From bucolic farm escapes to polished wine retreats, Kissa Castañeda explores three hotels offering genuine—and luxurious—farm-to-table experiences worth the journey
Farm-to-table experiences have become a defining feature of hotels—we shortlist three charming countryside escapes
SÃO LOURENÇO DO BARROCAL
ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL The popularity of Portugal as a travel destination shows no signs of slowing, with international arrivals surpassing a recordbreaking 10 million in 2015, and expected to grow to 11.6 million by the end of this year. Sunseekers are lured by the endless stretches of beautiful beaches, while creative types are drawn to the historical architecture and buzzing design scene. Everybody, however, comes with an appetite to discover the country’s divine food and wine.
Beyond the port wine trails in the Douro Valley and the stylish restaurants housed in azulejo-clad buildings in Porto, there’s Alentejo—a vast countryside region that’s a veritable culinary destination. Tell locals you’re heading there and they’ll congratulate you for uncovering the “real Portugal”, and then go on to share their list of must-eats.
About a two-hour drive from Lisbon, Alentejo often draws comparisons to Provence and Tuscany, but the landscape and the feeling is completely different. It’s more pastoral than posh, and devoid of any pretention. The region’s character shapes São Lourenço do Barrocal, an idyllic farmscape retreat in a small village between the towns of Évora and Monsaraz. The hotel takes up a small slice of the estate’s 780 hectares, carefully tended to by the same family for more than 200 years; it continues to operate as a working farm to this day.
São Lourenço do Barrocal succeeds in retaining its countryside charm without succumbing to rustic clichés. Time is the secret ingredient—the conversion took owner José António Uva more than a decade to complete and the result is Spartan-luxe at its best. The pared-back design highlights the soul of the centuries-old structure—including the signature vaulted ceilings—but they’ve also welcomed additions such as a spa and a winery, where award-winning oenologist Susana Esteban works her magic.
While you may be tempted to spend a day doing absolutely nothing at the cottage, there’s much to be said for exploring the estate on foot, bicycle or horseback. After you’ve worked up an appetite, a feast showcasing the best of Alentejo awaits. Start the morning with a generous spread of homemade bread with local jams and honey, fruits from the orchard, and a selection of cured Portuguese meats and cheeses. There’s a larger menu for dinner, where traditional recipes get a modern twist. From the ovenroasted octopus served with vegetables grown onsite to the acorn fed-pig grilled with fleur de sel and served with a traditional bread stew of tomato, you’ll certainly pine for these dishes long after you check out.
FOOD DISCOVERY: The beautifully curated farm shop stocks São Lourenço do Barrocal’s single-estate wine and olive oil, both of which come in exquisite packaging ready to impress your guests back home. barrocal.pt
PHUKET, THAILAND Think of Phuket and luxurious beach resorts with indulgent spas and wellness programmes immediately come to mind. A well-trodden destination, Thailand’s biggest island has been welcoming travellers from all over the world since its development in the 1970s. When it comes to food, guests can easily find a place to satisfy their cravings, even if it’s a nigiri sushi set, a piatti of cannelloni or a superfood grain bowl.
This certainly holds true today, with many resorts offering “international cuisine” alongside standard Thai fare. In recent years, however, the Phuket community has been eager to cement its culinary identity and build on its legacy as a cultural crossroads. Together, they’re rediscovering local produce and establishing unique concepts, while also attracting the necessary talent to transform ingredients into modern-day plates.
Nestled on the northwestern shore of the island, Trisara is one the stalwarts of luxury tourism in Phuket. Set in a secluded cove, the award-winning hotel is renowned for its serene expanse of beach, stylish suites with a sense of place and spa offerings, including the pioneering six-hands massage. While the villas are fresh off a renovation, the biggest transformation has been to its culinary programme, which now espouses a farm-totable philosophy.
At the hotel restaurant Pru, guests can look forward to a terroir-driven dining experience featuring the riches of the Andaman region, incorporating produce sourced from the Royal Project, Thailand’s organic farming initiative. This is anchored by Pru Jampa— Trisara’s farm, a mere 20-minute drive from the property—which inspires the restaurant, both in name and in philosophy. Indeed, Pru is an acronym for “plant, raise, and understand”. The farm remains a work in progress, as the team is still experimenting with plants that thrive best and is studying how to further develop various areas. It is, nonetheless, the soul of the restaurant and an increasingly integral part of the resort.
