A buoyant business: Alentejo's liquid asset

Published online: Oct 27, 2011 News PAUL BERNHARDT, ETN PORTUGAL
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A unique Portuguese tourism product has enjoyed its busiest summer season since operations began in 2006.

According to Manuel Maia, Commercial Director of Amieira Marina whose core activity is the rental of houseboats, onboard stays averaged 5 nights, an occupation rate of over 80%. Overnights increased to 100% during August, the month when most Portuguese take their vacation.

"It was the best summer on record," he confirmed, "During August [guests] were staying for over one week, and we had many repeat visitors."

Currently the only company in Portugal offering a houseboat holiday experience, Amieira Marina has seen passenger numbers increase year-on-year since its inauguration. However, Maia conceded that unusually bad weather conditions in May meant that 2011 figures are expected to fall short of last year's total. "We didn't see the growth expected this year, and we are slightly down on 2010."

The marina, a recipient of the coveted Blue Flag award for environmental quality and sustainability, is located on Alqueva Great Lake near the village of Amieira, in the heart of southern Portugal's Alentejo province.

At 83 km in length, a shoreline of approximately 1,160 km and a surface area of 250 km2, Alqueva Great Lake is the largest man-made reservoir in Europe.

The marina is the first port of call for boating and water sports enthusiasts drawn to this immense body of water and the land surrounding it.

Ground amenities include a café-bar and esplanade, grocery store, and a nautical sports shop. Perched nearby on higher ground is a panoramic restaurant, a noted culinary hotspot recommended by Michelin. The marina is also the departure point for sightseeing cruises operated by another company, Gescruzeiros, whose boats have a capacity for 25 and 120 passengers.

Amieira's houseboat fleet currently numbers 15 vessels - French manufactured Nicols watercraft of various classes specifically designed for river and canal cruising. The boats can accommodate 2-12 people depending on the model and can be hired for a day, long weekends, or over several weeks.

Built to a high degree of comfort, each houseboat is fully equipped with a kitchen that incorporates a stove, oven, and refrigerator. Facilities also include toilet and shower units. Cabin configuration differs between the types of vessel hired but is ideal for couples, larger groups of friends, or families.

The self-contained nature of the product affords the opportunity for holidaymakers to pilot their own vessel and explore at leisure a region of the country whose geography has been totally transformed by this remarkable liquid asset.

Alqueva Lake was created in 2002 when the Barragem de Alqueva (Alqueva Dam) closed its sluice gates to allow the waters of the River Guadiana and several tributaries that rise in Spain to flood a vast tract of the Alentejo, ostensibly to provide much needed irrigation to one of Portugal's most arid regions. It was also seen as an opportunity to generate employment in the agricultural and tourism industries. The project, though, was not without its detractors.


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