So on Day 1, I see Luís Valença…and on Day 3 I go to ménage of his teacher, Master Nuno Oliveira. What a trip so far!
Luís Valença was a hand picked pupil of Nuno Oliveira, who is widely considered THE modern master of classical dressage. On only my third day in Portugal, Antonio took me to yet another great of greats: the ménage of Master Nuno Oliveira- Quinta do Brejo. Though Oliveira is deceased, his place still holds a mystical feel. History oozes from the stones there. The facility is tucked back off the road, down a narrow dirt path. I would never have found it on my own. It sits, perched on the side of a hill overlooking a narrow green canyon. The walls and arches are all painted white.
The traditional Portuguese arena sits half way up the hill, under several trees. As we walked up the hill, we passed the 2 small barns that held a few eager faces. It’s a quiet place. Just to the side of the arena is a small office. We were greeted there by Tomás Alarcão. Tomás was the last of Nuno’s students before he died. Tomás is a lovely man, warm and kind. He does not speak English but when he tells stories he gestures and so you can kind of pick up on the gist of it.
We walked up to the arena. On the outside wall of the arena were plaques listing all the names of the horses Nuno had had there. Tomás opened the door to the viewing area. Four arched windows that had two swinging doors each overlooked the arena floor. It was silent and still. The air was not stuffy, but clear. It looked like a place of work that was at rest. It looked like it held history in the soil. It looked like a place that was once very, very special but had now quietly gone into retirement. It felt content, if a place can feel that way.
We stood in the doorway over the viewing area and Tomás recounting some tales from his time with Nuno. He said when he first came, he was intimidated. He had heard Nuno was very strict and no nonsense. He walked up to the arena and came into the viewing area. The area was thick with smoke from all the people sitting in there watching Nuno, and all of them were smoking. Tomás was just a teenager. Nuno was riding. He saw Tomás, stopped his horse, and said in a stern voice, “You, who are you? Go outside. I’ll finish working this horse and meet you out there.” Tomás scurried outside very quickly. He said, “That was my first day here!” And yet he stayed on. He said Nuno was stern, but actually quite a funny man.
A lady showed up with some friends to do exactly what I was doing- view this historic place. We all walked up behind the arena towards the top of the property. As we passed the back of the arena, two pillars came into view, their ties connected to each other in the middle. Imagine the horses that worked in those pillars.
We continued to the top of the property, passing several lush grassy paddocks where horses get turned out. At the top of the hill, there was an outdoor arena, surrounded by pine trees. We then walked down to look at the small apartments that were built for people to come and stay.
They are all cozy little apartments with sitting rooms, a bedroom, and a small kitchenette. Just the essentials. Oh and each has a fire place. They look out over the little valley in front of the property. At the far end is an entertainment area, and upstairs there is a large seating area with huge floor to ceiling pictures of Nuno Oliveira.
I can’t tell you how peaceful and rich in history this place was. You could just feeeeelll the weight of it. And Tomás is a lovely man who, if I could speak Portuguese (a shortcoming I am fast trying to remedy), I would sit and listen to for hours. Even though we don’t speak the same language, his warmth and kindness come through just fine.