to Katherine Kennard
reading this story
A love letter to slow living in Melides
It is a soft morning with a brisk, invigorating breeze as we follow a picturesque, earthy road between green fields and scattered cork trees leading to our secluded destination. The countryside envelops us as we reach the elegant grey main gate and make our way into the property, having driven for just over one hour from Lisbon. We are greeted by the first slope of the uneven terrain – a topographical pattern the owners created to respect the existing land. We have arrived at Pa.te.os, a collection of four houses embedded in the Melides landscape, a refuge to unwind and take in nature in its most wholesome form. We breathe in the purest air of pine and cork trees, a distinctive fragrance that evokes a feeling of nostalgia and a glowing sense of warmth.
Melides, a hidden gem in the Alentejo, a couple of kilometres inland from the Atlantic, is surrounded by olive, pine and arbutus groves stretching as far as the eye can see. Although there are scattered houses at the nearby properties, it feels as though we are alone, in the middle of nowhere. All we can hear is the pure sounds of nature – a soft melody of critters buzzing away in the shrubs and the wind rustling the leaves of low-slung bushes.
Step by step, we begin unveiling each of the houses implanted in the estate, a rippling vision of shapes emerging from nature as if they had always been there. Here, we feel isolated and deep in thought, yet not forgotten. That is how things work at Pa.te.os – always there for you, catering to your every need but leaving you to your own pace, without forcing any schedules or timeframes – a picture-perfect home amidst the native greenery and sprawling views of the Alentejo.
A celebration of indoor and outdoor dwelling, the four contemporary houses stand timeless and true to the vernacular architecture of the region, where sunlight and shade are harnessed mainly through patios – ground-level, often paved, roofless extensions open to the sky, with origins dating all the way back to Arabia and Ancient Rome. The configuration of Pa.te.os is key to understanding the concept: although nestled in the same property and ultimately built as one project, the houses sit independently from one another, creating an underlying sense of plurality.
“It’s a country home focused on design and being close to nature. Everything was thought out to the utmost detail as a team.”
A promise of beauty and serenity, Pa.te.os was created by renowned Portuguese architect Manuel Aires Mateus and the owners, husband and wife Miguel and Sofia Charters. Miguel greets us with a smile at one of the houses. His laidback demeanour puts us at ease right away, and he strikes up a conversation as if we were old friends. He sits on one of the sofas outside, bringing our attention to the play of sunshine and dimness this open-air lounge can provide. Miguel appears comfortable in his own skin, as he begins telling the story behind the project.
“Pa.te.os was the ideal opportunity to get to know and have our first experience in the hospitality sector,” he says. “At first, we thought of it as a house to welcome family and friends, as we already had a vacation home on the same property and wanted to extend the possibility of entertaining in the most comfortable way we could. The idea of Pa.te.os was something completely different in the beginning. But over time, it became obvious to us that we should take that step and transform it into our first hospitality-driven project, a guesthouse of sorts. A country home focused on design and being close to nature. Everything was thought out to the utmost detail as a team.” The rhythm in his voice and his sense of conviction are compelling. Minutes become hours. He speaks passionately about his life and work, often pauses and coming back again – carefully formulating his thoughts before resuming his tale.
“When beautiful things are made, functionality is often forgotten. That is the challenge I chose to face: to pair aesthetics with function.”
Aesthetically speaking, Manuel Aires Mateus was the first architect they thought of to work on such a special project, although it would not be the first time they would create something together. Before Pa.te.os was even on the cards, Miguel and Sofia founded Primosfera, an independent, family-run real estate business – the materialisation of a lifelong desire. Miguel studied law and worked as a lawyer for a number of years before realising that this was not his calling. “I was always interested in people, in palpable things. In real things. Being a lawyer was too instrumental – I was merely a tool to implement something for someone,” he admits. “When I decided to stop practising law, I knew I wanted to do something else; I just did not know what at the time.” Miguel made a foray into a completely different industry and enrolled in an MBA programme at the IESE Business School in Barcelona to learn about business management and finance. In 2007, he returned to Portugal and opened his own business, a major but, in his eyes, much-needed decision, both professionally and personally. “We started looking for real estate projects in need of investment in Lisbon with unique features, charisma, architectural history and special locations,” says Miguel, explaining his take on real estate and its creative side – something he had been craving since finishing that law degree. “I have always loved spaces. It is where you live, work, relax. We are here now in this gorgeous courtyard, and it is such an honour to be able to say I was part of its invention and construction; a combination of architecture, aesthetics and comfort, the ultimate triad for perfection.”
