An Alentejo folly!

March 5th, 2020 |

The small Alentejo town of Estremoz, is a day trip away from your Comporta villa holiday worth taking!
Howards Folly Winery has been around for a couple of years, but then we decided to build a restaurant too…

How late is on time in Portugal?

One of the challenges of being an Expat in Portugal, (quite apart from the language and dealing with faceless bureaucracy), has been getting to grips with the meaning of time.

When we opened the winery in 2018, owner Howard Bilton told a story, probably apocryphal, about an Englishman talking to a Portuguese acquaintance: “Tell me,” he said “the Spanish have the word “mañana” to signify that something will happen tomorrow – but tomorrow has a very fluid definition. What is the equivalent in Portuguese?” His Portuguese friend thought for a moment and then replied: “In Portugal, we don’t actually have a phrase which conveys quite that sense of urgency!”

This has certainly been my experience as I immersed myself in a project to build the new Howard’s Folly restaurant and visitor centre in Estremoz.

I am endlessly early for meetings – even when I am late. I have tried to rectify my behaviour but really have no idea of how late is “on time”. Naturally, I am cautious – ten minutes late, maybe 20, but I am still the first to arrive. The same applies to social occasions where people routinely turn up an hour or two late with no-one turning a hair. Sometimes they let you know – once the allotted time has been and gone – and sometimes they don’t. It’s just expected.

And while everyone was proud and happy about the progress made on the construction project, I got frustrated and somewhat stressed as milestones came and went, without a glimmer of recognition from the contractors. The Project Manager, sensing my dissatisfaction, kept asking me for “a realistic deadline” for the restaurant opening. Having given several end-dates which I thought were entirely achievable, I gave up. Instead, I asked him when he thought he could “realistically” hope to deliver the project. I never got a response!

There is clearly a local code because for my colleagues, everything was happening just when they expected it to.

“Calma, calma”

It would be great to have a “time translation app” so that I can understand what “10 am” or “tomorrow” or “next week” actually mean in Portugal. Failing that, I am learning to adjust and to feel less anxious. After all, my stress did not translate into increased momentum on the project. My colleagues seemed to have an impenetrable “zen barrier” and just didn’t pick up the urgency! “Calma, calma” they said to me “this is Portugal” – and then suggested a coffee break or lunch as an appropriate solution to what they saw as my self-inflicted mental state.

I then reminded myself of what attracted me to Portugal in the first place: the slower pace of life, the long lunches and time to make new friends and build relationships. These, after all, are the significant upsides to a more relaxed attitude to time – if you can adapt!

What-ever the pressure, teams knock off for a proper lunch, maybe even with wine. Whatever the pressure, people put their families first. In my experience, the Portuguese hate to disappoint. If you press too hard, they simply disappear off the radar and reappear when they are able to give you some good news. Things happen in their own sweet time.

It was certainly not the pace I have been used to, but then suddenly the pace picked up dramatically. Even though he hadn’t communicated this to me, I become hopeful that the Project Manager’s “realistic delivery deadline” must be in sight after all.

Exploring Estremoz

Needing to take some time out from the project every now and then, I went exploring and am coming to love Estremoz and the Alentejo even more than I did already. Some of my favourite pastimes include:

Visiting the Saturday market and its extraordinary mix of “antiques” and bric-a-brac, local honey, olives, cheeses and sausages, herbs and spices, fresh fruit and vegetables, chickens and parrots.

Walking through the tiny cobbled streets to the top of the castle to gaze at the view of the surrounding countryside.

Visiting the Pousada at the top of the hill and climbing to the very the top of the tower inside (open to the public, even if you are not a guest – just ask at reception).

Exploring the museums (one has a resident dinosaur) to learn more about local history or visiting one of the many churches around the town.

Visiting the shops selling “bonecos de Estremoz” (traditional pottery figures) which have been identified by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. 

Driving out into the surrounding countryside to explore other beautiful and historic towns and villages nearby such as Évora, Monsaraz (my personal favourite), Vila Viçosa and so many more. 

Touring some of the other local wineries (over 20 immediately around Estremoz including Dona Maria, Herdade de Servas and Tiago Cabaço) to try their wines and learn more about Alentejo winemaking.

Soaking up the atmosphere and sampling the famous sugary convent sweets and a strong

Portuguese espresso in one of the many cafés on the square.

Enjoying a long lazy lunch with friends and trying the local cuisine accompanied by a delicious bottle of local wine (or two)!

Exploring the Alentejo further afield

Still on my wishlist, includes a tour of the local cork forests; hiking or cycling in the Serra de Ossa mountains, and a visit to the Coudelaria de Alter do Chão Lusitano stud farm (about an hour’s drive from Estremoz).

Howards Folly Winery

And of course, we mustn’t forget Howard’s Folly – our restaurant is now open and awaiting your visit:

As well as tours of the winery, tastings and wine blending workshops, we are operating a fully licensed bar (the biggest in town) and the restaurant serves a unique take on traditional recipes. We also have gallery space and will host art exhibitions as well as offering private dining and entertaining facilities.

Article by Dani King of Howards Folly Winery

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