Fazenda Nova Country House, near Tavira, Eastern Algarve, Portugal, June 2013.
Within an hour of arriving at Fazenda Nova Country House, I meet two other couples who, unprompted, tell me that they are already planning a return visit later in the year. One couple are so enraptured that they rather despairingly confide that it will be difficult to holiday anywhere else in the future. Oh yes, Fazenda Nova is rather that sort of place.
I am not sure whether it is the endless blue skies and golden sunshine, the dozens of gnarly old olive trees with tiny buds of green fruit just starting to appear, the fields bursting with wildflowers – a riot of cornflower blue, buttercup yellow, lilac, scarlet and snowy white, the beautiful 19th century farmhouse filled with a mix of vintage and contemporary custom-designed furniture, the gardens fragrant with lavender, jasmine and rosemary, or the eucalyptus tree which stands majestically at the front of the property reminding me of home, but a half-day into our stay and I am already plotting our return visit to Fazenda Nova Country House.
Located in rural Eastern Algarve about a 25 minute drive from Faro airport, Fazenda Nova is tucked away in the sleepy village of Estiramantens. Run by British couple Hallie and Tim Robinson, Fazenda Nova is an oasis of tranquillity and calm, the kind of place where you come to escape the stress, bustle and noise of city life…..which is exactly what Hallie and Tim did in 2008. Living in London with high-powered jobs, Hallie as a director of Purple PR and Tim running a logistics business, the couple had long held the dream of moving to the Eastern Algarve with their young family. Having holidayed in the area for many years (Hallie’s parents own a property not far from Fazenda Nova), it took a wee health scare to finally push them to swap their hectic London lives for the traditional 19th century Portuguese farmhouse which they have renovated* into a gorgeous 10-suite boutique hotel.
Opened in September 2012, the farmhouse had sat unoccupied and unloved for a number of years before Hallie and Tim chanced upon it and realised its potential. Set in 10 acres of grounds dotted with carob, almond, lemon and olive trees (the Robinson’s press and bottle their own olive oil), the central whitewashed farmhouse contrasts beautifully against the landscape of green trees, soft blue sky and swathes of wheat-hued grass. Inside, industrial features (smooth polished concrete floors and bar, and contemporary pendant lights) blend seamlessly with treasures Hallie and Tim have picked up on their travels, flea-market finds, salvaged objects from the renovation and cultural pieces that reflect both their British heritage and adopted home of Portugal (a shocking-pink cockerel, the beloved Portuguese Galo de Barcelos, sits alongside an interior design book called New London Style and a stack of vintage copies of The Face magazine** ). As Hallie shows us around the dining room and library, I interrupt her every few minutes to ask where things are from, mentally calculating whether they would work in our own apartment – a enormous old wooden bread tray mounted on the wall next to the fireplace would hold a selection of my monthly magazine subscriptions rather nicely – while pondering exactly how I could manage to get them back to London with us***. Much of the wooden furniture has been custom-made to the couple’s specifications, while many of the quirky vintage objects are pieces Hallie has unearthed through monthly visits to the flea market in the nearby fishing village of Fuseta (Hallie tells me that guests often time their stay at Fazenda Nova to coincide with the market!).
Guest suites are located either in the main house or in the surrounding buildings. Each, bar one, has its own little private garden or terrace with a fire pit for the cooler months. Our suite, located in the old stable building, has the most glorious 100-year-old lemon tree brimming with almost-ripe fruit just outside the front door. Simply decorated, the suites are cool and inviting, a welcome retreat from the harsh midday Algarve sun. Ren toiletries (the seaweed and sage bodywash transports me straight to the beach each time I lather up) and a beautiful bar of Portuguese Confianca lime soap**** are stocked in the dark and sexy polished concrete bathroom with its rainfall shower and egg-shaped Villeroy & Boch washbasin.
Outside, the grounds of Fazenda Nova are dreamy: raked white gravel paths lead past garden beds full of flowering lavender and rosemary – I spend a good few minutes each morning watching dozens of bees gather pollen on their tiny legs; little wooden signs under shady olive and carob trees invite guests to “Relax” on recliners or in cosy hanging canvas pods; brightly coloured squashy beanbags form a rough semicircle beneath an ancient carob tree – a favourite spot for pre-dinner drinks with other guests; a herb and vegetable garden is tended by the wonderful Juliana, a lady from the local village who I delightedly discover grew up in the old farmhouse; a saltwater swimming pool, bordered by a hedge of rosemary and lavender and partially shaded by olive trees, forms the focal point of the rear of the fazenda.