But Pa.te.os is much more than that. Form and function live harmoniously in all four houses, in line with the ethos behind all of Miguel’s projects. “Functionality is often forgotten in many real estate projects,” he says. “Beautiful things are made with no purpose behind them. That is the challenge I chose to face: to pair aesthetics with function as part of the creative process.” Above all, he focuses on aesthetically driven projects sustained by quality materials, attention to detail, and beauty and function in all their grandeur. “In a way, it means going back to basics, to a primordial state that shows us the truth of all things. When you look at Pa.te.os, what you see is what you get. Everything is real. You feel its authenticity through a mere glance or touch. It is part of our DNA.”
“Time is our ally and an important tool. That is what we want people to take from Pa.te.os – the pleasure of having time.”
As time passes at Pa.te.os, it is astonishing to see nature change with it. It adjusts to the concrete structures, which emerge like sculptures crafted for contemplation. Straight, angular lines blend with the wilderness encircling each volume. A briny scent drifts in from the ocean and mingles with the fresh sweetness of pinewood – an olfactory journey in itself. Nature is present in abundance at Pa.te.os, its immensity engulfing us with each breath.
Time seems to stand still, but it is as valuable an element to Pa.te.os as it is for Miguel and Sofia, which explains why it took them about ten years to see the project completed, between sketches, design, licenses, construction, and the myriad factors that sustain such an architectural endeavour. “Our own notion of time is what makes us different from the rest. We take our time, regardless of what that means. We do not sacrifice anything in order to have projects done on a specific timeline. Time is our ally and an important tool. That is what we want people to take from Pa.te.os – the pleasure of having time,” says Miguel. As in nature, everything has its own rhythm, and nothing can be rushed. Taking in the surroundings and disconnecting from the hustle and bustle of frantic day-to-day life requires time. Here in Melides, time really slows down. That is true right now, and it was even more so in the 1990s, when Miguel and Sofia came here and to the neighbouring town of Comporta to the south, where they would go to the beach, have dinner or just wander around. “There were just the two of us, and we had a wonderful time,” recalls Miguel. “It was wild and deserted. We had a sense of freedom here, in rain or sunshine, and it has always been close to our hearts. That is why we decided to buy a property and build our holiday home here in Melides, and eventually expand our estate by creating Pa.te.os and investing in more land for farming and wine production.”
For Miguel, Pa.te.os is the personification embodiment of shelter and exposure – and how you can make the best of both. “Outside, you have to learn how to handle the elements, and the patio shows you how to deal with it through shade or sunlight, cold or heat, drizzle or wind. Inside, we offer a stable environment, unaffected by what is happening outside.” Only natural light bestows its boundless energy by spreading across the ceilings and seeping through the expansive windows of each home.
Having courtyards and using them as much as possible to improve quality of life has been on Miguel’s mind, in a way, since he was a kid. When he went on vacation with his family, his father ensured they would take in the cultural aspects of the cities they stopped in. One of these trips took them to the Alhambra palace in Granada, a city in Andalucia, southern Spain. The Alhambra is a beautiful complex of buildings, surrounded by gardens and courtyards known for its maze-like layout of arches, columns and stone engravings. Built mostly from clay and limestone, this iconic monument is the embodiment of climate-adjusted construction – something Miguel is fond of in his own projects. “The Alhambra was always an inspiration to me for its magnificent Islamic architecture and historical value,” he says. “I was about nine or ten when I experienced it for the first time, and it made a lasting impression. I was completely amazed by its magnificence and spread-out structure, even at such a tender age. Today, I cannot even imagine a home without a patio.” He smiles as he recalls the very beginnings of Pa.te.os.
He and Sofia, along with Manuel Aires Mateus and his studio, were involved in the project from day one, from the first sketch to details like the temperature of the rooms and the way the doors close.
Without any architectural background, Miguel admits this detail-oriented side comes mostly from his father – his hero – with whom he had an extraordinary connection. “On my time off from school, I used to go with my father to one of his factories, where he worked as a civil engineer. He had this rigorous side where function was not enough; beauty was also imperative, and doing something right was absolutely sacred to him. My father was much more connected to the industrial side, and although I never felt enticed by it, our values were the same. And still are today.”
“We did not want to introduce anything new to the land nor change what nature gives us. We are healing the wounds we left behind after construction and intend to recognise what the land tells us.”
The utter respect for nature is something Pa.te.os takes very seriously. The landscaping project, developed in collaboration with Lisbon-based studio F|C Landscape Architecture, entailed replanting solely native species. “We did not want to introduce anything new to the land nor change what nature gives us. We are healing the wounds we left behind after construction and intend to recognise what the land tells us,” Miguel adds.
