Small

Small Stays: Dá Licença 

How an ex art and fashion duo turned a rundown olive mill into a utopian stay in Portugal’s Alentejo region.

IN DESCRIBING Dá Licença, the five-suite, four-room stay in Portugal’s Alentejo region, co-owner Franck Laigneau shares a familiar question, asked often by many: “Why didn’t you go bigger? Make more money?” His answer? “We didn’t want to.” In an increasingly over-developed and endlessly chaotic world, the spirit of quiet space and intimate detail embodies everything Dá Licença stands to keep sacred. “We wanted something welcoming, something that feels like home. Something more like a guesthouse. With Dá Licença, we wanted to escape the stereotypes of a hotel.”

People are always surprised by the silence.

Dá Licença began with Laigneau and co-owner Vitor Borges’ search for a country house. What they stumbled upon was a deserted olive mill on a rundown farm at the crest of a solitary hill. As the sun set over the abandoned ruins, they knew it could be something more. “It was totally unknown. Totally pure. Truly the countryside, yet with so much to do nearby,” Laigneau describes. “It was the right moment for change — and to start something a bit like a utopia.”

Exploring the now meticulously finished space, things beckon to be touched. The impulse to press your warm forehead to a surface because it looks so tantalizingly cool and smooth comes to mind. Marble is everywhere, a natural resource for which the region is famed — from the glistening floors to the hand-carved bathtubs and sinks crafted by local artisans in shades of veined creams and whites. Wood in swirling caramel grain lives in chests, chairs, and beds. With the owners coming from the art and fashion world, respectively, a level of balance and restraint can be seen in the curated pieces filling the private rooms, common areas, and in-hotel gallery. Less is more, an ethos that extends to doors; in their place are expansive entryways, linking one room to the next and promoting a natural flow of air and exploration. The presence of water is also notable, most gorgeously in the two largest pools of the property: an aquamarine disk overlooking the olive trees, and a shimmering infinity pool near flush with its surrounding rocky landscape. One may be seized by the urge to fling one’s body into them, chucking electronic devices to the hills. But that would disturb the otherworldly stillness — and complicate working remotely for those long-term stays.

These artful interiors might suggest a preciousness about the space. This is not the case. Everything here is made for living. “People can choose in what rooms they want to eat their dinner,” says Laigneau. “There is no rigidity. We want them to feel relaxed. We try to always personalize.” Guests often share feedback with the owners that reflects this. “I got to slow down,” adding, “You can breathe here.”

The area itself is marked by a sleepy, timeless charm. The culture, Laigneau explains, has a sense of saudade, a nuanced Portuguese word with many meanings, one of which references a type of ephemeral nostalgia. “It’s very peaceful. People are kind, welcoming, and helpful. They take their time. There’s no hurry. There’s an open-air market every Saturday [from which Dá Licença sources much of its food], and it feels like 40 years ago. It’s authentic. It hasn’t been changed by tourism.” Though this feeling of yesterday is no doubt the predominant attitude, local gems attracting little hubs of action can certainly be found: “There are still restaurants and museums and wineries.”

The design of Dá Licença is so visually compelling that even just looking at photos of the hotel can feel transportive, leaving the viewer imagining themselves on a sun-soaked lounge chair by the pool. But there are some things, Laigneau says, that simply cannot be translated through pictures: “The smell of the citrus trees, the rosemary, the lavender. The feeling of nature. And the silence. People are always surprised by the silence.” Turns out, the greatest escapes come in the smallest of sizes.

Things to See and Do Near Dá Licença

Here, proprietors Vitor Borges and Franck Laigneau share their favorite spots to visit in Portugal's Alentejo region.

Our Contributors

Sophie Mancini Writer

Sophie Mancini is a writer born and raised in New York City, working in brand and editorial. She holds a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and is currently at the New York Times creative studio, T Brand.

Francisco Nogueira Photographer

Francisco Nogueira is a photographer and trained architect based in Lisbon, Portugal. His photography has appeared in Wallpaper*, T Magazine, Elle Decor US, Domus, Surface, and the New York Times.

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