As I lie in the shade of an olive tree in the late afternoon, the air heady with the scent of jasmine, looking out over the fields awash with golden light, the only sounds I hear are the distant rumble from a tractor, an occasional splash and giggle from the swimming pool, the twittering of swallows as they duck and dive for their supper, and a rather mixed-up rooster on a neighbouring property who seems not to care that dawn has long since passed. Contemplating the Relax sign in the garden next to me, I make a mental note to tell Hallie and Tim that it really isn’t needed…. it would be simply impossible not to.
Eat + Drink:
A complimentary light breakfast (freshly squeezed orange juice, croissants, bread, cereals, fresh fruit, yoghurt, charcuterie, local cheese, and coffee) is served in the bar area at Fazenda Nova each morning. If you are very lucky – we were! – Juliana will bring a bowl of delicious, impossibly light, homemade pasteis de nata with her from the village to savour with your coffee. Who needs a cronut when you have these!
The restaurant at Fazenda Nova, a’ cozinha, is open most nights a week (Hallie will direct you to other restaurants in the area if a’ cozinha is closed) and the menu is posted on a chalkboard in the dining room each morning. Sitting on the terrace next to the 200 year old bread oven, savouring Portuguese wine expertly selected by the delightful Ricardo (who also makes a mean espresso and knows a thing or two about cameras!) while filling our tummies with food, it was comforting to know that our suite was only a short stroll away.
Café dos Mestres, Fuseta. On our first morning at Fazenda Nova, I asked Hallie whether there was anywhere local that grilled fish over an open charcoal fire (I had a particularly good piece of fish done this way in Spanish Basque country last year). Hallie directed us to the old-fashioned, traditional fishing village of Fuseta and said that if we drove into the village, we couldn’t miss the gentleman grilling fish over open oil barrels. It was exactly what we were looking for: blazingly fresh fish (the trawlers dock right next to the little terrace where you eat) cooked simply but expertly by a gentleman who was obviously passionate about his craft. We had sardines and mackerel grilled with salt and olive oil, salad, boiled potatoes, bread, olives, drinks and an espresso, and the bill came to….17 euro! If you are a wee bit squeamish with the um, inner workings of fresh sardines (these are big critters, not the little ones that come in tins), you could ask nicely whether they could fillet them for you. I just closed my eyes, took a gulp of wine, and dug in. Best not to think too much about these things sometimes!
Restaurante A Casa, Santa Luzia. Simple seafood and pork dishes in a very pretty town.
There is so much to see and do in the Eastern Algarve …..we barely scratched the surface. Hallie and Tim can guide you according to what interests you the most whether it be laying on a secluded beach, trawling markets for beautiful treasures like those at Fazenda Nova, taking a boat tour of the Ria Formosa or exploring villages seemingly untouched by time (and hoards of tourists!).
We managed to visit Tavira, the teeny white-washed village of Cacelha Velha, the beach at Manta Rota and my favourite place, Santa Luzia (the coloured tiles! the cobbled streets! the white-washed buildings! the vibrant bougainvillea! I could have stayed there the entire day).
Fazenda Nova also have bikes (with helmets) for guest use, and can lend you beach towels, maps, umbrellas etc if you are heading to the beach.
Hallie also sells a small range of traditional Portuguese products which make excellent gifts…..either to yourself or friends and family back home. We took home a selection of sweetly packaged soaps (lemon, fig, donkey milk with verbena, and apple), a little calico bag of Marisol sea salt (which comes from the salt pans near Tavira), and a tin of Jose Gourmet tuna fillets in olive oil (adore the cute packaging!) to remind us of our trip.
*The house was completely dismantled and rebuilt (given the “full do-over” as my friend Peony’s father would say!) due to the amount of structural damage to the foundations.
**Hallie’s dad founded The Face, Arena and Smash Hits magazines
***Hallie reassures me that they are able to organise shipping of any large purchases back to the UK!
**** I shamelessly take this home with me to put in my underwear drawer!
We were hosted by Fazenda Nova Country House during our stay in Portugal.