Inside Carvoeiro visits Convent’Bio
We have patiently been watching the renovation of the old convent, just off the EN125 road that runs through the centre of Lagoa, and wondered what it might be — another hotel or maybe a private residence? When the sign went up saying Convent’Bio, we were thrilled to find that there would be a working biological and entirely organic farm right on our doorstep.
Our first visit was in early February, and we were pleasantly surprised that we recognised the face of the operation, Fátima Baiona, who is an Agronomic Engineer that we met a few years ago as one of the founders of the organic farm Pé de Salsa in Monchique. Following the recent fires in Monchique and business complications, Fátima was approached by Engineer Pina, of the local agricultural and gardening company, Sani Pina, to create something at the old convent site in Lagoa. The initial idea was vague, and Fátima insisted that the site must be fully organic, as that is where her passion and beliefs lie. She even told Pina, “This can only work on my terms”. The pair agreed and bounced ideas back and forth to create a plan of action. The first stage of operation took place in January 2018 and the land has been turned and is producing a bounty of beautiful crops on some of the 3.5-hectare plot around the main building.
The building itself has been very sympathetically restored and has a lovely feeling to it, it’s almost as if the new parts have always been there. There’s a central café and shop area as you go through the courtyard packed with a fabulous array of produce from the farm and carefully selected suppliers whom they deal with directly. “We are trying to bring back the roots and heritage of the old Algarve. Our crops include asparagus, pumpkin, courgette, aubergine, fennel, cabbage, carrots, green beans, beetroot, spinach and herbs,” Fátima said. “We are just beginning to plant 2ha of avocados on another site, near Sesmarias, and will soon plant rows of fruit trees along the borders of our property.”
In the shop, you will find a great selection of vegan, biological and organic products such as many varieties of pasta, pâtés, juices, honey, sauces and pulses, which you might expect, but they also carry ranges of home and personal cleaning products, suntan lotions, and even reusable nappies and sanitary products that are free from harmful chemicals. There’s a frozen section that ensures the freshness and quality of the meats on sale along with a refrigerated area for more perishable items. The central focus is the vibrant vegetables that come in all shapes and sizes. There will be an area where you can buy a vast selection of both wet and dry products by weight, which is a fantastic idea, especially for people who live alone or only want a small quantity of something. Teas, spices, flowers, beans, grains and pulses will also be available in this section along with oils and honey.
By the entrance, you’ll find the café that is open every day (except Sunday), from 10am to 6pm in the winter and until 7pm in the summer. There’s a cosy seating area inside where you can enjoy a healthy meal or snack from the freshly prepared seasonal menu and a delicious selection of homemade cakes, including vegan options. Everything is organic, and they don’t use refined sugars. On the drinks front, they have BioCoffee by Delta, fresh juices, organic wines and teas to choose from that can be enjoyed either inside or outside on the courtyard. On Saturdays, they plan to host brunch by the wood stove, where they will be baking homemade loaves of bread and pizzas, and you can enjoy the view out over the crops. This has been inspired by the local tradition of breaking hot bread (tibornas), which reminds Fátima of sitting around the table with her grandmother at the weekend. Convent’Bio will also introduce workshops soon and the owners want to get children involved by introducing them to the fields, where they can understand the importance of organic farming principles and where their food comes from. The top floor of the main building houses a large room that has been earmarked for show cooking, workshops, yoga and other complementary activities. They also plan to host concerts, exhibitions and the occasional gallery.
Convent’Bio work with small producers and they have a field-to-plate ethos, taking pride in knowing the source of everything in the shop. Prior to opening, they were already in full swing with their home-delivery service — you can shop online for all of their lines and either have it delivered straight to your door in the Algarve for only €3.95 or collect your box from one of the many pick-up points from Tavira to Aljezur.
The project has been a labour of love, and you can tell there has been considerable attention to detail in the renovation. There is a feeling of tranquillity and calmness as soon as you enter the grounds and as you approach the building, you might be surprised to find that a lot of it is under one year old as it looks as if it’s been there forever.
It’s a great collaboration between two unlikely business partners that is bound to set the ball rolling as far as organic farming in the area is concerned.
Text Mia Wallace
Photos Daniel James Clarke