It really wasn’t hard to fall in love with Herdade dos Grous, a country estate spread over 730 hectares of Alentejo countryside. For nature lovers who appreciate comfort, good food and fine wine, it’s hard to beat and I’m glad I accepted the invitation to stay there. I would happily put my hand in my pocket to come back for more.
Wildlife and farm animals
Mike and I arrived late one afternoon after a day’s travel within the Alentejo region and sightseeing in Beja. Sadly, we had no energy left to make use of the free guest bikes, pedaloes or kayaks. We did manage a brief stroll around the lake, dislodging a few disgruntled storks from their massive treetop nests in the process.
In the space of a few minutes, I’d lost count of the varieties of birds, mostly nameless to me. Within minutes of arriving, my heart was singing as much as the birds that were revelling in early evening bedtime chatter as they flitted from tree to tree. If you stay here for longer than we did, you could sign up for the birdwatching tour.
After exploring the lakeside, we ventured into the stables and met some of the 30 extremely well cared for horses. Some of them are used to take guests out on rides around the estate while others are taken to shows. Other herds being reared include pygmy goats, ostriches and cattle. And black pigs, whose meat is considered a delicacy in Portugal. These ugly but cute beasts are a cross between domestic pigs and wild boar.
We heard the pigs squealing long before actually seeing them. As we got closer to their enclosure, some of the more curious ones came to check us out, including the tusky grandaddy of them all. Without the fence, he’d have scared me off in no time. As it was, he accompanied us as we walked along the perimeter until we found a writhing pile of hairy black pigs, presumably vying for the warmest spot in the mud.
Herdade dos Grous Wines
The estate’s founder, Reinfried Pohl, originally bought Herdade dos Grous because his wife liked the smell of orange blossoms. They went on to buy up more land and gradually introduced the livestock and a variety of crops, making the estate virtually self-sustaining.
With the help of master winemaker, Luis Duarte, the Pohls planted 73 hectares of vineyards in 2000. Within just five years, the estate began to produce good quality wines and has collected many prestigious international wine awards since then.
We took a tour of the winery where Lilia explained the organic processes and high-tech equipment they employ to produce some of their best wines. Beyond the somewhat clinical environment of the stainless steel vats, lies the wine cellar where the finest of the estate’s wines mature in rows of oak barrels. Some barrels have already been snapped up by restaurants and wine connoisseurs – the signatures scrawled on the top verify the approval of the winemaker as well as the purchaser.
Lilia explained the difference between the top wines, including the intriguingly named Moon Harvest. It’s made from a single variety of grape, Alicante Bouschet, which is not necessarily picked at night but the harvest is determined by the cycle of the moon. Dense and purple in colour, it has a whiff of Ribena about it and a distinctly grapey flavour.
The 23 Barricas is a blend of the best 23 barrels of Touriga Nacional and Syrah grapes which are then matured for 12 months in French or American oak, which you can definitely taste. The resulting wine is slightly dry and very smooth.
My personal favourite was the Reserva, a combination of Touriga Nacional, Alicante Bouchete and Tinta Miúda grapes which spend 16 months in brand new French oak barrels.
You can choose from a menu of wine tasting experiences prices between 5 and 30 euros. As with most of the estate’s activities, these are also available for non-guests but you’ll need to book ahead.
Everything at Herdade dos Grous is geared towards helping guests relax and enjoy the idyllic lakeside setting although there are plenty of onsite options if you feel the need to be active such as a ropes course, hiking, kayaking, hot air ballooning and horse riding. If you get itchy feet and want to explore the Alentejo beyond the estate, you can take a cultural side trip to Beja or the copper ore mines at São Domingos or follow the Cheese or Smugglers’ Routes, which sound intriguing.
The estate’s 24 guest rooms and facilities were initially designed to host select employees from the Pohls’ German marketing investment company who come to Portugal for a combination of team-building activities and relaxing in the sun. Herdade dos Grous opened its doors to the public in 2006 and now offers a range of special packages which sometimes include meals in its on site gourmet restaurant. Cooking for yourself is by no means required but if you want the option, the suites have kitchen facilities and there are barbecue areas by each pool.
Breakfast was served relatively late, although this depends on the number of guests. In high season, there’s more flexibility but when we stayed, it was served at 9.30 am. Thankfully, there was a coffee machine in the room and a basket of fresh fruit to keep us going.
When I first saw the size of our room and the magnificent view over the lake, I thought we’d been put in one of the best ones. It turns out that although we probably got a better view than most, our room is considered ‘standard’. With a sofa, fireplace and walk-in wardrobe it was a pity we weren’t staying long enough to make it worth unpacking.
Despite the sun, it was far too cold to contemplate the pool or sun loungers on our balcony. We decided to light the fire instead and have a cosy evening in front of it with the complimentary bottle of wine. If I had to find fault with anything, it would be the lighting which, although cosy, is a bit dim for reading.
Practical tip: If you’re driving there yourself, be aware that the turn off from the IP2 is not named – look out for the flags just before or after the junction for Albernôa. Here’s the Google maps reference.
For reservations, see Herdade dos Grous on Booking.com (my hotel partner).
Disclosure: I was a guest at Herdade dos Grous. My opinions, as always, are not influenced by this.