If you are in looking for a break from the tourists, beaches and busy towns of the Algarve, Paradise in Portugal makes a wonderful retreat. Quinta do Barranco da Estrada is located on the shores of the Santa Clara Reservoir in southern Alentejo. This eco-friendly, family owned and operated lodge provides peace and relaxation accompanied by great food and hospitality. The owner Frank McClintock also operates professional birdwatching tours under the name Birding in Portugal.
If you are driving from the Algarve as we were, there are a number of routes to follow depending on your starting point. We chose the very winding and slow road through Monchique and across the hills on Route N266. Normally this is very scenic, however devastating forest fires in August turned much of the area into a blackened wasteland. Our drive provided us the opportunity to reflect on the devastation.
If you are driving it is definitely worth taking some time for a short drive along the Mira River to the Barragem Santa Clara. One of the country’s largest reservoirs, the views from the dam are beautiful and we enjoyed a picnic in the late October sunshine. The small town of Santa Clara de Velha is also worth exploring for an hour or two.
A few kilometres farther along is the start of dirt track into the Quinta. Winding over the hills through the cork oak forests this road provides excellent views across the surrounding area and farther to the north, the plains and hills of Alentejo. The sun was shining as we approached and the sparkling blue of the reservoir drew our attention.
The Quinta has 8 double ensuite rooms as well as a Family Suite and a Honeymoon Suite. From the moment you step out of your car you are overwhelmed by absolute quiet and the verdant tranquility of the buildings and gardens perched on the hillside above the water’s edge. The rooms are all pleasant, well laid out and promote the laid back and restful nature of the Quinta.
With its well-tended and lush gardens we felt a similarity to many tropical lodges but a glance across to the nearby hillsides brought us quickly back to Portugal.
In addition to birdwatching there are a selection of canoes, kayaks, rowboats, stand up paddle boards (SUP) and a small sail boat free for the use of all guests. We spent most of our second day on the water, particularly enjoying the SUPs and kayaks. The temperatures climbed into the mid 20s and the water was very pleasant for swimming – probably our last for the season.
Dinners (jantar in Portugal) at the Quinta are a group affair, and are hosted by Frank and his charming wife Daniela who does all of the cooking. Using all local ingredients the food was delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed all of our meals. We particularly enjoy Alentejo wines and there was an excellent selection available. A full continental style breakfast of homemade breads and croissants, cheeses, hams, fruit, granola and yogurt is included.
With no televisions to be seen (or heard) the evenings and mornings were peaceful and amazing sunsets and sunrises were a perfect way to begin or end the day.
We also appreciated that the Quinta operates entirely on solar power and actively promotes eco-friendly living in all of its operations. Many of the ingredients in the meals are grown in on-site gardens and a greenhouse.
We spent two nights at the Quinta and after that short time we felt refreshed, relaxed and very appreciative of this corner of Portugal. We continue to search out opportunities to discover the more rural and laid back places in Southern and Central Portugal as short getaways from the relative bustle of the larger and more well-known towns where we spend a lot of our time.
If you are looking for a few days of relaxtion, or want to do some serious birding, we’d recommend checking out Paradise in Portugal. You’ll be treated like family, well fed and unless you crave noisy distractions you will leave with a sense of peace and contentment.