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May 24, 2022 - Famed by a horticulturist and portrayed in a film, the Quinta Vale de Abraão (Six Senses Douro Valley to us) is a manor with a story to tell. As we unveil our new Valley Rooms and Suites in the old wine lodge, we can reveal a few more fun facts.
A Portuguese writer once described the Quinta Vale de Abraão as “more of a Palace than a house, with the sky as the ceiling and the River Douro that flows at its feet as a companion.” And indeed, Six Senses Douro Valley had a royal past: in a document dating from 1464, the original vineyard belonged to João Lourenço de Seara, a valet to King Afonso V. Roll forward to the end of the 19th century, and Laura Pereira Leitão, a descendant of João Lourenço de Seara, and her husband, Alfredo Passanha, had settled at Quinta Vale de Abraão. Laura and Alfredo Passanha had no children, and so their nephews, the Serpa Pimentels, inherited the estate.
Next time you’re at Six Senses Douro Valley, head to the Open Kitchen in the Vale de Abraão Restaurant where the Serpa Pimentel family photos are on display. In the meantime, let’s take a tour of the property, uncovering a few gems along the way.
The forest of Vale de Abraão was planted during the second half of the 19th century. Trees and plants were ordered from Vilmorin in Paris, a famous horticulturist in France that is still in business. In 1938, it was classified as of “Public Interest”, meaning that it was under a special jurisdiction and could not be felled. During the Second World War, a governmental decree ordered all forest owners to sell their wood to the government due to a shortage of coal but the Vale de Abraão forest escaped this fate.
In 1889, José Marques Loureiro, a famous Portuguese horticulturist and owner of Horto das Virtudes in Porto published in the ‘Jornal de Horticultura Prática’ an article about his visit to Vale de Abraão. He was absolutely charmed by the panorama, the 'enchanting villa', and the 'beautiful and varied plants that are found there', some of which had been offered by him in 1888. In 2019, the Vale de Abraão gardens were included in the ‘Historical Gardens of Portugal’ collection.
It’s at this point in the story that we’d like to introduce our ghost. “Admiral” Alfredo Passanha was a property foreman, who had donned a cape to scare off some boys who had come to steal the grapes. He entered local folklore, even though he wasn’t an admiral or a ghost!
Vale Abraão became an iconic place in the panorama of Portuguese culture when Agustina Bessa Luís published the novel Vale Abraão (1991). This was brought to life on the silver screen in 1993 by filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira. Vale Abraão is the story of a woman called Emma, a dangerous beauty forced by arranged marriage to wed Carlos, who says, “A face like hers can be the reason for a man’s life.”
In real life, Agustina’s fascination for Vale de Abraão started when as a child living nearby, she was attracted by the vibrant forest during the day and by the fact that, having the first electric generator, Vale de Abraão was a sea of light in the darkness of the Douro landscape at night.
In 1997, fire broke out in the house, also damaging the gardens and woodland. Thankfully, the property was renovated and changed hands a few times before Portuguese development fund Discovery invited Six Senses to turn Vale de Abrãao into our first resort in Europe.
The light wells on the right-hand side of the corridor on Floor 3 are paved with white pebbles and long slate vine markers, indicating some of the indigenous grape varieties of the Douro. You can taste some of today’s finest wines during a guided tasting in the Wine Library or by the glass by tapping your wine card on the Enomatic wine fridge any time you like!
Blessed are those who stay in Room 402. It was the oratory of the original manor house.
There’s a fountain on the terrace outside our Open Kitchen. The central element is a statue, called the Giant by the Serpa Pimentel family who once lived here. In fact, it represents Hercules dominating a serpent.
We have two beautiful 18th-century tile panels behind the hearth of Vale de Abraão Restaurant that inspired us to start a unique project: The Wall of Fame. You can choose the design you like from our life-size catalog of 55 unique tile patterns displayed on the wall of our organic garden. Then Helena, our resident artist, will create a perfect copy of one of these ancient tiles to add to the wall and sign your name in history.
Tucked away in our gardens is our best-kept secret for larger groups: an old wine lodge, which has been beautifully renovated into nine new Valley Rooms and Suites. These may be reserved individually or together to offer up to nine bedrooms, a shared lounge with a cozy fireplace, gardens with shaded gazebos, and a shared swimming pool and vitality pool. Just next door, there is a One or Two Bedroom Villa next door, each with a private swimming pool. All are available from July.