But we do not speak only of the vegetation surrounding the houses. Nor of the magnificent pool area – a stunning feature that forms a communal point of intersection, its triangular shape bursting through the concrete and revealing celestial shapes from the sky above. The property is extensive, covering about 80 hectares punctuated by houses of employees and farmers, who take care of the land, and other sustainable undertakings connected to the estate, such as producing wine. Projects are already underway to cultivate vegetable gardens, farm crops, and rear sheep, goats and chickens. Everything is designed to provide for the people living and working on the property: “Pa.te.os is part of a larger farming project, of which we wish to take full advantage,” explains Miguel. “The purpose is to transform the property into a source of provenance for us, our guests, and everyone working for us. All of our workers live here in the estate, and, in turn, the estate is their livelihood.
We are looking at this project from a global perspective, not just from a hospitality point of view.” Integral to this is also a farm-to-table concept, of which the wine production is an essential piece. “Wine production began about three years ago. It did not go well in the beginning, and we had to replant everything. Right now, we have 8 hectares of vineyards that are being taken care of so that they can sustain life. The idea is to organically produce wine that conveys the identity of this land, which is more Atlantic and mineral, with stone and schist in its baseline. We do not want to impose on the soil – we want to produce what it allows us to produce, which is mostly exceptional wines.”
Stepping inside any of the four houses, the feeling of awe is similar to what we experience outside, although with a new layer of quietude. A sudden wave of comfort washes over us, inviting us to sit back and unwind. All is pearl and sand – the warm tones of wood, stone and linen used in the interiors.
Following the founding values, the authenticity of the materials used was perhaps the most crucial feature at Pa.te.os, alongside a thoughtful eye for design. Put together by Miguel and Sofia with the collaboration of Manuel Aires Mateus and Maria Rebelo Pinto, interior designer at Aires Mateus Studio, the interiors tell a story of quiet, effortless luxury where every detail counts – from the sharp edge of the European oak dining table crafted by Portuguese artisans to the warm atmosphere emanating from the indoor wood-burners and the coffee table books ready to be leafed through while sipping a cup of tea made with herbs from the garden.
Nothing was left to chance, and each piece was designed meticulously. “We made a point of working mainly with Portuguese craftspeople in producing most of the furniture at Pa.te.os, which Aires Mateus designed with our own input.” The joy for the beauty of simple things is also present in the artworks they commissioned from Portuguese artist Olga Sanina: four large canvases made with native foliage she collected from the property over the course of a year.
This botanical process entailed picking leaves, one by one, from cork trees to arbutus trees and olive trees, along with other shrubbery, and saving them in herbariums to dry. After a few months, Olga reopened them and began methodically superimposing each leaf with graphite, Japan ink, gold leaf, paper glue and water many times until she had created the final artworks. Each canvas contemplates a particular season and now lives in each of the four Pa.te.os houses.
Another testament to the drawn-out pulse of nature is the absence of schedules for breakfast. Slow mornings at Pa.te.os mean that the kitchen staff prepares the delicious concoctions when guests feel like it, delivering them only when requested. The table is set: freshly squeezed juice, seasonal fruit, coffee and tea, butter, cheese, and a collection of locally sourced, homemade goods – bread, granola and jams. Recently, Pa.te.os called in renowned Catalan chef Sergi Sanz, with whom the team had crossed paths in the past, to work as a consultant chef on their home dining menu – breakfast, lunch and dinner, available upon request. This venture meant dedicating time and space to a new team and an innovative approach to local and regional ingredients while keeping the meals light and flavourful, along with a curated wine list. Nourishing food is not the only thing evolving at Pa.te.os, as wellness and slow living have played a significant role since day one. Available on demand, massage therapist Dunia Lobo brings her expertise of almost two decades to deliver nurturing bespoke treatments adjusted to every person her hands touch. There are also yoga, meditation, and sound healing sessions with Dom Horsey and his peaceful aura to complete the relaxing scene – all of which connect with nature in myriad ways. Dom is a seasoned chef and nutritional coach who recently found himself searching for new meaning and ways of connecting body and soul through wellness practices. He was invited by Pa.te.os to bring his experience to guests in need of his spiritual guidance and relaxation techniques.
As the day draws to a close, there is a sense of tranquil solitude, a longing amid the dusky groves. Shadows darken and stretch, caressing the gabled shapes of concrete and glass. It’s this unfathomable splendour that we continually seek. In fact, there aren’t many places like this. The term ‘unique’ is often used too easily, but not here. The uniqueness of Pa.te.os lingers in every point of intersection, every cinder-hued facet, every tangible edge. A genuine ode to stillness, Pa.te.os serve as a reminder that everything flows just as it should if we open ourselves to it. It compels us to experience life at a different pace – and to carry the pleasant feeling of “having time” back home with us.