From bucolic farm escapes to polished wine retreats, farm-to-fork dining is top priority at these stylish hotels
São Lourenço Do Barrocal, Portugal
Beyond the trendy restaurants housed in azulejo-clad buildings in Porto, there’s Alentejo—a vast countryside region that’s a veritable culinary destination. Tell locals you’re heading there and they’ll congratulate you for uncovering the “real Portugal”, and then go on to share their list of must-eats.
About a two-hour drive from Lisbon, Alentejo often draws comparisons to Provence and Tuscany, but the landscape and the feeling is completely different. It’s more pastoral than posh, and devoid of any pretention. The region’s character shapes São Lourenço do Barrocal, an idyllic farmscape retreat in a small village between the towns of Évora and Monsaraz. The hotel takes up a small slice of the estate’s 780 hectares, carefully tended to by the same family for more than 200 years; it continues to operate as a working farm to this day.
São Lourenço do Barrocal succeeds in retaining its countryside charm without succumbing to rustic clichés. Time is the secret ingredient—the conversion took owner José António Uva more than a decade to complete resulting in Spartan-luxe at its finest. The pared-back design highlights the soul of the centuries-old structure (we love how they kept the signature vaulted ceilings). Of course, they’ve also introduced new additions such as a spa and a winery; the latter is where award-winning oenologist Susana Esteban works her magic.
While you may be tempted to spend a day doing absolutely nothing, there’s much to be said for exploring the estate on foot, bicycle or horseback. After you’ve worked up an appetite, a feast showcasing the best of Alentejo awaits. Start the morning with a generous spread of homemade bread with local jams and honey, fruits from the orchard, and a selection of cured Portuguese meats and cheeses. There’s a larger menu for dinner, where traditional recipes get a modern treatment. From the oven-roasted octopus served with vegetables grown onsite to the acorn fed-pig grilled with fleur de sel and served with a traditional bread stew of tomato, you’ll certainly pine for these dishes long after you check out.
DON'T MISS: The beautifully curated farm shop stocks São Lourenço do Barrocal’s single-estate wine and organic olive oil, both of which come in exquisite packaging ready to impress your guests back home.
Trisara Resort, Thailand
Nestled on a secluded cove along the northwestern shore of Phuket, Trisara is one the stalwarts of luxury tourism on the island. The award-winning hotel is renowned for its serene expanse of beach and spa offerings, including the pioneering six-hands massage. While the villas are fresh off a renovation, the biggest transformation has been to its culinary programme, which now espouses a farm-to-table philosophy. It mirrors Phuket's goal of cementing its culinary identity by celebrating Andaman produce from both sea and land.
This all comes together at hotel restaurant Pru—the name is an acronym for “plant, raise, and understand”—where guests can enjoy a terroir-driven dining experience featuring the riches of the Andaman region. Ingredients come from Pru Jampa, Trisara’s farm located a 20-minute drive from the property, as well as from the Royal Project, Thailand’s organic farming initiative.
On the pass is progressive Dutch chef Jimmy Ophorst, who passionately pursues locavorism in Phuket. He also has a fascination for “waste ingredients”—essentially, hitherto overlooked parts or unpopular ingredients, which he elevates. This is most evident in the vegetable courses, especially a sublime carrot dish, cooked in the soil the vegetables came from, then served with fermented carrot juice and cured egg yolk from the farm. “If it grows together, it goes together,” Ophorst explains of the idea behind many of his creations. Only 18 months into its operation, Pru became the first and only establishment in Phuket to be awarded 1 Michelin Star in the 2018 guide.
DON'T MISS: Trisara also has a seafood restaurant where “mama recipes” are augmented in terms of precision and presentation while retaining their authentic character.
Leeu Estates, South Africa
With vineyards spanning nearly 100,000 acres, the Western Cape produces some of the world’s most unique bottles—including pinotage, a varietal unique to South Africa—at incredible value. One of the most charming destinations is Franschhoek (its name means “French corner”), a small town surrounded by dramatic mountain ranges, lush centuries-old vines and alluring Cape Dutch architecture. With 52 wine farms and 48 restaurants serving a population of 25,000 in the greater valley, Franschhoek is indeed a gourmand’s paradise.
Leading the charge is Leeu Estates, a stunning luxury hotel and winery set on a sprawling property. The 17-room hotel makes the most of the otherworldly surrounds by keeping a verdant theme throughout. There’s an herb- and vegetable-picking garden—where the hotel’s restaurant sources its daily produce—as well as the serene “bokkie” garden that’s perfect for strolls; both were created by esteemed garden designer Franchesca Watson.
