Amália’s beach house

Portugal would be different without the fado singer Amália Rodrigues. Her voice could speak for us all, expressing feelings that words cannot describe. Born poor, she went on to sing fado all over the world. The foreign audiences did not understand her words. But it did not matter, her voice said it all. 

In the 1960s, Amália and her husband César started to look for a place to build a house that could serve as a retreat. They bought a cliff overlooking the ocean in a sleepy Alentejo village called Brejão and hired Francisco da Conceição Silva, an architect popular with high society, to design a house. The property has access to a shell-shaped beach covered with fine sand. Everybody calls it Amália’s beach.  

Whenever we came to the beach, we tried to get a glimpse of the house. But the architect made sure that the singer had the privacy she craved–the home is invisible to outsiders.

Amália had no children, so she left the house to a foundation that funds a retirement home for artists and other causes. In 2016, the foundation started renting the house to guests. It is a singular pleasure to spend time in such a unique place.

There are two bedrooms and a large sitting and dining area. The floors are paved with terracotta tiles. The ceilings, covered with exotic wood, slope down to frame the spectacular views. The furniture is sparse perhaps to make room for the sea which fills the house with its presence. Outside, a swimming pool reflects the Alentejo sky.

During our stay, the sun was, like Amália, moody and prone to stage fright. One hour it hid behind clouds, another it filled the house with its radiant warmth. But the sunset was always spectacular. 

Ana Monteiro and Rui Maurício, a charming young couple, care for the property. They are helped by Eugénia Afonso, who worked for the singer for 25 years. Eugénia told us that Amália had simple tastes. She liked to sleep late and then go to the beach. She loved flowers and preferred simple foods: vegetable soups, grilled sardines, snails, and fried codfish. 

The house has no Amália memorabilia except for a few well-chosen photographs. Still, it is difficult not to feel the strength of the singer’s personality and the void that she left.

Just as we were leaving, an adorable little girl came running towards the house. She is Ana and Rui’s daughter. “What’s her name?” we asked. “She is called Amália,” said Rui, smiling.

You can book Herdade Amália through this link.

Amalia’s beach

AmaliaBeach

The great fado singer Amalia Rodrigues built a beautiful house on a cliff with an expansive view of the ocean. The adjacent beach is called Amalia in her honor.

To visit this magical place, you need to drive to Brejão, a village on the southern tip of the Alentejo coast. Stop in one of the coffee shops and ask for directions to the beach (you have to follow a hidden path alongside a small brook).

This secluded beach is a perfect setting for declarations of love. The spirit of the place will inspire you. But if words fail you, you can always say: this beach was named after Amalia, a singer who sang about the joy of love and the pain of loss. I brought you here because I love you and I never want to lose you.

 

Few people know that you can rent Amalia’s house by emailing the Foundation Amalia Rodrigues (secretariado@amaliarodrigues.pt). But now you do!

What is Fado?

Lisboa_890Guitarra PortuguesaFado is a mystery, said the great singer Amália Rodrigues. This musical style emerged in Lisbon’s old neighborhoods in the 19th century. Its unique character comes from the Portuguese guitar, a twelve-string instrument with a haunting, melancholic sound. No one knows who invented it.

Female singers dress in black, as if they are in mourning. When their voices soar, they express ancient sorrows that don’t fit in the 12-tone scale of western music. So, they reach for the microtones of old Arab prayers. How do they remember these sounds?

Fado is Amália Rodrigues, a singer who could express the inexpressible. When she died, in the last year of the 20th century, fado seemed to die with her. But singers like Carminho and Mariza picked up where Amalia left of, singing with voices that have one thousand trills. Where did they learn them?

You can hear Amalia Rodrigues here. Click here and here for Carminho’s and Mariza’s web sites.