After a day spent reading on the deck and kayaking on the reservoir, I sat transfixed, as the sun dropped beneath the far side of the water and birds winged past against the blushing sky. But if the views are what you’ll remember most, the interior decoration, too, has been fashioned with buckets of zest and colour by the architect owner, Carlos. There are enormous fish paintings, Moroccan rugs, tables crafted from old ploughs and water wheels. And, more home than hotel, there's buckets of space to relax, both inside and out. If you want to escape the world for a while, there can be few better places.
- An i-escape favourite: the location is sublimely peaceful and of great natural beauty
- Colourful, comfy rooms, with shutters to keep them cool. The suite is 100% worth splashing out on
- The team care for you with real warmth and kindness
- The inspirational, all-glass frontage allows the lake to be in constant view
- Best for couples, though the huge living space is perfect for exclusive bookings (sleeps 18)
- You'll need a car to get here
- The nearest restaurant is a 15-minute drive away (only breakfast and picnics are served on-site)
- Expect very basic English from your ever-willing housekeepers
- The picnics are expensive, but the food is good and the experience as a whole is great
- No in-room WiFi or TV, but this is the place for getting away from all that
Best time to go
Our top tips
- Boutique Guesthouse
- 9 rooms
- Breakfast and snacks only (+ drive to restaurants)
- Over 8s welcome
- Open all year
- Spa Treatments
- Beach Nearby
- Pet Friendly
- Disabled Access
- Car essential
- Restaurants Nearby
- Air Conditioning
- Guest Lounge
Santa Catarina’s 8 bedrooms and the enormous Suite reflect an architect’s eye in their division of space, and, like the living room, are infused with light and colour. Most of the bedrooms lie to either side of a long corridor, which cuts back from the main living area – half overlook the courtyard, half the lake (given the choice, we’d opt for the latter).
All-white walls and polished cement floors provide a plain canvas for chalky-blue shuttered windows and painted wardrobe doors. Stucco bathrooms have zinc sinks and enormous vanity mirrors, heated towel rails, and liquid soaps in chunky glass bottles. Beds are dreamily comfortable with linen sheets and mattresses decked out with an extra soft topper: you’re guaranteed a perfect night’s sleep.
A rooms are high-ceilinged doubles with sunken bathtub and mezzanine levels. C rooms are slightly smaller with rain showers rather than baths, whilst the B rooms have the largest footprint and come with walk-in rain showers. Since our last visit, 2 new doubles have been added; D rooms are technically the smallest on offer but benefit from private access and an unbeatable view across the lake from your comfy super-kingsize bed.
The enormous second-floor Suite has an all-glass, east-facing frontage. Reached by spiral staircase there’s space aplenty for a four-poster, sofa and coffee table. The bathroom has a sunken bath as well as a shower. The only downside is that the car parking area lies between you and that heavenly view out east.
Although you’ll want to breakfast on the deck when the weather permits, the vast main space holds a lovely light-filled dining area where a continental buffet is laid up: bread, homemade jams, Alentejo cheese and ham, freshly squeezed orange juice as well as percolated coffee. You may also be treated to Isabel’s homemade pastries or her delicious bizcocho (a rich sponge cake).
If you want to kayak across to a neighbouring island, request one of the lunch hampers to take with you. Though a little expensive, they’re tasty and make for a great overall experience. Expect bread, cheese, olives, little pies, fruit and wine. Similarly, João can prepare you an evening Tábua Regional (Alentejo cheese, chorizo, olives and bread) to eat on the deck as the sun sets. Outside caterers can be called in if you book the house as a group.
Otherwise, when it comes to lunch or dinner, you’ll need to jump in your car and drive for 15-30 minutes. Try Restaurante Pompilio in Sao Vicente (15 minutes' drive), Taberna do Adro in Elvas (25 minutes' drive), or simply ask the team for their latest recommendations.
- Hike out through the olives and holm oaks: there are 80 hectares of estate waiting to be explored
- Go fishing, sailing or windsurfing on the reservoir (request windsurfing when booking)
- Carlos can also arrange a hot-air balloon ride over the sprawling estate and surrounding lakes
- Grab a kayak and take to the water: they're moored just in front of the house; or just dive in
- Take in the extraordinary birdlife with your binoculars from Santa Catarina's lakeside terrace - partridges, lapwings, bustards and birds of prey
- Sunbathe, read and dream on one of the swinging daybeds at the water's edge
- Drive 20 minutes across the border into Spain and visit Badajoz
- Develop a taste for the excellent Alentejo wines: if you like architecture don't miss the Nabeiro cellars
- The nearby Parque Natural da Serra de São Mamede nature reserve is well worth a visit
- Spend a few hours in the walled town of Elvas, its cathedral and hilltop fortress
Activities on site or nearby include:
- Historical sites
Children over 8 are welcome but parents should take into account the proximity of the water and that there are no facilities, as such, for kids. It's also a very quiet place. The wall ladders that lead up to the mezzanine levels in rooms 1 and 2 are only suitable for sure-footed teenagers.
Teens (over 12)
Family friendly accommodation:
Rooms 1 & 2 have mezzanine sleeping levels with a single bed
Casa da Ermida de Santa Catarina is on the southern shores of Barragem do Caia, between the small towns of Campo Major and Santa Eulalia in Alentejo; the nearest big town is Elvas. Even if Santa Catarina feels really remote, it's easy to get here in half a day from Madrid, Lisbon, Sevilla or the Algarve.
The nearest airport is Badajoz's Talavera le Real in Spain, 70km distant. Or you could fly into Lisbon, 230km away. Click on the links below for a list of airlines serving these airports.
From the Airport
Hire a car to get hre, as you'll you'll need one at the hotel, too.
See our car rental recommendations.
Detailed directions will be sent to you when you book through i-escape.com.
More on getting to Portugal and getting around
- Badajoz Talavera le Real (Spain) 70.0 km BJZ
- Lisbon Portela 230.0 km LIS
- Beach 180.0 km
- Shops 10.0 km
- Restaurant 10.0 km