By John Oliver and Jeanette Elliott [email protected]
John Oliver and Jeanette Elliott moved from the UK to Portugal around six years ago and live in Ourique, Alentejo. John now follows his lifetime love of documentary photography, while Jeanette trains dogs and breeds Bengal cats as well as teaching belly dancing.
In the afterglow from the first flight to Beja from Heathrow, there is a distinct hum in the Alentejo air which isn’t just bees busy in the extended flower season.
Everyone we talk to is hoping this little ember will continue to glow and produce a new prosperity which will generate much needed jobs in this bleak time.
Last Thursday we attended a presentation in Aljustrel for the state-of-art five star Spa Hotel, The Prestige group’s vision for a neglected site in this once busy Alentejo town.
With the slowdown and near demise of mining, this once prosperous town has been holding its breath, waiting for something to lift the despondency.
The computer-generated video was entrancing as we mingled with the guests in the sumptuous décor, trailed round the designer interiors and basked luxuriously around the biological pools.
Incredible what computers can magic out of thin air, you really thought you were there and the hotel was already built, not some dusty old mine office buildings with ghosts blowing down the passages with the Alentejo dust.
The Belgian giving the presentation told of how the opening of the airport at Beja has made the dream possible, how private jets will bring the rich and famous to this region, whisking them in air conditioned luxury Rolls Royces and Aston Martins to be pampered and calmed in this haven. The mind boggles but perhaps he is right.
The presentation was excellent and the buffet afterwards the best we have sampled since coming here, the family from Restaurant D.Dinis at Almodovar, who hosted and provided the catering, certainly proved that it is possible to sample gastronomy to match the International cuisine of the Algarve.
As Sunvil captivates the tourist wishing for culture and scenery over bucket and spade, with the flights treating people like humans instead of cattle, it is possible that even in these times of dire economic straights we could be seeing the tipping point which will bring desperately needed money and jobs to the region.
The feedback we are getting about this small airport is incredible, after so long in inertia with opening dates coming and going over years of wrangling, when nobody thought it would actually happen. Now there is optimism and a wish to somehow go back to the good old days of travel.
The fact that the airport is in the heart of the Alentejo doesn’t even put off our friends down south. It is something positive for a change, hope and a renewed energy.
That chartered BMI plane landing was the best thing that has happened here for many years.
Even on the Passeio at Aljustrel on Sunday our Portuguese friends were talking about how this is going to change so much for the region, instead of how bad things are, they were talking about the new airport and the planned investments in the region, the new roads that they hope might be paved with a little gold.
And all the while we were smiled on by fields of golden sunflowers with the vista of green and blue spreading beyond where the Barragens are full and the terrain is alive and vibrant this year. You couldn’t but feel good and full of hope in such a fantastic environment.
Across on the west coast they are also full of enthusiasm; things had been very quiet this season. Now with the spotlight turned on by reporters suddenly discovering the fantastic hidden jewel of Portugal everyone is hoping to bask in the glow, from hoteliers to suppliers, even people who have got tired entertaining their families, grudgingly trudging to Faro, are hoping this will be what we have all been waiting so long for.
Many foreigners hope to make use of the airport, as more routes get added. The region benefits by new infrastructure, better transport links and more choice.
They are also hoping that Sunvil’s package tours might encourage their visitors to explore a little more, choosing to stay in some of the fabulous small hotels and guesthouses while they soak up a bit more than mum and dad’s Vinho Tinto.
With a wealth of summer festival and music events across the region to entertain our new visitors The Alentejo tourist board is going to be very busy, its director looking on delightedly at the hotel presentation, even though his staff are getting rushed off their feet with new enquiries.
For details on package tours visit www.sunvil.co.uk or for current information on flights only at Beja airport visit www.sunvilflights.com. For a look at the mind-boggling Prestige Spa Hotel, please visit www.prestigehotel-aljustrel.com.