A ‘ hidden paradise’ in the green heart of rural Alentejo.

First impressions:
The private drive is a long steep hill (change down to first gear). Forest. A little bungalow on stilts – and then another. The valley below seems a long way down. At the top, in the dazzling light of a shimmering blue pool, we are met by our host Berny – and Candy, her friendly little Westie terrier. She (the dog) rolls over to have her tummy tickled. I’m smitten already. 

What’s the story?
Owners Berny and Glenn built the place from scratch: there was nothing here but cork trees and eucalyptus when they first stepped foot on this 20-acre hilltop plot back in 2001. As well as a home for themselves, they built a five-bedroom villa with a glassy communal lounge and dining area, two wooden bungalows on stilts, two guest rooms below their own apartment, another self-contained suite, the pool, the terrace, a kitchen garden and a small spa – all furnished to reflect their world travels (Australia, Africa – Berny grew up in Mozambique – a touch of the Orient).  Green principles and sustainability are at the heart of everything they do here. 

Location
In a rural corner of South West Alentejo. There is a village nearby (Casa Nova da Cruz) and the closest town in Sao Teotonio (6km). The beaches and natural parks of Alentejo’s Atlantic coast are roughly 10kms away (Praia de Zambujeira do Mar is the nearest). The airport at Faro is a one-and-a-half-hour drive. 

The pillow test
Ah, the rooms are all so lovely. Choosing was a struggle. In the end, we went for the Jasmim suite– the corner room in the main house with a modern four poster, in-room bath tub, a terrace and arguably the best views. We also liked Erva Principe (similar), self-contained Marula and the cool colonial style bungalows-on-stilts with their elevated forest verandahs. Three rooms have wood-burning stoves. All invite you to sleep between silky percale cotton sheets (made in Portugal) and sink into luxury pillows. 

Dinner? 
Every night except Sunday, Berny and Glenn serve a delicious home-cooked, three course dinner which needs to be pre-ordered (they discuss the dishes and ingredients earlier in the day). Sample menu: carrot and coriander soup, vegetable curry with monkfish and coconut panna cotta. Good selection of Alentejo wines (so under-rated). 

The egg test
Free range, cooked to order, served with home-baked bread, granola, fresh fruit and local cheese, until a very civilised 11.00am. 

Reality Check 
No children under the age of eleven (yay). Dogs. Zulu and Candy are charmers, but if you have an aversion to canines, this might not be the place for you. Minimum stay 3 nights in high season. 

The verdict
Heaven. Perfect hideout for a peaceful rural escape away from it all with great food and a delicious pool. We didn’t feel the need to go anywhere else. 

The details 
B&B in a double room from E145 per night (minimum 2 nights). Casa Nova Da Cruz, São Teotónio, Portugal. For more info and booking see Lesley’s review on i-escape.

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