This all translates on the plate with the work of progressive Dutch chef Jimmy Ophorst, who passionately pursues locavorism in Phuket. He also has a fascination for “waste ingredients”—essentially, hitherto overlooked parts or unpopular ingredients, which he elevates. This is most evident in the vegetable courses, such as the dish of cauliflower stem cooked in brown butter and served with bone marrow cream, foraged mushrooms and sardine powder, as well a sublime carrot dish (pictured right), cooked in the soil the vegetables came from, then served with fermented carrot juice and cured egg yolk from the farm. “If it grows together, it goes together,” Ophorst explains of the idea behind many of his creations.
With chefs and restaurants of this calibre growing in influence on the island, it’s clear that Phuket isn’t content to play second fiddle to Bangkok anymore, and is on the cusp of reinventing itself as a genuine food destination.
FOOD DISCOVERY: Aside from Pru, Trisara also has a seafood restaurant where “mama recipes” are augmented in terms of precision and presentation while retaining their authentic character. trisara.com; prurestaurant.com
CAPE WINELANDS, SOUTH AFRICA While general knowledge dictates that you can’t please everyone, Cape Town—voted the World’s Best City for the past two consecutive years at the Telegraph Travel Awards—manages to do just that. Nature lovers can go hiking or surfing, history buffs can pay a visit to Robben Island and the culture cognoscenti can explore the newly opened Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. And for food lovers? There’s plenty to fill your itinerary, from perusing the city’s growing artisanal gin scene to dining at The Test Kitchen and La Colombe, the only South African restaurants to crack the top 100 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
The city has long been on the map for wine enthusiasts, largely because of the Cape Winelands. With vineyards spanning nearly 100,000 acres, the Western Cape produces some of the world’s most unique bottles— including pinotage, a varietal unique to South Africa—at incredible value. One of the most charming destinations is Franschhoek, a small town surrounded by dramatic mountain ranges, lush centuries-old vines and alluring Cape Dutch architecture. The name means “French corner”, referring to the area’s past as a settlement for Huguenots, and to this day channels a distinctly French ambience.
With 52 wine farms and 48 restaurants serving a population of 25,000 in the greater valley, Franschhoek is indeed a gourmand’s paradise. Leading the charge is Leeu Estates, a stunning luxury hotel and winery set on a sprawling property. The 17-room hotel makes the most of the otherworldly surrounds by keeping a verdant theme throughout. There’s an herb- and vegetable-picking garden— where the hotel’s restaurant sources its daily produce—as well as the serene “bokkie” garden that’s perfect for strolls; both were
created by esteemed garden designer Franchesca Watson.
Unlike other winery hotels, Leeu Estates is more sophisticated than rustic, but it retains the genuine warmth that you’d find at family-run wine farms. A personal passion project of founder Analjit Singh, its polished, understated design speaks of his desire to put the captivating scenery and wealth of culinary experiences front and centre. The neutral-hued interiors also form an ideal foil for his bold collection of art, peppered throughout the property, including mesmerising outdoor sculptures.
Hands down, the highlight of staying at Leeu Estates is the direct access to Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines. A joint venture between Singh and winemaking duo Chris and Andrea Mullineux, wines by the award-winning label have achieved top ratings from the respected Platter’s South African Wine Guide and was named Winery of the Year twice, while Andrea was voted Winemaker of the Year in 2016 by Us-based magazine Wine Enthusiast. The capable staff at the wine studio eloquently share the beauty of their handcrafted wine, but should you want to learn more at your own pace, you’ll be able to sample it in any establishment that’s part of the Leeu Collection family. FOOD DISCOVERY: Culinary excellence is at the heart of Leeu Collection, and their sister restaurants in town merit a visit. There’s the casual craft beer microbrewery Tuk Tuk, a venture in collaboration with the Cape Brewing Company team, and the exquisite Indian restaurant Marigold, which marks a first in Franschhoek. leeucollection.com/ leeu-estates
The expansive estate is thriving with ancient holm oaks, olive groves and vineyards; there’s also a vegetable garden and an orchard. To this day, it continues to operate as a working farm
The Signature Villa (opposite) features elegant, radiant interiors post-renovation. The hotel also established a farm, Pru Jampa, which will offer picnics, cooking classes and more activities in 2018
GARDEN OF EDEN
Explore the manicured Four Quarter vineyards, thriving with sauvignon blanc plants—a project headed by renowned viticulturist Rosa Kruger and estate manager Wesley du Plessis