FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
When Francisco de Braganca penned “Everyone needs to relax time by time. Quinta do Archino is the right place to do so – forget about the rush of cities.” , he may not have had Thomas Hardy’s novel from 1874 in mind, far less the opening line of Thomas Gray’s “An Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard” from 1751 either. While Francisco may not have been aware he was echoing sentiment, Hardy was, when he stole the word “madding” from Gray, but the end result today, is a universal acknowledgment, with no reference to century or person, of the need to “get away from it all.”
“Getting away from it all” is much harder work than it sounds. We may scoff today that for Gray, what it took was death. For Hardy, it was deepest England; deep in the country, a countryside of myth and legend, but the stuff of dreams and King Arthur. Gray’s grave, of course, is off the menu. And deep in the country, Portugal-style, sounding less dramatic, not enough. That is, unless you know otherwise.
Perhaps this “getting away from it all” means we have to get away. To where? By the standards of Hardy, no place exists geographically any more. Deepest England is no longer so deep, and Gray’s grave has gone out of fashion as an option. But the desire, nay, the need to “get away from it all” still persists. Perhaps, we may need to look at those whose lives are still dictated by traditional family values, in terms of how the running of their estates makes demands on their time, yet affords possibilities beyond the wildest dreams of those who have never been lucky enough to savour those possibilities.. I am, of course, speaking of the unbridled luxury of riding on one’s own land, answerable to no man, and of having your mount just around the corner, available 24 hours a day, just waiting for you. If you cannot imagine that kind of lifestyle, then a trip to Archino for a week can set the record straight. As Francisco said, “Come. Follow me…” – Anna Reynolds The Art Of MarialvaThere are not many places where life goes on, relatively undisturbed by the centuries. Nor are there many places where the regular rhythm of life is undisturbed by the vagaries of the outside world. To stay true to traditional lifestyles and values can sometimes mean that they have never been departed from in the first place. That perhaps, is the very essence of Quinta do Archino, and of the family to whom it belongs. The Bragancas were the rulers of Portugal for nearly 400 years and their story forms a large part of recent Portuguese history. Within the family there is a long and illustrious tradition of horsemanship, most famously remembered today in the equestrian term ‘the Art of Marialva’. This term honours the 4th Marques de Marialva who lived in the 18th century and was Master of Horse to the King. He documented all of the required movements on horseback that a fighting soldier needed in order to be proficient on the battlefield, thereby ensuring victory and self-preservation for himself and his horse. This work is still today held as being one of only a handful of such works through time which are reckoned to be the finest written on the art form. Today’s Marques de Marialva, D. Diogo de Braganca, is also considered to be a foremost authority on all things equestrian amongst his peers worldwide and is an acclaimed rider in this art form. Such knowledge garnered through centuries of practice and special techniques passed down from father-to-son which every successful family keeps dear to themselves are today to be found in this charming place. Quinta do Archino has been in the Braganca family for nearly 300 years as a hunting estate and has seen more horsemanship than can be imagined, since as a Royal hunting ground it will have seen the best that “man and beast” had to offer.Nowadays D. Francisco de Braganca, nephew of the Marques de Marialva continues in the family tradition and rides every day on his estate as have countless Bragancas before him. It is precisely this unselfconsciousness which is the stamp of authenticity. For him this is the way things should be between a man and his horse. No partnership so fine can ever be established in a hurry or be contrived. If you are interested in the art of Dressage please visit Quinta do Archino (http://www.franciscobraganca.com/).
An evening in the country is always pleasurable. And an evening in the country around the supper table with friends, even more so. But when you find yourself in company where one member has a birthday, and your hostess has arranged a surprise treat, then an evening in the country can turn into something quite special. And so it was, that I found myself being entertained by the Fado Marialva. Rural areas in Portugal came very late to electricity. Traditional homesteads, such as the one at which I was a guest, have not abandoned time-served means of cooking, heating and lighting, for who knows when 21st Century power may fail, and necessitate a return to the old ways. In the failing light, the paraffin lamps were brought out, and the doors and windows flung wide open to receive the cooling breezes, for there were many flushed cheeks that required to be cooled! The wine was taking effect, and the blurred edges around everything may not have been entirely attributable to the flicker of the lamps! The evening was gathering momentum, and the once reserved trio were starting to get into their stride. Their audience was starting to recover from the initial surprise. To those of us who were familiar with Fado, and especially those songs which form part of the Marialva’s repertoire, no sooner was one finished, than another request was shouted out. With traditional country fare on the table, and a seemingly never ending supply of local wine, short breaks for the singers to step outside for a smoke, and to rest the vocal chords, did not prevent time passing at a gallop. We cannot remember how many songs we got through, many favorites, or especially stirring ones, being sung more than once. And we prefer NOT to remember how many times certain of those among us couldn’t resist the urge to get up and do a jig! To think that Fado is funereal, is to do it a great disservice, since while some lovely slow ones were sung, and some which were religious, that evening called for something different. As I looked at the faces of those men that night, I started to wonder if perhaps I might be able to understand some day, what it is about Fado that means so much to them and indeed all Portuguese. They were singing about their way of life, and the things which mattered most to them, and about which they cared passionately. Gone were the cares of the day, the worries about the economy and all those external factors that knaw away at our wellbeing. The more they sang, the more expressive they became, none more so than the guitarist, who had to be reigned in on occasion, and reminded that this was not a solo performance! And eventually, it was, with great regret, that we had to call it a day. The food was exhausted, the wine was exhausted and so were the people. People who started out being strangers, and parted, the greatest of friends.
