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A Rustic-Modern Hideaway in Portugal's Douro Valley

Designer of the moment Pierre Yovanovitch has ushered a small inn and winery into a new era.


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The drive to Quinta da Côrte winery is dizzyingly steep and serpentine, as are most of the roads in the hills above Portugal’s Douro River, about an hour and half east of Porto. If you manage to keep your eyes open, the views are surreal. The area’s deep valleys have been carved out by the powerful Douro and its tributaries. Its precipitous hillsides are an agrarian mosaic: centuries-old stepped terraces of local schist lined with rows of twisted vines. The Alto Douro wine region was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2001. Because of the historical importance of wine production, specifically port, the Douro Valley was the first wine region to officially be given a controlled designation of origin.

The slopes are also dotted with modest white-washed stucco quintas—historic Portuguese winery estates. From a distance, Quinta da Côrte resembles many of them, but on arrival it’s soon apparent that this new nine-room inn and winery is modern, both in its design and feel. Guests walk through a yellow-trimmed door into a welcoming, light-filled kitchen that is dominated by a massive tile-covered open hearth and a long communal table.

It was at this table, which is embedded with a whimsical map of the region hand-painted on tiles, that I first sat down with the architect of Quinta da Côrte, the genial Pierre Yovanovitch. The table looks like a quirky family heirloom, but it’s just inspired by one. “My family had a little chalet in the French Alps,” he explained over a glass of the quinta’s Princesa wine, “and we had a table like this with a map of the mountains on it. I was devastated when my family sold it. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to replicate it here.”

He went on to recall that when the owner of Quinta da Côrte, the French developer and art collector Philippe Austruy, gave him the brief for the property, which Austruy had bought in a semi-ruined state, he said that he wanted guests to feel welcome, like they were in his home, even if he himself was rarely there. “I love to revive forgotten properties,” Yovanovitch said.

It’s his ability to mix multiple styles—from lesser-known midcentury vintage to standout bespoke pieces of his own design—to create spaces infused with both an idyllic nostalgia and a relaxed sophistication that has the Paris-based Yovanovitch very busy these days.

One of the first projects to put the designer on the map was an interior he conceived in 2015 for Austruy and his wife, Valérie Bach. Yovanovitch transformed a 19th-century roller-skating rink in Brussels into the all-white, minimalist La Patinoire Royale, Bach’s contemporary art gallery. The designer’s unconventional spirit and well-informed eye especially appeals to art collectors. (He himself is an astute collector, often recognizing talents early in their careers, like video artist Camille Henrot and painter Claire Tabouret.) Currently he’s working on projects that include a hotel in Comporta, Portugal, and residences in the Hamptons, Switzerland, and the U.K. The 52-year-old designer has so many projects in the U.S. that he recently opened an office in New York City.

After studying business in Nice in the ’90s, Yovanovitch started working in fashion. For eight years he oversaw licenses for Pierre Cardin’s men’s collection. Eventually, Cardin recognized his young employee’s gifts and sent him off to Italy to source fabrics. Soon Yovanovitch’s ambitions drifted to design and architecture, and he began experimenting with interiors in his own apartment and the homes of friends. In 2001, he took a risk, left Cardin, and started his own design company.

His breakthrough moment came a few years later when he organized a show in his apartment of Swedish Grace furniture, a ’20s movement defined by marquetry. “It was an intuitive thing. Not commercial at all. But it was an amazing success,” he said. He credits his lack of official architectural training as part of his appeal. “My background makes me feel free to follow my instincts.”

There are very few clean lines inside Quinta da Côrte; somehow it’s the imperfections that make each space feel exceptional. In the bedrooms, wall surfaces are uneven: They’re made of textured off-white plaster. The diamond-shaped lines on the adobe floor in the kitchen are hand-drawn. Hand-woven Moroccan straw mats are scattered in many of the rooms, as are the monumental, abstract ceramic tables that Yovanovitch designs with Armelle Benoist, a ceramist based in Brittany.

Many of the suspended light fixtures, such as the pale-pink glass bubbles hanging like a bunch of upside-down balloons over the kitchen table, are the result of a collaboration with the master Swiss glassmaker Matteo Gonet. Modern technology is well hidden behind the walls, or purposefully snubbed. The Wi-Fi works but not everywhere. There are functioning, old-school rotary phones in the bedrooms and no flat-screens. Every single vintage book on the shelves in the cozy library off the kitchen was personally chosen by Yovanovitch, an obsessive reader (“I learned everything important from books,” he said).

And while there is plenty to explore and do in the area, from visiting other wineries to hiking through vineyards and taking a cruise on the Douro, you could easily just stay put and detach from modern life with a good book, or swim in the hotel’s stunning pool, which appears to be embedded in a nearby wine terrace. At night guests can gather around the dining room table and drink local wines while feasting on regional dishes, such as cod croquettes and an octopus salad.

The winery complex is the first architectural structure Yovanovitch has built from scratch. As at La Patinoire Royale, the focal point is the dramatic staircase. “In all my projects I do a big staircase,” Yovanovitch told me, as we climbed the white-washed stairs wrapped with black perforated metal that’s cut at the bottom with a serrated pattern. Upstairs there are more theatrics in a private dining room that has a massive triangular oak table on red ceramic legs and a glass chandelier of hand-blown gray and black orbs that form an abstract cluster of grapes.

Yovanovitch is clearly at his most creative when he’s collaborating. Recently he has fashioned bespoke pieces with artists like James Turrell and Tadashi Kawamata, such as a huge nest made by the latter for a home in Paris. And last year he debuted 24 of his own playful designs at New York City’s R & Company gallery; he showed another collection at the gallery this past June. “I really feel free at the moment to go in any direction,” he said. “I can imagine a crazy thing, and nothing stops me from trying it.” Rooms from $310.


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