and we arrived back in Bristol feeling energised, looking a little pink in places, and dragging rather heavy, clinking suitcases behind us…
Book a stay at Imani Country House via i-escape.com.
All photography by Abi Dare