“Putting tourism on a sustainable path is a major challenge, but one that also presents a significant opportunity” ~ Klaus Töpfer
We find travel to be exciting and alluring and John & I derive an indescribable amount of positive energy from immersing ourselves in other cultures. In our daily life, we try try to live by the adage, “take only memories, leave only footprints.” This is why the ability to combine our adventures in Lagos, Portugal with a stay at a hotel that shares our passion for sustainability was remarkable in so many ways.
As luck would have it, we had just purchased our airline tickets to Portugal and were actively searching for places to stay in the Lagos area. This hotel, once an abandoned estate not far from the sea, caught my attention for a multitude of reasons. The historic property is unquestionably charming. But it was the sizable garden on this sweeping estate , where they grow their own produce for the onsite restaurant, Orta, that ultimately sold me.
Casa Mãe is a place where you can hear church bells softly chiming in the distance and the trickling sounds of fountains running while relaxing on the patio. If there is truth to the fact that music helps plants grow, I imagine these are some of the melodies that stimulate the produce to flourish.
The chefs, servers and stewards of the gardens at Casa Mãe take their calling of sharing a sustainable, garden to fork experience to the highest level. They are using what they have to curate authentic Portuguese dishes, served in a comfortable and tranquil environment. I had several marvelous discussions with one of the extraordinary restaurant staff (Catarina) about the importance of knowing where our food comes from. She embodies this philosophy and told me that she has a home garden where she grows much of what she cooks and that she has frequent discussions with her children about the importance of edible landscaping. We talked about the ability to enjoy seasonal fruits & vegetables at their freshest, as well as the high value in being cognizant about where and when it was grown and picked. I consider these types of conversations to be some of the best travel souvenirs.
“From our gardens with love; local sourcing and the celebration of the seasons are at the core of Casa Mãe’s lifestyle concept. Our team of farmers and gardeners put a lot of love in growing Casa Mãe’s produce and raising our 200 chickens for our in house egg production – a happy family we have there. Headed by Fonseca, the team applies the principles of permaculture, biodynamism and sustainability to respect the land and foster biodiversity – you will see them busy planting, harvesting and if you fancy joining them, our workshops are there for you!”
~From the Casa Mãe Website
While touring the premises, I discovered olive trees, a multitude of aromatic lavender bushes and blackberry bushes. The second photo is a slice of house-baked bread spread with a local artisan cheese. It is topped with a luscious, juicy fig. This was a lovely poolside snack that was assembled from a magnificent charcuterie board.
I was wandering on the path near the garden one afternoon and I observed a person wearing what looked like a chef’s coat hunched over, delicately harvesting what appeared to be herbs. As I approached, I could actually hear the snap of the plant. There was an aromatic drift of something familiar. I thought about stopping to talk or ask permission for a close up photo but decided that there are some moments so enchanting that we shouldn’t interrupt the natural flow of the experience. I quietly continued on, wondering what dish that particular yield would grace.
We ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant every morning and what a delightful way it was to start each day. For me, there is a unique sense of connection to the culture and the land that happens when you both stay and dine where your food is grown.
See the photos below for some of our superlative beginnings (click and hover over the images for descriptions)
My favorite food related, non-fiction book is The Third Plate, Field Notes On The Future Of Food, authored by Chef Dan Barber. This is an insightful and eye opening read and this hotel venue was a most befitting place to immerse myself in it.
“Dan Barber, an award-winning chef, moves beyond “farm-to-table” to offer a revolutionary new way of eating. After more than a decade spent investigating farming communities around the world in pursuit of singular flavor, Barber finally concluded that–for the sake of our food, our health and the future of the land—America’s cuisine required a radical transformation.
Drawing on the wisdom and experience of chefs, farmers and seed breeders around the world, Barber proposes a new definition for ethical and delicious eating.”
~ From http://www.thethirdplate.com
The Future of Food and the health of the planet is dependent on many things. Our choices regarding what and where we eat and where we choose to vacation all matter.
This hotel is takes its eco-friendly efforts beyond the kitchen as well. The containers used to hold the shampoo and beautifully scented lavender body wash in our room were made of charming clay pots so they could simply be refilled as necessary, eliminating the need for disposable plastic bottles.
The number of hotels/resorts that are attempting to reach a higher level of sustainability is growing and I think it is resonating with guests. I sense that we are on the right collective “path”. It’s a journey that will be ongoing but its worth the effort. Seeing the world is one thing, doing it in a way that will ensure that it remains healthy and viable for future generations is a bigger commitment, and I am confident it’s one that we can meet. We must continue to make sustainable choices about where we reside and dine. One suitcase, one garden, one glass and one fork at a time.
Next time you ponder where to lay your head while traveling, ask what that particular place does to preserve the environment.
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