A journey to the Alentejo countryside

In a Turismo Rural, you can get back to the land Portuguese-style. Rachel Rashleigh and family headed for the Alentejo countryside

It's our first evening at the Quinta Vale de Marmelos - Quince Valley Farm - and we're sitting at a marble table under a walnut tree drinking a good local Borba wine. Our 18-month-old daughter, Nancy, is asleep upstairs. I gaze upwards, straight into the eyes of a tawny owl perched just above us. We watch each other for 20 minutes before it glides away over the pool and into the orange grove.

We had arrived that day, sweeping through the gates of this grand Italianate villa after a two-hour drive from Lisbon. Up on our balcony, we drank the scent of the hundreds of varieties of flowering plants and trees, while red-rump swallows swooped with impressive bravado between the pillars. We had found the perfect rural retreat.

This is Turismo Rural, a category devised by the Portuguese authorities to help visitors get their accommodation right. We could have chosen Turismo de Habitacao - a mansion or stately home - or Agroturismo, which means a farm stay (mucking out optional). Our choice in the Alentejo, Portugal's most agricultural region, guaranteed us traditional rustic housing in the heart of the countryside, but with no heavy lifting¶.

Our quinta was a gardener's and birdwatcher's delight. The nine-acre estate was planted 50 years ago by a botanist, but was lost in semi-neglect until two English gardeners bought it last year.

From our bedroom window, we looked over a canopy of tall palms and squat variants - thick-trunked giants that looked like 50ft pineapples - Judas trees, mulberrys, walnuts, citrus orchards and a bamboo grove. Little wonder that on our first morning, Nancy pointed excitedly out of the window and announced: "Park!"

Nancy's learning curve continued at breakfast, which we ate in the courtyard under a blue sky after picking grapefruit from the orchard. Also for breakfast on a pick-your-own basis were kumquats, pome-granates, apricots and about 10 varieties of orange. After breakfast, we visited the pig. If my partner and I chose this place for sunshine and charm, we had sold it to Nancy exclusively on the basis of the pig. Nothing - not the swimming pool, the gardens, nor even the swings and slide in the olive grove - interested our urban offspring half so much as the prospect of exchanging real-life animal noises.

The pigs here are porcos pretos (black pigs) and feed on the acorns of the holm oak, which impart a special flavour to local hams and dried sausages. Our pig, known reverently as O Senhor Porco, lived in a magnificent pen in the shade of an apricot tree. I doubt he appreciated his luck. As instructed by our hosts, we scratched his hairy back with a trowel and fed him orange peel. Nancy treated him to a long woofing solo and he gave her a look of intelligent concern.

Later, we discovered this pig was for the pot. Each May, the resident of the pig pen is slaughtered with great ceremony by the local builder and a feast is held on trestle tables under the lemon trees. Lazing may not be an option with an 18-month-old, but while she slept at midday we swam in the pool and read in the shade of the courtyard. The 19th-century house is a high-ceilinged, three-storey affair with a cobbled drive and plenty of trailing purple bougainvillea. The library is well-stocked with guide books and ideas for excursions. On our hosts' advice, we swam in the river Guadiana, which divides Portugal from Spain. You can also ride, bird watch or ramble, - a right in Portugal.

But the great charm of the location is Elvas, perhaps the best medieval fortified town in the region. Elvas has applied for Unesco World Heritage status for its fortifications: the hilltop town is circled by a defensive wall and ditches, with access through 20ft-thick stone gates. Spaniards come here to buy Portuguese linen in a cobbled street called Alcamim, reflecting the town's Arab past.

Without the sea or the bright lights of the coastal resorts to put it on the tourist map, the Alentejo has kept its peace. I relished this on our last day, when I took Nancy down to the quinta's bottom field to watch sheep pick off leftover pimento foliage after the harvest.

There was not a sound anywhere except for sheep bells, the shepherd's dog panting on its side, and a certain small child learning how to baa.

THE COMPACT GUIDE

HOW TO GET THERE

EasyJet (0905 8210905; easyJet.com) flies to Lisbon from £66 return. Car hire from Carrentals.co.uk (0845 225 0845) from £81 a week. A double with breakfast at Quinta Vale de Marmelos (00 351 268 626193; quintavaledemarmelos.co.uk) costs from £37 a night, based on two sharing.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Portuguese Tourist Board (0845 3551212; portugaloffice.org.uk).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Front of House Receptionist / Receptionist

    £21K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Front of House Receptionist to provide th...

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders