Imani Country House

near Evora, Alentejo, Portugal Book from

Reviewed by Abi Dare
A rural hotel with a stylish fusion of old and new, set amid orange groves just a 15-minute drive from the UNESCO-listed city of Evora
This is no ordinary country house. Sure, all the essential rustic elements are in place - old beams and stone hearths, pots bursting with flowers, a pin-drop peaceful setting deep in the Alentejo; there’s even a pair of donkeys braying in a field as you bump up the drive. But here they’re paired with sleek designer furniture, wall-fuls of modern art, and eclectic touches that include a display of antique sewing machines in a bathroom, salvaged neon signs in the garden and a vintage motorbike parked up in the dining room.

Born from the ruins of a sprawling farm, Imani is the brainchild of TV producer Mariana and her actor husband José, who have skilfully turned the whitewashed shells into an intimate, romantic and surprisingly contemporary retreat. The 7 rooms and suites sit in converted stables, with chrome-and-glass tables, polished concrete and flea-market finds beneath soaring rafters. Some come with wood-burners for chilly evenings, and most have lavender-fringed terraces gazing out over the orange trees to the rooftops of Evora shimmering on the horizon. Outside are 2 pools, shaded nooks and hammocks for lazy snoozes. There’s also an honesty bar and, at weekends, sophisticated dinners rustled up from local ingredients. This is rural serenity with a seriously stylish twist - we loved it and can’t wait to return.

Highs

  • Wonderfully tranquil, yet ideal for exploring nearby Evora - one of Portugal’s gems, with Roman ruins, a walled Old Town and some excellent restaurants
  • Spoiling accommodation - even the standard Double Rooms come with swish bathrooms, top-of-the-range fittings and bags of space
  • The beautiful pools - a sparkling circular pool on the lawn, and a smaller one hidden beneath the blossoms in a tank once used for laundry
  • The fun, funky and very well-stocked honesty bar, which sits under a pergola in the garden, flanked by sofas, table football and giant chess
  • Fantastic staff - you’ll feel pampered from the moment you arrive, when you’re greeted with warm smiles and freshly pressed juice from Imani's own oranges

Lows

  • Full evening meals are only served on Fridays and Saturdays, but there’s a menu of tasty light dishes until 8pm daily and Evora is only 15 minutes away
  • Unless you want to rely on taxis, you'll need a car to get here and to get out to explore
  • It’s reached via a long, teeth-rattling track, with a very tight turn into the gates at the end
  • No twin rooms (it’s best suited to couples), though there are rollaway beds for children and some rooms interconnect

Best time to go

This beautiful patch of the Alentejo is always alluring, and the hotel is open year-round. Spring and autumn are balmy but not too hot; summer can be stifling - and Evora packed with tourists - but Imani is a wonderful respite from the heat and the crowds. Winter is a viable option, too - days are often crisp and sunny, and evenings provide the perfect excuse for snuggling up by the wood-burner with a bottle of wine.

Our top tips

Spend some time getting lost in Imani’s extensive grounds, either on foot or 2 wheels. You can meet Almendra and Eça Bonito, the friendly resident donkeys, and follow trails through the orange groves and fields. There are plenty of birds to spot, and at dusk the vegetation comes alive with bats, cicadas and frogs.

Great for...

Family
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 7
  • Breakfast & light meals (full dinner on Fridays & Saturdays)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Pool Table
  • Bicycles Available
  • Table football
  • Giant chess
Room: Double Room

Rooms

The rooms and suites combine contemporary furniture with quirky pieces picked up on the owners’ travels - a beautiful blend that’s offset perfectly by whitewashed walls, raftered ceilings and smooth oak floors. Top-notch amenities come as standard: powerful showers, iPod docks, radios, flat-screen TVs, bathrobes, Eau d’Orange Verte lotions, and minibars brimming with wine, chocolate and even cheese.

Six of the rooms occupy the old stable block, which spreads up a slope from reception. Each has its own entrance and a section of terrace screened by lavender, with a parasol and a couple of easy chairs - perfect for morning coffee, sundowners, or nightcaps as the moon rises above the orange trees. We stayed here in a standard Double Room - it’s the cheapest category, but there was nothing inferior about our heavenly four-poster, the gleaming polished concrete around our bathtub, and the comfy armchairs at the foot of our bed.

A notch higher on the price and size ladder are the 2 Junior Suites, which have the added bonus of wood-burners (worth the extra spend if you're here in winter). One was our favourite room décor-wise, with slick Eileen Grey tables, an antique bicycle above the bed, and a glass-enclosed bathroom (don’t worry, the loo is hidden!) with a sunken tub and a display of vintage sewing machines. The other is a little less eye-catching but has a separate sitting room. There’s also a Standard Suite, which is larger still but has no tub in its open-plan ensuite.

