Shelter: Casas Na Areia

Tucked within a nature reserve on Portugal's Atlantic coast, this beachy getaway brings the outdoors inside
August 21, 2018Words by Mychael HenryPhotos by Mychael Henry

An hour and a half south of Lisbon, set amongst rice fields on the outskirts of a fishing village along the Sado River estuary, Casas Na Areia blends in with the beachy landscape. The minimalist property was originally conceived by João Rodrigues, of Silent Living, as weekend retreat from the city and a place for him to reconnect with the coast and countryside. In 2010 he collaborated with notable Portuguese architect Manuel Aires Mateus on the project, creating what has now become an architecturally renowned small hotel. The two men have collaborated on three other projects as well: Casa No Tempo near the city of Évora, Cabanas no Rio in Comporta, and Santa Clara 1728 in the Alfama neighborhood of Lisbon.

Casas Na Areia lies in Comporta. The drive south from Lisbon crosses the 25 de Abril Bridge (named in commemoration of the Carnation Revolution of 1974) to the town of Setúbal. From there you can ferry across the estuary and onto the far edge of Reserva Natural do Estuário do Sado. After exiting the ferry, head along a two-lane highway hugged on both sides by meter-high sand dunes and pine forest. Fifteen minutes of “unassuming” landscape later, you’ll make a left-hand turn heading inland, deeper into the estuary. From there, travel through what looks to be a town (it disappears as quickly as it appears). Past this, the rice fields start, and somewhere amongst the checkered landscape of elevated roads and flooded fields is Casas Na Areia. 

Incorporating design cues from the surrounding environment and through the use of local building materials, Mateus created a four-building, thatched complex that pays homage to the architecture of the nearby fishing community while seamlessly blending the structures into the horizon. Two of the cabanas are made of wood and reed, the other two of white concrete. The thatched roofs of each were built by local craftsman Antonio Pinela, who harvested grasses from along the banks of the nearby Sado River. The four thatched structures are connected by a sun-bleached plank walkway, landscaping tucked in at every bend.

The complex sleeps eight. Three of the buildings are dedicated to the act of rest. Inside each room, smooth concrete floors are met with clean lines, expanses of white, reflective surfaces, porcelain, and crisp white linens.

The last building is the pavilion. The thatch-and-reed structure houses a kitchen, large dining area, and living room. The open floor plan easily accommodates a full house of guests. Again taking cues from nature, Mateus had the entire space carpeted in sand, bringing the outdoor elements in and creating a constantly changing topography. Heaters buried underneath can give the entire surface warmth during the cooler months.

The grounds at Casas Na Areia are ideal for a couple looking to spend quality time together or a group of friends looking for a weekend getaway. The space is adaptable, offering plenty of privacy as well as enough room for gatherings around the pool, the decks, or in the living room. Perhaps share a meal together in the pavilion while wiggling your toes in the sand — just make sure to take your slippers off at the door.  

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