One of the favorite parts of my job is shooting well designed hotels in various locations in the World. I wish I could stay in most of them, but it is not always possible, for various reasons. But when I DO have the opportunity to be a guest in these hotels, it is sometimes hard for me to take off the Photographer hat and switch it with the guest’s one.
During my visit to Central Portugal I had a wonderful surprise. My beautiful host, Silvia, who by the way, knows almost everyone in Central Portugal, told me we were about to stay in Casa das Penhas Dourades. I googled the name out of curiosity and saw some pictures (of course) and Silvia just blinked with her eyes with excitement. I didn’t ask much questions as I like surprises, so I was not aware of how amazing this hotel was and the story behind it.
The story starts in the village of Manteigas, down the mountain hills of Serra da Estrela in Central Portugal, in what used to be an abandoned building of the old Imperio Wool Factory, and now it is known as The Burel Factory. The factory is owned by Joao Tomas and Isabel Costa, who are also the owners of the hotel.
Joao and Isabel, a couple in business and life, found the building (originally from the 19th century) which used to be a wool factory but was going through a bankruptcy. They seized the opportunity and bought the company with the existing machines (some of them are also dated back to the 19th century) and turned it into what it is now, The Burel Factory.
They opened the factory in March 2013 and managed to combine the old tradition of machineries with the young and up to date designers and artists, who work with them on various wool projects. I was lucky enough to have a tour at the factory (which, by the way, there is a free guided tour every day, you just need to schedule) and even see Isabel herself cutting and stitching some wool samples. Isabel mentioned the importance and uniqueness in using traditional machinery and equipment, especially from times when the industry was mostly hand-crafted. With lots of thought and care, both she and her husband managed to keep the past, reinvent and adjust it to the current needs of the market, but also think globally and look for ways of exporting the products outside of Portugal.
When Silvia and I arrived to the factory it was already the end of the day and the end of the week so most of the workers have left already. It was only Isabel and a few women who were at the factory, finishing up a long week of preparing samples for an upcoming exhibit in London. While I watched her working and managing both the factory and the hotel through some phone calls, Isabel shared with me that the factory produces few kinds of wool fabrics; flannel, melton, hounds tooth pattern, tweeds, prince of whales, you name it.
I love the idea that Isabel and Joao have decided to work with various young and creative designers. I think it is quite unique and has that touch of collective thinking. Among the products I could spot colorful blankets, shawls, scarves, hand bags, hats, upholstery of furniture (hand made and hand stitched- I concur) most of them are used in the hotel Casa das Penhas Dourades, and also acoustic panels used in offices and public areas to reduce sound. Some of these colorful acoustic panels are well used in Microsoft Headquarters in Lisbon.
By the time we got to the top of the hill and parked the car, it was pouring rain outside and all I wanted was to get indoors and feel the warmth of the hotel. And Warmth was an understatement. The hotel is located at an altitude of 1500m and surrounded by an extensive mountain landscape and an unspoiled Nature. Due to this special location, the hotel is influenced by its surrounding and ‘communicates’ well its designed concept; Rediscovering the beauty in simple things, just as with Nature. This is why the Architect, Pedro Brígida, kept using natural materials such as cork and wood alongside vast raw concrete walls. The cosy atmosphere was in the warmth of the wooden panels, the rawness of the wool, the comfort and ease of the chairs, the softness of the curves throughout the hotel, all in a discreet luxury.
Since it rained non stop outside and got quite foggy, I was ‘forced’ to stay indoors and enjoy that fuzzy, cosy, homey feeling the hotel could easily offer.
The Living Rooms:
There are some living rooms in the hotel, all are birch paneled and furnished with wooden chairs with colorful wool patterns straight from The Burel Factory. Fire place in every room, wool stitched rugs (also made at the factory), shelves filled with books, colorful retro lamps and comfortable armchairs, all to give you that inviting feeling of a space where you can watch your favorite movie, read your book or just make you want to sip that warm chocolate drink while it is snowing or raining outside.
The Dining Room:
This might be one of my favorite areas in the hotel as it was accessible for guests 24 hours. If you fancy a tea or a fresh cookie early in the morning before breakfast is served, you can find it on one of the tables, neatly displayed. I love the simplicity in the dining area, the comfortable chairs, the colorful watercolor pictures on the walls and the place-mats made of… well… wool of course.
The hotel’s chef consultant is Luís Baena, one of the most important and well known Portuguese chefs. Our dinner was a candle-lit dinner, quiet and relaxed even though the dining area was busy with other diners. The food is considered a gourmet cuisine, using local products for the various dishes.
The hotel has 17 rooms and a suite. (I was honored to be hosted on that super suite). The rooms are also birch paneled (same as the rest of the hotel) and have large windows and terraces with deck chairs and footrests. The rooms are facing the breathtaking views of the mountains, and the suite has these great ceiling windows, allowing more light to come through. Unfortunately, when I was there, it rained very hard and I could only lie down on one of these straight sofas and stare at the rain outside, falling on the window. I took advantage of this rainy day and got myself into the nice bath, which is also located under a ceiling window.
The rooms are very comfortable and keep the warm atmosphere throughout the hotel; Each room has a duvet, down pillows, central heating, dressing gown and slippers, free wi-fi, DVD and iPod Players, fruit basket and water. And yes, the blankets, the rugs, the furniture fabrics, are all made of wool, hand made and hand stitched at the Burel Factory.
It is great to see the final product so handy and useful.
As a swimmer, all I can say is that I wish I had some extra time to use this beautiful interior heated swimming pool and enjoy the panoramic view of the mountains while swimming. Unfortunately, my schedule was quite tight and busy and I ended up only peaking through. Beside the pool, there is a sauna, a Vichy shower and a SPA with several rituals and massages using oils infused with Serra da Estrela plants.