Casa do Terreiro do Poco is located right in the center of Borba, in Portugal's Alentejo. Owners Joao and Rita greeted us in a garden that made me dizzy from the heady fragrances of orange blossoms, jasmine and lavender, and showed us to our “room” – a little house off a stone-paved courtyard. Sharing the courtyard is another garden and a small swimming pool. Only when we opened our window and looked out onto the narrow lane could we tell that it had once been a tiny house that faced the other way.
Joao enjoys these little tricks with the architecture. As we photographed a graceful loggia overlooking the street above the entrance, he grinned and told me that it wasn’t old at all – he had built it himself, to balance the façade of an entire new section of the building that he had also built. But from the rose-filled public garden that fills the square in front of the house, the new building looks as though it had been there for two centuries. Even the doorframes of local marble match the older building beside it.
Our room was not huge, but had a welcoming little woodstove in an alcove that was once the cooking area, now a cozy sitting area. The large bathroom was lined in and glazed terracotta studded with antique tiles – the azulejos that have decorated Portugal since the Islamic period, before the 15th century. The kitchen was equipped with a refrigerator, sink and electric tea kettle, although breakfast is included in the room rate and served in a newly built teak garden house with bamboo ceilings and wrap-around glass walls.
The backboard to the king-sized bed (some rooms have twin beds) was a beautifully carved panel from Indonesia, formerly a room divider. The décor was simple, but filled with hand-made details: a woven coverlet, and Arraiolis area rugs on the flagstone floors. In the hot Alentejo summers, the stone floors, tiles and stucco walls help keep these buildings a cool place to retreat in the afternoon (although the rooms are fully air conditioned).
A detail we liked was the good track ceiling lighting and bedside lamps that made reading easy. Of course, except to sleep, we spent most of our time in the garden or on the patio, where we could inhale the scents of the blossoms that surrounded us. Jaoa and Rita joined us there occasionally to share information about local attractions and restaurants.
There are plenty of both around Borba, which is best known as Portugal’s marble capital. Giant hills of marble chunks and chips line the road between it and the next town, Vila Vicosa. There the palace of the last king of Portugal is open to visitors, along with its gardens. A substantial castle with a moat and five-foot-thick-stone walls houses an archaeological museum.
Also nearby is Evora, one of Portugal’s most visited cities. Completely enclosed by three miles of walls, Evora is filled with stunning churches and palaces, along with a Roman temple.
The surrounding area is covered in olive groves, vineyards and fruit orchards, and is known for its food and wine. Portugal’s famed black pigs root in the surrounding pastures, a bounty not wasted by Alentejo chefs. Food-wise travelers in the region quickly scan menus looking for porco preto (black pork) dishes. Following Joao’s advice, we found it on the menu of a restaurant only a five-minute walk from Casa do Terreiro do Poco.