Tivoli Évora: Alentejo luxury that does not cost the earth

PUBLISHED: 15:11 08 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:11 08 May 2019

The Tivoli Évora hotel is covered in cork. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

The Tivoli Évora hotel is covered in cork. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

Emma Bartholomew

As we pulled up to the Tivoli Évora my kids and I expressed some scepticism for its eco claims - after all, swanky hotels are some of the most energy intensive facilities on our planet.

Rooms at the Tivoli Évora hotel are scattered around its grounds amongst the cork trees. Picture: Emma BartholomewRooms at the Tivoli Évora hotel are scattered around its grounds amongst the cork trees. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

Power hungry air-conditioning systems, never-ending laundry demands and the potential for food waste at a buffet breakfast all combine to make a four star retreat an ecological nightmare.

But it turns out the Tivoli Évora is a perfect example of how to achieve green credentials without foregoing any luxury.

Its owner Miguel Rosado da Fonseca put sustainability at the core of his hotel's strategy at its conception six years ago. He's invested heavily in the likes of geo-thermal heating and cooling for the handsomely cork-cladded main building, which houses the restaurant, spa, gym and rooftop terrace.

The entrance to the Tivoli Évora eco hotel. Picture: Emma BartholomewThe entrance to the Tivoli Évora eco hotel. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

Rather than build upwards, each of the hotel's 56 "rooms" are scattered around its grounds amongst the cork trees in detached white cubes.

Spacious with a boho-chic bedroom and separate lounge area, they all have a private patio area.

There are no immaculately manicured gardens here, but I find the wilderness more beautiful. Sheep and donkeys replace lawnmowers, and indigenous plants like lavender and rosemary - whose aroma comes out with the hot Alentejo sun - are irrigated with the hotel's waste water treated on site.

No lawnmowers are used at the Tivoli Évora eco hotel - only donkeys and sheep. Picture: Emma BartholomewNo lawnmowers are used at the Tivoli Évora eco hotel - only donkeys and sheep. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

And 70pc of the hotel's electricity comes from a row of solar panels, with the rest bought in from renewable sources. It's an impressive CV - and one that Miguel is constantly striving to improve on.

But apart from the hotel's admirably small eco-footprint, what's here to attract tourists?

For starters, Évora - once considered the capital of Portugal and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site - is a five-minute drive away. Enclosed by medieval walls there's an array of monuments including a Roman temple - and most bizarrely a chapel adorned entirely with bones. I arranged for Nuno from Évora Cultural Experience to show us around.

Tivoli Évora eco hotel generates most of its electricity through solar panels. The rest is bought from eco sources. Picture: Emma BartholomewTivoli Évora eco hotel generates most of its electricity through solar panels. The rest is bought from eco sources. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

"Drag," my kids moaned when I told them we were going on a guided tour.

But they soon warmed to Nuno, an archaeology professor at the university, who came up with fascinating, humorous stories about how things came about, making comparisons to Game of Thrones. Without him on hand we'd have had no idea the fountain in Giraldo Square was made out of one solid piece of marble pulled there by oxes, and necessitated the destruction of an entire town gate to get it in for example.

He also recounted how Franciscan monks decided to take the bones from eight graveyards to decorate the Chapel of Bones to meditate on life's finiteness.

The indoor pool at the Tivoli Évora. Picture: Emma BartholomewThe indoor pool at the Tivoli Évora. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

"Italy does crazy stuff like making chairs out of bones but we just put them in walls in an artsy way," he joked.

Alentejo is one of the last regions of Portugal to become popular with tourists. It's a far cry from the "sun and booze" mentality of the Algarve and one of the richest culturally. A huge draw is the food, and you don't have to stray out of the hotel to experience this.

From the pasteis de nata custard tarts freely on tap at a buffet breakfast along with the likes of pumpkin jam, to lunch and dinner in the restaurant, it's culinary heaven here. Many Alentejo wine producers don't produce the quantity to export so you need to come here to savour the rich, rounded smoothness of the area's red wine, or the tickling bubbles of a vinho verde.

The macabre Chapel of Bones in Évora - the walls of which Franciscan monks covered entirely with bones and skulls from a graveyard. Picture: Emma BartholomewThe macabre Chapel of Bones in Évora - the walls of which Franciscan monks covered entirely with bones and skulls from a graveyard. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

A trip to Évora is for people who love culture, food and to really live a bit.

The price for one night for two people to stay at the Tivoli Évora starts from €99,00 and includes breakfast. Évora is just over an hour's drive from Lisbon airport.

The Chapel of Bones in Évora was built by Franciscan monks in the late 16th century.. Picture: Emma BartholomewThe Chapel of Bones in Évora was built by Franciscan monks in the late 16th century.. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

Breakfast at the Tivoli Évora. Picture: Emma BartholomewBreakfast at the Tivoli Évora. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

Garlic prawns in olive oil at the Tivoli �vora. Picture: Emma BartholomewGarlic prawns in olive oil at the Tivoli �vora. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

An Iberico pork steak at the Tivoli �vora. Picture: Emma BartholomewAn Iberico pork steak at the Tivoli �vora. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

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A pumpkin fondant with olive oil ice cream. The pumpkin is grown on the Tivoli �vora's vegetable patch. Picture: Emma BartholomewA pumpkin fondant with olive oil ice cream. The pumpkin is grown on the Tivoli �vora's vegetable patch. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

The boho chic bedroom in one of the huge independent suites at the Tivoli Évora eco hotel. Picture: Emma BartholomewThe boho chic bedroom in one of the huge independent suites at the Tivoli Évora eco hotel. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

The view from the roof terrace at theTivoli Évora. Picture: Emma BartholomewThe view from the roof terrace at theTivoli Évora. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

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