Top of the range are the Superior Suites. One sits alongside the other rooms and has a fabulous lounge with a stone hearth and a collection of old violins; the other is a vast space above reception, reached via a private staircase from the lawn. The freestanding roll-top tub means it’s a favourite with honeymooners, but it’s the only room without outdoor space.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Cots Available
  • Dvd player
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Ipod dock
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Radio
  • Satellite tv
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi

Eating

Breakfast is served until a leisurely midday in the airy dining room at the end of the garden, where there's a vintage motorbike, a piano and a row of arched windows that catch the morning sun. It’s a tasty spread of all the usual continental fare - cold meats, cheeses, cereal, fruit, bread and pastries, jams - along with bacon, eggs, homemade orange juice and excellent coffee.

The dining room is also open on Fridays and Saturdays for dinner. The chef mixes traditional Portuguese ingredients with contemporary influences from Europe and beyond and, although we weren’t able to sample them, the results - breaded brie with tomato jam, veal carpaccio with leak cream, bacalhau and coriander risotto - sound very good indeed.

On all days, a selection of so-called ‘light dishes’ is available until 8pm, and staff will happily set up a table inside or out. Don’t be fooled by the description: the portions are large enough for a full meal and make a convenient option for lunch and, if you’re prepared to eat early, dinner. We tucked into smoked salmon wraps, spaghetti Bolognese and a delicious caprese salad of juicy tomatoes, mozzarella and sweet Balsamic vinegar, followed by simple yet refreshing bowls of cinnamon-dusted ice cream. There’s also an honesty bar in the garden, stocked with juices, beers and wine made especially for Imani by a vineyard-owner friend of José and Mariana.

When it comes to eating out, Evora’s restaurants are an easy drive or taxi ride away. For traditional Alentejo cuisine (herby game stews, wild boar), head to Tasquinha do Oliveira or O Fialho. For tapas in a more informal setting, try BL Lounge or nab an alfresco table under the lemon trees at wine bar and deli Páteo. Reception can point you in the right direction and make reservations.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Children meals
  • Light meals, plus full dinners on Fridays & Saturdays
  • Minibar/fridge
Eating:
Activity: Praça do Giraldo, Evora

Activities

  • Spend a day or two pottering around Evora, an elegant UNESCO-listed city of whitewashed alleys, fountain-filled squares and ornately tiled 15th-century mansions. Star attractions include the Roman temple, the gloriously ghoulish Capela dos Ossos at the Igreja de São Francisco (which houses the bones of long-dead monks), and the Aqueduto de Agua Prata, whose arches incorporate a row of houses
  • Also well worth visiting is the stone circle of Os Almendres, which lies just a short way from Imani. It’s Europe’s largest and arguably most impressive Neolithic site, with 92 stones aligned on the hillside amid a sea of silvery cork oaks
  • Other historic gems nearby include the hilltop castles at Arraiolos (also famous for its beautiful hand-woven carpets), Alvito and Evoramonte, and São Cucufate, where a medieval convent sits among the ruins of a Roman villa
  • The region’s other chief appeal is its wine, which is developing a reputation to rival that of the Douro. Hotel staff can arrange tastings and tours of local vineyards
  • Slightly further afield is Estremoz, renowned for its marble quarries yet blissfully tourist-free. Wander around its dazzling marble-clad streets, then climb the 13th-century Torre das Três Coroas for sweeping views across the plains below. The town’s main square, the Rossio, hosts one of Portugal’s finest markets every Saturday - worth catching if you can
  • Back at the hotel, play table football or giant chess in the garden, hire bikes for gentle cycles through the orange groves and the rolling countryside beyond, or laze in a hammock with a glass of something chilled from the honesty bar. If the weather turns, play pool (or just put your feet up) by the wood-burner in the communal lounge

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Pool table
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Wine tasting

Kids

This is a serene and sophisticated retreat that we feel is most suited to couples. That said, children of all ages are welcome, and the extensive grounds and 2 pools mean there’s plenty of space for everyone. Kids will also enjoy playing pool or table football, and meeting the resident donkeys.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

One of the Junior Suites can take an extra bed (additional charge) or baby cot (free); the standard Double Rooms and the other Junior Suite can take a baby cot only. If you're coming with more than 1 child, book the Standard Suite or the Superior Suite in the old stable block, which can each accommodate 2 extra beds or baby cots (though note that the former has an open-plan ensuite with no tub). One Double Room and one Junior Suite interconnect - also handy for families.

Children's meals:

The menu of light dishes includes plenty of child-friendly options (spaghetti Bolognese, hamburgers, ice cream) - ideal for feeding the kids before you head out for something more substantial.

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
8/
Food
9/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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