Restoring a house is an achievement, but bringing a whole abandoned village back to life is an entirely different matter. This Portuguese hilltop village, on the slopes of the Serra do Sicó, dates back centuries but lay in ruins for 70 years. Until it was discovered over a decade ago by Lisbon businessman Manuel Casal – and became Villa Pedra.
Dreaming of a weekend retreat with a collection of guest houses, Casal enlisted the help of his partner, architect Victor Mineiro. They set about the renovation project with respect for the spirit of the region and the historic design, blending traditional handcrafting techniques with modern architectural features. They retained much of the original stonework, adding large slabs of rock from the nearby hills to form wall decorations, countertops and shower units.
Today, the individual homes feature polished stone floors with exposed stone and whitewashed walls. Casal and Mineiro deliberately avoided “new”, except for the kitchens, beds and linens. Everything else in the houses comes with its own history, from different times and places, making for delightfully eclectic spaces. You’ll find tapestries from Iran, Afghanistan and Morocco, Berber rugs, as well as antiques from an old convent, an art-deco hotel, auctions and markets. Then there are Scandinavian mid-century furnishings, local porcelain and Mineiro’s own artworks. It’s an intriguing collection.
Each home also has its own character, like the Escola Feminina, the girls’ school, which comes with original chalkboards, world maps, biological charts, desks and benches. Its masculine counterpart, Escola Masculina, was once the boys’ school. Other homes are inspired by the ancient trees that dot the landscape: Nogueira (walnut), Cerejeira (cherry), Limoeiro (lemon), Amendoeira (almond), Nespereira (medlar) and Loureiro (laurel), with the sweet scents of Alecrim (rosemary) and Jasmim (jasmine) added to the mix.
The restored Villa Pedra is a hidden gem, tucked away out of sight down narrow roads, among fields of wildflowers. It has 10 homes, each very private with its own walled garden (complete with vegetables and herbs). However, gates can be thrown open if you want to share the entire space with a large group of family or friends.
Communal spaces include a restaurant, central swimming pool, large gardens and even a giant bird cage (complete with a small lake, black swans, java ducks, chickens and Australian parrots). The fridge in each house comes stocked with eggs and local cheeses, a bottle of local wine greets guests, and a loaf of freshly baked bread is delivered each morning. There is fruit on the trees, and there are juicers in the kitchens.
This is home from home, with one unusual bonus – a complete lack of traffic. The village has no cars, making it an idyllic setting for small children and grown-ups alike.
Rent one or rent them all… Explore Villa Pedra here.