In May I had the pleasure of staying at Monte Velho. An enthusiastic rather than accomplished dressage rider, I couldn’t wait to ride the famous Lusitano horses and learn from some fantastic trainers.
As we drive through the Alentejo countryside and begin our approach to Monte Velho, I can see that photographs cannot quite do justice to the beauty of this place. At the top of a hill, flagged by tall cypress trees is a charming collection of bright white and blue buildings with red roofs, surrounded by cobbled courtyards. My driver tells me that it is not unusual for people to cry when they arrive at Monte Velho…and seeing it for myself I can completely see why!!
We go under an elaborate archway, past the stallion block and the chapel and arrive at the main guest building. I am greeted by Diogo Lima Mayer (Jnr), whose illustrious family own Monte Velho.
Diogo shows me around; we wander to the guest lounge with its stylish interior and out to the pool with its amazing views of the lake and the countryside beyond
The next few days are filled to the brim with horses and dressage and I love every second.
The resident peacock ensures an early start one day and as I look out from the dining room terrace, I see glossy horses being brought in from the paddocks. Beyond the outdoor arena I spot shiny round mares with gorgeous foals at their sides. They wander through the spring flowers and then gather in a little herd under one of the cork trees. What a great start to the day.
Instruction at Monte Velho is taken very seriously. Chief Instructor Coralie Baldrey is an inspiring teacher. She trained at the Cadre Noir in Saumur, has been taught by some of most renowned riders in Portugal and regularly trains with Kyra Kyrklund. João Torrão worked at Monte Velho during the holidays as a boy. Now a qualified instructor, he also trains and competes horses like the incredible Equador MVL. A talented rider, he also teaches with great enthusiasm and humour.
After my lesson there is the chance to watch other guests riding and then I have the pleasure of watching João work the handsome grey gelding Dom Quixote. João is fantastic at encouraging horses to work for him and improve without being forceful.
For my first lesson I am paired with Valente, a tall 13-year-old grey gelding who is a firm favourite with guests. He feels balanced and incredibly well-schooled, but is a great teacher because he won’t do more than you ask of him. Over the next few days I ask more from him and am duly rewarded, but can tell that he is keeping a great deal more ‘under the bonnet’ for the more experienced dressage rider!
Taking a break from dressage, with trainee rider João Pedro Rosa as our guide, we set off on a trail ride through the Alentejo countryside and onto a neighbouring property. Feeling rather lucky we canter our willing horses, ears pricked in anticipation across carpets of blue and purple wild flowers. At the end of our canter is a big lake and João leads us through the shallows trotting and cantering. Off we go, laughing as the spray kicked up by the horses cools us in the heat of the afternoon.
On another day, we are winding our way along shady tracks flanked on both sides by cork oaks and come across a delightful scene; by the lake some of our fellow guests are waiting in the shade to greet us. We dismount and tie up the horses and Diogo toasts our holiday with a cool glass of white wine. As the sun begins to fade, we mount again and return to the stables. Back at Monte Velho a shower and delicious meal await.
I stayed one night in the apartment, which is lovely and spacious with a lounge area, bedroom and en-suite shower room. It is roomy and very stylish but has a different feel to the other rooms, being more traditionally furnished. Then for my final two nights I stayed in one of the recently refurbished standard rooms, which are superb. These spacious rooms have high ceilings, en-suite shower rooms and lovely terraces overlooking the gardens and lake beyond complete with an outdoor shower. The premium rooms are absolutely gorgeous and have far-reaching views of the Alentejo countryside. They are larger than the other rooms, with a lovely big bathroom and a terrace with an outdoor shower.
The guest lounge looks out onto the pool area and has a little kitchen with a fridge full of soft drinks, wine, beer and juices. There are tea and coffee-making facilities and you just make a note of what you have. On the other side of the courtyard is the dining room and large terrace which have great views of the main outdoor arena”.
During another lesson I ride the impressive Bemposto, a 9-year-old dark bay gelding. We seem to click and after cantering spiral circles and doing a few supply exercises, before long we are working on shoulder-in and medium trot. He is an incredible horse and I wish I had more time to learn from him.
But sadly it is time to say goodbye and all too quickly I am heading back to Lisbon for my flight home. Thank you Diogo for your gracious hospitality, thank you Coralie and João for trying to make me a better rider and most of all, thank you to the horses who have been the very best of teachers. You can read more about Monte Velho here