João Tomás is an interesting man. He’s restored a magnificent hotel, Casa das Penhas Douradas, on a high plateau, 1550 meters above the town of Manteigas, a place that’s remote but almost unbelievably beautiful. Tuberculosis patients were once sent to be cured here. It’s a place you love to wake up to, to see what mother nature is doing at the top of the world that day, and to enjoy the local, and sometimes quite unusual foods on the incredible breakfast buffet.
In 2009, the hotel was remodeled and enlarged. Of course, the closing of the hotel temporarily put the staff out of work. So instead of sending them home without pay, João sent them to learn about making the traditional Burel Manteigas, sometimes called Borrel. Burel is a course woolen cloth which to me seems like felt. It was traditionally produced in small mills in Manteigas. shown below.
If you are clever, you can make many things from burel. Things that last, especially in a hotel environment—rugs and bedspreads for example.
That’s what João Tomás did. He spent the down time thinking of modern uses of burel, holding and folding it in his hands while thinking of ways a crafts-person could make an interesting texture out of stitching it in a symmetric manner—like the rug to the left, found in one of the common rooms at Casa das Penhas Douradas (click to see it bigger).
Today all the rugs and bedspreads in the birch-lined rooms of the Casa are made of burel from one of the last existing wool factories of Manteigas.
These new and modern uses of burel seem to have revitalized the industry. Burel Manteigas now has a facebook page. Burel and the fabulous mountain specialties on the breakfast buffet table are represented by a very well done web site in Portuguese and English called Saberes e Fazeres da Vila.
The sales of Burel have expanded to shops all over Portugal, where you might also find the local Serra de Estrela food specialties: nettle pesto, Chutney de Abóbora, de Castanha, de Citrinos (pumpkin, chestnut and citrus chutneys), and jellies like juniper and Elderflower.
Can an innovative, modern spa hotel coexist with traditional regional crafts? Why yes, João Tomás has made it happen and if you enjoy the high rural life, great food, hiking and kayaking—you owe it to yourself to go (and shop—everything is for sale at the thriving Casa das Penhas Douradas).