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Spring had sprung and we needed a break from our city routine, so we organised a 4-day Alentejo holiday getaway…
Ideal for short or long stays, The Manor House is a quintessential Portuguese manor standing next to a medieval castle, enjoying rooftop views of the surrounding town. It is located at the small market town of Santiago do Cacém, between Comporta and Vila Nova de Milfontes, 15 minutes away from the pristine beaches of the stunning Alentejo west coast.
In the same family since the 18th-century, the Manor House has recently been remodelled into a rental holiday home for up to 12 guests (whilst any extras can be accommodated in an adjacent cottage). It offers traditional Portuguese hospitality blended with 21st-century comforts, with resident staff serving breakfast daily included in the rental.
As the weather was a little unstable, we decided to get into the kitchen and learn how to make pumpkin jam – following great granny’s handwritten book of recipes! The oranges were in season and picked from the property’s own orchard five minutes before, but the pumpkin seedlings still had some way to go, so we opted to buy one at the local market.
1kg of pumpkin (cut the skin off and chop up in cubes);
Add 300-400 grams of sugar (depending on how sweet you want the jam to be);
Add a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice;
With these ingredients inside a saucepan, add water to just cover them;
Slow cook for approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally till the liquid is reduced;
You can also add walnuts or cinnamon;
Once the liquid has reduced take out of the flame and let it rest for an hour;
Blend all and let it rest for another 5 minutes before filling some sterilized jars!
The traditional kitchen at The Manor House really lends itself for such an experience, and in fact, all sorts of cooking events can be organized for guests to join in, when you book this Alentejo villa rental. The next day we were served pumping jam at breakfast!
When the sun started shinning we went for a walk around the castle walls and if you stop at the small tourist office nearby beforehand, they will provide you with some information pamphlets about the castle and adjoining church. The views from the top are well worth it and you can see over the surrounding town and countryside as far as the coast.
We then spent a day driving around and exploring a little further afield! First stop was the Black Pig Distillery where they will talk you through the process and allow you to taste some too.
The Black Label Gin is particularly delicious and we bought a bottle to take home. They also produce Medronho (a strong traditional and fruity brandy made from the berry of the Arbutus tree) and have just launched their Black Pig Rum! An innovative project, the Black Pig Distillery boasts to be the first gin and rum distillery south of the Tagus river, and the botanicals used in their beverages are all local, either from small regional farms or grown in the fields next to the distillery.
But what we also fell in love with was the almost petting zoo version of their wild pig farm – they were very tame if a little sleepy in the Alentejo sunshine!
Driving on towards the coast we had lunch at Sal by Melides, which exactly as the name says, is located by Melides (beach).
A little more about the area first: Melides is a traditional Alentejo village on the same outstanding coastline as Comporta, but is very much more low key. It has whitewashed houses, quiet streets and is well worth a visit. Its so quiet, you might not even notice its most famous resident pottering around – Christian Louboutin has a villa nearby.
Our main reason to visit the area was to sample chef Sandra Rito’s culinary delights at her restaurant.
We were invited into the kitchen to see the preparations and then enjoyed a starter of mini vegetables tempura followed by a superb lime, scallops and prawn risotto.
Whilst the restaurant is only open during a short season (usually May to October) chef Sandra is available to cater privately for your party when you book one of our Comporta or Alentejo villa holidays or even set up a lunch for you at a secret beach, through her catering business Flor de Sal by Melides.
The southern Alentejo coast is mostly a protected natural park and the beaches are outstandingly beautiful. Melides beach is composed of a long stretch of sand that separates the sea from a lagoon, with perfect conditions for practising stand-up paddling.
Next time we might get The Manor House to organise a picnic for us to take!
Or you can go horse riding along the beach and dunes – its a great way to explore the natural beauty of this part of the Alentejo Coast!
If surfing is your vibe, Porto Covo just south of Sines is only about ½ hours drive away and has it! Sheltered by high cliffs, the Atlantic Ocean here appears particularly blue and clear. It also picks up a great swell making it perfect for surfing and a seasonal lifeguard service watches over the bathing area.
The Manor House can organise a beach picnic, stand up paddling or surfing lessons, horse riding or motor cross bike class, visits to local wineries, bird watching and trekking, electric bikes hire with made to measure routes, a beach picnic, a “fado” music evening or a cooking experience curated to suit guests…
Black Pig Distillery
Contact: +351 926 752 603
Address: Estrada Nacional 261, Santiago do Cacém
Chef Sandra Rito
Contact: + 351 960 311 057
Restaurante Sal by Melides at Praia de Melides is open Tuesdays to Sunday 12:30H -16:00H & 19:00H- 22:30H
Flor de Sal by Melides, the chef at home service, is available for the areas of Melides, Carvalhal, Comporta, Muda, Troia, Grandôla & Santiago do Cacém
There was plenty to do during our short Alentejo getaway and after such lovely food and drink, and exploring castles and beaches, we returned home feeling restored.