Q&A: Kurt Gillig

 In Opinion

Kurt Gillig joined Vila Vita Parc in the Algarve as executive chef in 2000, and has played an instrumental role in positioning the ­resort over the years as one of Europe’s finest. In 2010, he was ­appointed General Manager and later became Managing ­Director of the company’s overall touristic operations in Portugal. These include the Herdade dos Grous country estate in the ­Alentejo, the Vila Vita Collection of luxury villas in the Algarve and other projects currently under development. Kurt lives in the Algarve with his wife Sonia and son Lucas.

How long have you lived in Portugal? 

I came to this beautiful country in 2000, so I have been living here for 18 years.

What made you choose this country?

I was brought up with fine wine and great food, and my passion for Port wine developed in an early stage of my life, so Portugal was ­already familiar to me in that sense. Also, in my first years in the hotel industry in Carinthia, Austria, this country was always praised as a golf destination. When in 1998 I met the founders of Vila Vita, Mr and Mrs Pohl, Portugal became more and more present in my life. Their passion for this country was overwhelming and absolutely contagious! Two years later, when I was invited to be part of Vila Vita’s team, I did not hesitate. I was already in love with this country!

Was it difficult for you to acclimatise yourself?

I didn’t have relevant difficulties. I felt very welcomed. I came directly to our resort, Vila Vita Parc, and I was just amazed by the incredible people and their warm hospitality. The landscape was amazing and the weather unbelievable. As soon as I entered the gate at VVP, I knew this place would become an important part of my life. Then I met my wife Sonia and, of course, this was the beginning of a long love story with this country.

What do you most like about Portugal? 

Definitely the people and the culture. The Portuguese are very friendly and welcoming. They are also known to go out of their way to help and this is something I have always felt here. Hard-working and adaptable, with a strong sense of family and friends, the Portuguese easily conquered my heart! I’m also very fortunate that I can ride my Harley Davidson more than three-quarters of the year.

What do you least like?  

Whenever we start a new project, it’s almost predictable that some of the deadlines will not be achieved, so we are already committed to thinking of an alternative scenario to compensate for that; very ­disturbing. Going with the flow is something I had to learn here, but this is a difficult point, and I praise all the Portuguese companies and entrepreneurs that are committed to improving this issue. I do my best to understand, embrace and respect the culture. I strongly believe that those who go the extra mile will be recognised and this differentiating aspect will benefit us all.

Which is your favourite region in Portugal? 

I obviously like the Algarve and the easy-going lifestyle. Its natural resources and landscape are extraordinary. However, I think that what makes it even more fun is the multiple possibilities that the country offers; if we want to relax and lose notion of time, there’s Alentejo and Douro Valley. If you are looking for a vibrant lifestyle and culture, there’s Lisbon. If you’re looking for culture and history, the Centre and the North are just phenomenal! And the islands are all of this together!

Name your favourite restaurant.

This is tricky because of my position, but some of my favourites are owned by Vila Vita Portugal, which has at least 13 restaurants ­distributed between the Algarve and the Alentejo. But if we talk of ­regional Portuguese food in mainland Portugal, I would definitely choose Marisqueira Rui in Algarve, Solar dos Presuntos in Lisbon and Restaurante Líder in Porto. My apologies to all the wonderful restaurants out there!

What is your favourite traditional Portuguese food (dish or ingredient)? 

My absolute favourite Portuguese dish is Arroz de Lingueirão (rice with razor clams), an Algarve speciality. This traditional dish is really an unmissable gastronomic experience.

And your favourite Portuguese wine (or grape variety/wine region)?

I’m a huge fan of Portuguese wines and I really appreciate wines from all the regions. The richness of each terroir and the variety of grapes make it very difficult for me to choose one wine only. Easier to point out, however, is my favourite grape. Baga is a very difficult variety to produce but unique in its flavours of berries and black plums, mixed with coffee, hay, tobacco and smoke. It can age very well, gaining ­elegance and complexity, and creating a truly remarkable wine.

And finally, your ideal destination for a Portuguese weekend getaway?

Alentejo is my favourite weekend getaway. It’s close enough but far enough to recharge my batteries. The surroundings are ideal to enjoy the moment. This mad idea that we need to be constantly reachable and available takes a different perspective out there, where the world seems to stand still, and nature just goes its way. All of that, combined with excellent food and extraordinary wines, makes the Alentejo the perfect weekend getaway.