Portugal Sojourn - Far from the maddening crowd! May 28th 2012
Back now from my eight week retreat at my beautiful hilltop “House -in-the-Clouds” and missing it already, has made me realise and understand how valuable it is to take oneself completely away from the everyday drama and rat race of running a sizeable and difficult business and just chill completely.
I see so many of my high powered friends who run companies far more complex and demanding than my little French Sole, who have hardly any holidays, start work at five in the morning, work through until midnight, suffer the daily stress of the risk and responsibilities of owning and running a business and then hardly take any time off for themselves.
Introspection is not something I suffer from, I am far too busy “doing” than contemplating my navel - however, since I first bought my lovely Portuguese home some fifteen years ago, I have disciplined myself to “switch off” completely. Although I always spend the time designing for the new collections and I have a studio there and staff who help me, I also fly over from my Spanish factory for a few days, my team from there - a pattern cutter and a sample maker and usually another factory worker, so that we can all work together in a relaxed, warm and confidential atmosphere.
I try not to attend to emails - my assistant is instructed not to bother me with anything that is not urgent and I seldom answer the telephone. Television is restricted to boxed sets of my favourite television programmes, Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld and Desperate Housewives were on the menu this time round. My dearest friend Ian Bevan the painter and muralist and I spend much time together discussing art and various topics of local gossip.
Having bought myself a beautiful new plaything - my gorgeous and much envied convertible red and white Fiat 500 - I enjoy a spin down to the beach in the afternoons with my adorable little dog Tuxa sitting on the back seat with her ears flying in the wind . Life in the hilltop village of Santa Barbara de Nexe where I have my home is very different from London. The pace is slow and gentle, the shops are empty. I can park anywhere at all; there are no restrictions - just leave the car anywhere in the road and usually right outside where I want to go. Sleeping dogs lie around in the middle of the little streets and the smell of orange blossom and jasmine fills the air everywhere I go.
I am so lucky with my household staff who have all been with me since day one. Rogerio my gardener ( so handsome !!) and his assistant Adeuimento have built and treasure my Italian style garden which is an acre of terraced lawns, orange groves and secret courtyards and we draw our own water from a well which is pumped through to our own cisterna tank and this keeps the gardens green and lush all year round. My housekeeper Ellen and her husband Roger keep the house in working order and Ellen cooks all our meals. Each morning she goes to the village bakery for fresh bread and croissants and cooks us an amazing breakfast which is always laid out and ready by 8.30 am!! Lunch is always served on the terrace and we gaze out to sea while we eat .......bliss. The two Marias, my maids, arrive at 9 am and spend the morning cleaning and little Lucia from the village collects the laundry.
Life is heavenly and the sun shines every day. I am so, so lucky. Family come and go, my husband joined me for a week or so and my angelic granddaughter came to spend her half term holiday. Aged seven and a half, she enjoys my remarkable swimming pool which is one of only very few that were allowed to be built on a rooftop and my pool is on the roof of the first floor above the domestic and utility rooms and overlooking the sea, so that when we swim, there is only the sky and sea all around, it seems like swimming in the air and she adores it.
The house is built on a hillside so there are four floors in total and stairs everywhere so when it is time to leave, I feel energised, fit and have very well developed calf muscles! Here are a few pictures of my beautiful house and I hope you will see why I so adore the time I spend and treasure there and if you are thinking of holidaying in Portugal and fancy spending time in it’s most secret of unspoilt villages - please don’t !!