A slice of Portuguese peace
by Sharon Henshall
Nestled out of sight in the Alentejo region of Portugal, Sharon Henshall settles into a cosy caravan, soaking up the sweet stillness of Monte Maravilhas... a perfect getaway for some tranquility.
During my recent visit to Portugal, I put aside a few days to spend at Monte Maravilhas, a holiday haven located in the sleepy region of Alentejo. Rustic charm reigns strong within this Portuguese pocket which is renowned for breathtaking hiking, a tranquil vibe and tasty local produce. Much less touristy than its Algarve neighbour, Alentejo has remained one of the country’s quieter provinces.
Prem Zijtveld, a lovely lady from the Netherlands, first stumbled across this region back in the 80s. “The rhythm of life, the relaxed atmosphere, the space and the unspoilt nature reminds me of my beloved India,” says Prem, who, during her world travels, had spent time in an Indian ashram. In 1997, as her vision of Monte Maravilhas unfolded, she was drawn to buy some land. Maravilhas was finally ready for its first guests in 2001 – much hard work and love went into creating the peaceful getaway which I experienced this spring. Three houses now stand within the 21 acres of land, as well as two caravans and a number of tent spaces. Each and every budget of a peace-seeker can be met!
I instantly felt settled within my caravan; simple living suits me and this dinky space offered everything I needed... a comfy bed, a place to sit to read and write, adequate cupboard space, views of the hills and an outdoor space to relax in. The communal kitchen and shower block sat just a stone’s throw away, with an outdoor space for alfresco mealtimes and chatting with fellow campers. Each house is self-contained and Prem kindly offered to give me a guided tour. High ceilings, spacious living areas, cosy bedrooms, home-from-home kitchens and private outdoor terraces create wonderful holiday escapes for families, friends and couples alike. Each casa (house) has a Portuguese name: Casa Amarela is the largest house with three bedrooms and is suitable for up to six people, Casa Mimosa and Casa Azul can both fit up to four each with two bedrooms. Maravilhas also hosts several activity holidays throughout the year including hiking, painting, yoga, Portuguese language learning, meditation and massage weeks. “Our activity weeks are good for people who want to be in a meditative environment, to relax, de-stress, be in nature and enjoy healthy meals,” says Prem.
For me, the deal breaker was definitely the salt-water swimming pool. Sadly, it was too chilly during my springtime visit to dive in, but when temperatures up their game (May-September), all residents can congregate here to take the plunge. Sun loungers and the grass terrace made perfect ‘lolling about’ accomplices, following a morning’s hike. Several walking routes spread out over the neighbourhood – Prem has set aside a file holding the routes and instructions for those interested. Meander across hills, pass eucalyptus and cork trees, weave through meadows and farmland; all year round these panoramic routes entice outdoor enthusiasts ‘in the know’. Alentejo boasts fabulous local cheeses and wines – ideal for picnics – whilst orange and olive trees dot the landscape, proud of their heavy loads. Locals are bestowed with a generous spirit, content to lead simple lives, sourcing their own food and entertainment – community living at their heart.
Whitewashed houses with splatterings of vivid blue nestle within the local village. Strolling at an ‘I’m on holiday pace’ along a winding road led me there in a mere 20 minutes. Odemira is the closest old town, just 30km west; beaches are approximately an hour’s drive away. The Atlantic coast offers rugged coastline, sandy coves and charming seaside villages. Swimming also takes place in a nearby large lake where many locals take a dip on a steamy hot day.
Relaxing onsite is easy to do. Tara, the resident dog, offers great inspiration as she is the queen of chilling and can usually be found in the shade near the communal kitchen. A short stroll leads you up to a neighbouring mill which sits high on a hill overlooking Maravilhas. I ventured here a few times and sat myself amongst some poppies, surveying the pretty view ahead. Tree-filled hills adorned the landscape, wildflowers swayed in the breeze and bells jangled in the distance – no doubt secured to a herd of goats, sheep or cows being led home by their shepherd. I could see why Prem fell in love with this idyllic spot.
Creating further space for group activities is on the agenda, but ultimately it is the location’s peaceful nature that makes it such a find. “Monte Maravilhas offers a place to relax, enjoy listening to birds singing and the wind moving through the trees,” says Prem. “It is difficult to describe the sound of silence and the smell of flowers and herbs – you are welcome to come and experience it yourself!”
Visit www.montemaravilhas.com for further details.