Turismo de Portugal conducted a survey on the environmental performance of tourist accommodations. There are concrete measures for saving water and energy, but there is
Biovilla is a cooperative that dreams in the collective. Everyone does everything, not least because the aim is to keep running a space that is not only accommodation, but also a restaurant, a permaculture center and an example of sustainability. Peggada paid a visit to this place in Arrábida and can state that you’ll not leave the same as you entered.
It’s 10 in the morning. Margarida and Carolina have already made breakfast for the guests, set the table, washed the dishes and are starting to make a mental list of what’s still on the day’s to-do list. But first, a pause.
They turn the music up loud and, barefoot as is always the case when you enter the Biovilla, they dance with free movements.
During the first song we just watch this way of waking up to the day. On the second occasion, we couldn’t resist surrendering to the spirit of Biovilla, a space that was born to transform people.
It’s not just accommodation, although it has eight rooms that can take up to 24 guests. They are not a restaurant, even if they do serve lunches and dinners to order. They’re not a school, although you can learn a lot there. Biovilla is difficult to describe in one sentence, but Rivis Ferreira, who is responsible for its marketing, makes an attempt: “It’s a cooperative for sustainable development and regeneration”. Although sustainability and regeneration go hand in hand, Rivis prefers to focus on the latter concept, which he defines as “transforming something that already exists into something better”.
And that’s what Biovilla does, in a cooperative effort that makes this space a case study like few others in Portugal. “The only reason we haven’t developed into a community is because of construction obstacles. As we are part of the Arrábida Natural Park, all the area that can be built on is already being used, even though we have a total of 55 hectares of open space,” says Rivis.
Jaque Santos, who has since joined the conversation, explains that it is in this outdoor space that they make vegetable gardens, invest in permaculture and projects with native seeds. They have even collected seeds in the mountains to be distributed throughout the country, especially in areas hit by forest fires.
The big problem in the region, which affects this work done with the land, is the lack of water. “We have three wells that dried up ahead of schedule this summer. It was the second year in a row that we had to buy water,” he laments.
Sustainability in every detail
At check-in, all guests are alerted to the problem of water scarcity and, as such, no one is surprised to find a bucket next to the shower so that it can be filled with the first shower water, which is still cold but can be used, for example, to flush the toilet or wash the dishes.
Baths need to be short, because there’s so much to do throughout the day. First, and waiting for us, was the most homely breakfast we’ve ever tasted. Vegetarian, like everything served at Biovilla, it consists of oatmeal with fruit, spices and nuts; scrambled eggs, bread (homemade whenever possible); cottage cheese from a neighboring producer, sliced seasonal fruit, homemade oatmeal and fresh herbal tea. Oh, and at the first meal each guest is given a glass and a cloth napkin and is invited to keep them as their own until they leave.
It is also possible to have lunch or dinner at Biovilla, always by appointment. “The idea is always to avoid waste,” says Rivis. They are fans of creative cooking, i.e. thinking up a dish with the ingredients they have available. For €20 per person, there’s soup, main course, dessert, water, tea and coffee. But it’s not just a ladle of soup or a ready-made dish. There’s a whole pot of soup, a dish of lasagna and another of apple crumble, so you know that in a kitchen that looks like a grandmother’s no one goes hungry.
A cooperative that wanted to be a community
The scarcity of water — which limits the presence of fauna and flora on the site — and building limitations — which prevent them from receiving more people — are two obstacles to Biovilla’s expansion to new horizons.
In addition to accommodation, Biovilla also offers coworking spaces, retreats, yoga classes and dance classes. Jaque, Rivis, Margarida, Carolina and the rest of the staff and volunteers are all split in different work areas and can be seen, for example, dealing with invoices or cleaning the rooms. “We all do everything,” says Rivis, who was preparing to launch an Instagram campaign when we arrived, but had already baked a cake for lunch.
The accommodation is divided into double or triple rooms with or without a private bathroom and a special room, because it has no walls and is in the middle of nature, with access to a dry bathroom.
“We want the people who visit us to leave here transformed,” explains Jaque. And that’s what happens. “We value the regeneration of the territory, but also human regeneration, and we have seen major transformations. For many, the Biovilla is where they first come into contact with a dry toilet, a vegetarian meal, tinkering with the earth or saving their bath water for use. “What we want most is for those who visit us to take a bit of the Biovilla with them.” A lot of it came back with us.
Marta Cerqueira is from Minho and vegetarian. Luckily, she lives in Lisbon, where there is more tofu than sarrabulho. She has been a journalist for over 15 years, the last of which writing about food and sustainability. Now, out of the newsroom, she continues to write whenever she can, be it in magazines, journals, post its, or on her Instagram page, which she uses to share a life divided between being a mom-person-foodie-traveler. Still, she created Peggada so she could write about what doesn't fit in a magazine, journal, post it or Instagram: a better world.
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