How offering something special, in a very special set of ways, defies economic gloom.
When the economy is in downturn, and a business is thriving, there has to be a reason. D. Francisco de Braganca had not a moment’s hesitation in answering the question “why”. In one word, it was “quality”. Together with his wife Maria, they have been welcoming guests to their family’s homestead for around ten years now. Instead of business suffering from the economic woes which now are almost worldwide, they have seen a growth recently which has forced them to expand their accommodation to cope. There are not many people who have had to agonise over those problems, all the more so when they operate in an area which is purely rural. This kind of hospitality is known in Portugal as Agrotourism, with Equitourism being the speciality at Archino, but in the case of the Bragancas it is merely a natural extension of their hospitable natures. All Portuguese are very hospitable, but this couple all the more so. It is said that doing something really well stems from appearing to be doing nothing at all. In the case of Francisco, that not only applies to his hospitality, but also to his riding.
What is offered at Archino, in those very special set of circumstances, is Dressage tuition. The tuition can sit at any level of the rider’s ability, for there is a horse in the stable to suit everyone. Francisco’s family have a long and illustrious tradition in horsemanship, and he rides every day at Archino, and has done so since he was five, having been taught by his father in this very place.
Quinta do Archino is a family owned cork estate, which has been in the family for around 300 years, and continues to operate on a daily basis, much the same as it has done. In the time of Francisco’s father, a move was made to introduce modern farming methods, to exist alongside the traditional hunting and cork uses it has served for centuries. There is, of course electricity, but in winter the heating of choice is open fire, or wood burner. Since rural areas depend very much on self- sufficiency to survive, Archino is well served in that department. Very little food is sourced from outside the farm, and if so, more than likely comes from a neighbour or friend’s establishment. Cooking for the table is done only hours beforehand and served fresh. The silence is almost oppressive, except in the bullfrog mating season, when the din is deafening! Country charm displays itself in the furnishing of the house, tradition being respected in every choice whether it be crockery or upholstery. The day is governed by the daylight hours, and calm and respect are the order of conduct.
The stables themselves are a model of how things should be, so much so that the horses are not groomed, but vacuumed every morning. Being Lusitanos, they are predominantly grey, (this is the terminology for a white colour), and it is no mean feat to keep them gleaming, which they are. This is down to the high standard of stable management turned out by the resident groom, who is also an excellent cook! To say that the standard of tuition available to the rider is good, is to be very mean-spirited! There can be few people better qualified or experienced from whom to learn, but the history of Francisco’s riding ability is a story for another time. Suffice to say he comes from the best, and can benefit the rider in the best possible way. That is why he can claim to have so many people who return, year in, year out.
As he said, it is all about offering quality. “Quality of teaching, horses, manege, facilities, accommodation, food, service, in beautiful country surroundings”. Word of mouth has ensured that his business thrives, and brings guests back time after time. Some guests have stabled their horses on a permanent basis, returning regularly to maintain their instruction, their horses in the mean- time having been schooled to the highest standard.
The Bragancas are away from it all, but the lure of that, to those of us who are victims of urban stress, is a powerful pull. Anna Reynolds
drawing by Teresa Pedro
In Portugal, family ties run deep, and family traditions deeper still. When both of these join together a deeper passion, then the result is a heady cocktail. There is, in Portugal, a policy between family and close friends of Porta Aberta. Open door hospitality, when within reason, visits are made spontaneously, and without invitation. Usually the “payment” for this “intrusion” is food, or more often wine. But sometimes the callers bring the gift of talent. Fado itself, as a genre, was based on spontaneity, so it is no surprise to find that a spontaneous visit, ends in an evening of Fado. For when D. Francisco’s cousin, D. Manuel da Camara comes calling with friends, that is usually what happens!
Fado is the Portuguese way of expressing, in song, how people feel about their lot in life, good or bad. It has, many forms, but Fado is particular in that it is geared in its form to the situation or surroundings in which it finds itself. It is no surprise, therefore, to learn, that when the Fado Marialva sing, it is particularly suited to the rural lifestyle. The Marialvas have been together for around eight years, but have known each other always. D. Manuel da Camara, Rodrigo Pereira and Francisco Martins were good friends, “but needed to do something different”. So when three friends get together to sing, about those things in this life, about which they care passionately, then the result is almost always guaranteed to please. There are things other, in this life, than an early morning crossing of the Tagus, to give one that certain “frisson”.
They sing about “the countryside, horses, bulls and bullfights, love, women”, and D. Manuel, like D. Francisco, can look to father and grandfather when it comes to being in the family tradition. D. Manuel’s great grandfather was a professional opera singer, and his father, D. Vincente is a famous Fado singer, and can remember his younger days in the company of Amalia.