I’m in bed at the Casa das Penhas Douradas hotel, and it feels like luxury showroom. A kind of wooly fever dream of soft furnishings, and I want them all. I’m surrounded by lust-worthy products, all from the same boutique manufacturer that in recent years has become one of the stars of Portugal’s fashion and design boom.
The pillows are Burel. The blankets are Burel. The stools and placemats and wall decorations are all Burel. They even make the slippers that are nestled neatly under my bed. It’s a Burel world up in here and I’m living in it. Not that I’m complaining.
Burel specialise in a carded wool felt, a traditional fabric originally worn by the shepherds of the Serra da Estrela region of Portugal. It’s warm, durable, water resistant and now, thanks to the imagination of the people at Burel and their collaborations with young designers and artists, highly sought after. And I love this stuff. I have the blankets and the baseball hats, I’ve bought the scarves and vase covers for my wife and I’m currently lusting after the shoes and jackets whenever I stop by one of their stores.
At first I was a little put off by the woolliness of it. The heft. The seriousness of the fabric. But now, having spent many a night having it warm my feet, I’m a fan. Which makes a visit to the factory in the small town of Manteigas a big event for me. It’s like a pilgrimage, like seeing where my bikes or my cameras are made. It’s a pleasure to watch those artisans turn something really traditional into a product that’s bang up to date, with the colors and the cuts to match any big fashion brands.
Entering the factory is like hopping in the wayback machine and putting it in reverse about 50 years. Well, actually all the way back to 1947, when it was first opened. But it was in 2010 when the current owners, Joao Tomas and Isabel Costa, discovered the factory in ruins and pledged to bring it and Burel back to life. They rehired former employees and put them back to work on the original machinery. But instead of clothing for the local shepherds, they’re banging out backpacks for urban hipsters and bedspreads for upscale homemakers with discerning taste. There are scarves galore, and Portuguese-style berets, effortlessly cool overshirts, and so much more.
There are only two problems with it all. Firstly, I have to come up with a good excuse to justify the credit card bill. And if I can manage that, I’ll have to find space for it all in my suitcase.
Check out this cool video about the Burel story. They have stores in Lisbon and Porto, and you can find out more about them here.