I don’t know what started it all; maybe I read about a cork yoga mat, or maybe I looked at the massive pile of wine corks I collected over the years and wondered what to do with them; but 2014 was the year I was obsessed with cork. I wrote about my journey hugging cork trees earlier; below are some notes from the road that should not be forgotten.
Herdade do Telheiro – Odemira
I don’t remember how I found this place, but it was not easy. Southern Portugal was under a communist mayor for a long time, so it is remarkably undeveloped, and accommodations outside of the surf-mecca Algarve are somewhat difficult to find online (when you search in English, anyway). Somehow I managed to find Herdade do Telheiro (at that time, they did not have a facebook page either), and they had a recent cancellation so I got lucky.
The herdade is run by Clara, a breathtakingly beautiful woman, formerly a fashion designer. She turned a the old, rundown farm houses in her family estate into beautiful holiday houses, keeping the renovations to a minimum and maintaining as much of the original architecture as possible. There is no need to close your blinds, because you are surrounded by hundreds of acres of cork trees, and no one else will see you, other than her curious sheep who will come by early in the mornings and look through your bathroom window.
Technically, the nightly rate does not include food; but Clara leaves at your door, every morning, fresh bread, eggs, milk and herdado grown fruits. And, each night, she invited me (and the other guests) to dinner in her own house — her cooking was amazing.
Clara’s herdade is an inspiring place, which would work just as magically in a winter month, say, if you have a lot of writing to do, and need only the sound of critters in the forest, and the crackling of the wood in the fireplace to help you focus.
This family-run herdade was easy to find online, but pretty hard to locate physically due to lack of signage or paved roads. Basically, follow signs for “agrotourismo” from Mertola and when at a fork, turn into the less disturbed side of the road. At that point, inside your rental FIAT, if you are wondering whether you needed a 4WD, do not go all the way!
Situated at the top of a hill in the middle of the Guadiana Valley Natural Park, I chose to go out of my way to spend a night at this herdade, because I wanted to see Portuguese style of beekeeping. Herdade de Vale Covo is run by a Swiss family (hmm… maybe they were Belgian?) who keep bees and make honey from nectar and pollen from endemic plants, and extract essential oils from rosemary, lavender and geranium – entirely manually. Their market is mostly Central Europe but anyone you can also buy from them directly online. I went hiking to the river at sunrise and sunset and saw a few raptors, but otherwise not much wildlife. Sunset from the pool is beautiful.
And the rest…