Unlike other winery hotels, Leeu Estates is more sophisticated than rustic, but it retains the genuine warmth that you’d find at family-run wine farms. A personal passion project of founder Analjit Singh, its polished, understated design speaks of his desire to put the captivating scenery and wealth of culinary experiences front and centre.
Apart from the farm-to-table dining enjoyed throughout, another highlight of staying at Leeu Estates is the direct access to Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines. A joint venture between Singh and winemaking duo Chris and Andrea Mullineux, wines by the award-winning label have achieved top ratings from the respected Platter’s South African Wine Guide and was named Winery of the Year twice, while Andrea was voted Winemaker of the Year in 2016 by US-based magazine Wine Enthusiast.
DON'T MISS: Culinary excellence is at the heart of Leeu Collection, and their sister restaurants in town also merit a visit. There’s the casual craft beer microbrewery Tuk Tuk, a venture in collaboration with the Cape Brewing Company team, and the exquisite Indian restaurant Marigold, which marks a first in Franschhoek.
Six Senses Douro Valley, Portugal
Housed in a 19th-century manor, the Six Senses Douro Valley opened its doors in 2015 to much acclaim. Perched on a hill, each of the 41 guest rooms, nine suites and seven villas make the most of their privileged position with windows that frame the beguiling view of the terraced vineyards. Its surroundings inform much of the hotel's direction, especially the rich biodiversity of the Douro, which has 3,500 different botanical species.
Dining is a serious business at the Six Senses offering guests 7 spots where they can enjoy a bite. Blessed with balmy spring weather during our visit, we had most of our meals at the lovely stone-paved terrace; it was the prime spot to take in the Douro's multicoloured sunsets while sipping one of the 700 wines on offer. Those with large appetites, however, could theoretically eat their way through the country at Vale de Abraão, which serves regional dishes.
In keeping with the brand’s focus on well-being and sustainability, large swathes of the estate are devoted to plants—there's a four-hectare woodland for old-growth trees, and of course, a working organic garden of vegetables and herbs located nearby the glistening swimming pool. The latter is the epitome of rustic chic, with orderly plots teeming with chives and leeks, punctuated with a long wooden table sitting underneath a green canopy. Chef Luis Borlido and his team harvest here daily, ensuring a real farm-to-fork experience for every guest.
Perhaps the most tangible way to discover their commitment to serving local is at Terroir by Chef Ljubomir Stanisic. The year-old initiative features a well-thought-out menu, with simple yet stunning dishes such as a serving of organic garden tomatoes with a green, red and yellow pepper purée, made with produce from the in-house garden. Not only does it offer a distinct taste of the Douro, but it’s also an ingenious balance of wellness and indulgence—something that’s usually an oxymoron, except for here.
DON'T MISS: The wine library is stocked to the brim—rare wines sit behind glass doors, current favourites are on offer at the Enomatic dispenser and empty bottles are cleverly upcycled as lighting fixtures. At a wine tasting session, the sommelier talked us through the country’s 335 grape varietals, including the Touriga Franca, a noble grape from the Douro.
Lake House Daylesford, Australia
A work in progress, as the owners husband-and-wife Alla and Allan Wolf-Tasker describe it, the Lake House feels more like an elegant country home than a hotel—testament to the warmth of the family who built this charming property in stages. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that they put Daylesford, a spa town just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, on the culinary traveller’s map.
When they arrived in the ’80s, it was far from the gourmand’s paradise it is today—a journey that Alla details in her latest tome, Three Decades On: Lake House and Daylesford. The transformation has a lot to do with Alla herself, a bespectacled, larger-than-life character and celebrated Australian chef who pioneered a pivot to regional dining and served as a powerful advocate for sustainable farming.
The restaurant has been the longest-standing facet of the Lake House, a property part of the Luxury Lodges of Australia portfolio, and remains its beating heart. It continues Alla’s vision of championing local and seasonal cuisine, something that may seem de rigeur today, but was extraordinary when she began cooking more than 30 years ago.
Contrary to the room’s homely flavour, the multi-awarded restaurant proffers a more sophisticated ambience. The guiding ethos of seasonality and the use of local produce were evident in every dish, which also included a sprinkling of international influences. The winter tasting menu began with a kangaroo flaxseed sandwich with Trewhella Farm mountain pepper and progressed to the much-awaited dish of forest mushrooms, a medley of earthiness that beautifully encapsulated the season. Another highlight was the fork-tender ballotine of Milking Yard Farm chicken, which was accompanied by winter salsa verde, black barley and jus gras. Comforting, familiar and thoroughly elevated, it pretty much sums up Lake House on a plate.