This Alentejano has found his place in the sun, which happens to be in the bestkept secret of Brazil’s Nordeste region.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” doesn’t apply to Alentejo-born Joaquim Gonçalves. It only takes a few minutes wandering around his seaside garden on the Rota Ecológica (Ecological Route), in Alagoas, to understand why. Here, the large green expanse rubs shoulders with the beach, where he constructed his Aldeia Beijupirá pousada (lodge), which boasts collections worthy of a botanical garden. There are jacarandas, white, purple and yellow robles, baobab, hibiscus and over 20 different types of palm trees – including rare and leafy date palms. Among the fruit trees there are also pitanga, jocote, acerola cherry, cashew, mango, rose apple, avocado, guava, lime trees… some of whose existence he only became aware of after moving to the tropics 18 years ago. Beneath their boughs, the grass is so green that it seems at odds with the 30-degree temperatures and sandy soil. “The garden is my passion,” says Joaquim, whose favourite hobby is flying over his “creation” with a drone that visually relays the immensity of natural pools on his doorstep. “I plant everything.”
Of course, the very Alentejano herb pennyroyal is here. As are olive trees. Although he says that he doesn’t try to create a little Portugal in Brazil, at home the water (Luso) and coffee (Delta) he drinks hail from the motherland. Pining for good Portuguese bread inspired him to make Alentejo-style loaves, now perfected with a range of natural fermentation. That said, Joaquim’s soul is increasingly Brazilian. He’s a dab hand at barbecuing picanha (rump cap steak) and wears Bermuda shorts and flip-flops, which are perfect for his day- -to-day tasks. In addition to the garden (naturally), he dedicates his time to managing the booming tourism businesses he created since leaving Vila Viçosa, where he worked for almost 20 years in the marble industry, in search of his place in the sun. “I dreamed of living in a tropical country,” he recalls. “Nowadays, I feel like a Brazilian.”
He was still looking for land to build his pousada, when he met Adriana Didier. He went for dinner at her restaurant in Porto de Galinhas and they met while he was waiting for a storm to pass. He talked about his project and it didn’t take long until Adriana was involved, both professionally and personally. The couple found a little-known area, halfway between the capitals of Maceió and Recife, and started creating one of the most charming pousadas in Brazil’s Nordeste region. Aldeia Beijupirá was initially built with nine bungalows named after indigenous tribes. Over the years, seven more bungalows have been added to the first site and accommodation has tripled. Joaquim came to the area and never thought of leaving, with today’s family business now including a stake in another pousada and a network of restaurants.
One of these establishments is a stone’s throw from the pousada and a declaration of its origins. It’s called Amor in honour of a dear friend from the old days, Amor Fialho, co-owner of the famous Fialho restaurant in Évora. Joaquim tells us that, when he heard about the gesture, his friend was unable to contain the tears. Here, diners can enjoy good wines from the Alentejo, Douro and Lisbon region, as well as a top prawn and rice dish. Joaquim’s nostalgia has also put a rather eccentric duck recipe on the menu: a ravioli with truffle tangerine sauce. From time to time, customers are surprised by pastéis de nata (custard tarts), which are freshly made and served hot. The next menu promises as cod cataplana (made in a traditional Portuguese copper pot).
“Portugal’s my country, where I was born. And Brazil is a country close to my heart”, declares Joaquim, who normally visits his homeland three or four times a year to see family. “I love the different people, races, plants and animals”, he says, while listing his plans for the near future: new business in gastronomy, a new experience with vine plants and the desire to plant grapes. Right there, in his seaside oasis.
by Rachel Verano /// photo Bruno Barata
web design & development 262media.com