The Genesis of Quinta do Lago
Quinta do Lago, one of the loveliest golf, sports and lifestyle resorts in the Algarve, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Essential Business talks to founder André Jordan, who reminisces about how he discovered what was to become Quinta do Lago.
In April 1970, freshly arrived from Brazil, property developer André Jordan was prospecting for tracts of land in the Algarve suitable for a golf tourism development based on a hybrid between the American and European country club models.
The Polish-Brazilian entrepreneur had discovered a tract of land owned by a banker at Quinta dos Descabeçados, an estate that ran alongside the Ria Formosa lagoon and wetlands, extending down towards the sand dunes of Praia do Ancão and the Atlantic beyond. The rather grisly name, which translates as the ‘Estate of the Beheaded’, harks back to Algarvian folk legend.
In 1596, the Algarve, then controlled by Spain, was raided by the British navy. The story goes that after burning and looting Faro on July 26, some of the sailors of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, were hunted down and beheaded there in revenge.
André Jordan tells a less macabre story of how he discovered what was to become Quinta do Lago, which made him a legend in his own lifetime.
“I got a call from an architect, João Caetano, the son of Marcelo Caetano who was the Prime Minister at the time. He suggested I take a look at the Algarve, which he believed had much potential to become the new tourism destination in Europe,” he says.
The architect arranged for him to go down to the Algarve and look at various tracts of land, including the Quinta dos Descabeçados estate belonging to a company called Aquazul, owned by the banker Afonso Pinto de Magalhães.
X marks the spot
André Jordan decided none of the other tracts of land he’d been shown were suitable for what he had in mind. The developer waited for an agent to drive him to Almancil. The agent was late, and André Jordan had almost given up when he finally arrived in a Renault 4L.
“It was already lunchtime. After driving around and around on dirt tracks and getting lost, I was ready to call it a day, but the agent was determined to press on. The most stunning landscape emerged from beyond the pine trees. I knew I was on to something,” recalls André Jordan.
The entrepreneur and the driver arrived at a kind of wilderness, a scrub land. There was a man collecting scrub for local lime kilns. That man was Manuel Domingos, who would go on to be Quinta do Lago’s first and longest-serving employee, only retiring in 2021.
They drove up to an old dilapidated farmhouse surrounded by farmland run by a smallholding couple. André Jordan looked down and the whole master plan for a future luxury residential golf development unfolded before his eyes. He began pointing down towards the Ria and exclaimed: “That’s it!” Now the only problem was raising the money to buy the land.
“I wanted to develop the concept of a low-density golf resort community which blended into the natural landscape,” says André Jordan.
Jordan’s idea was that the properties would be developed with the landscape in mind and not the landscape changed to suit the properties. The Brazilian entrepreneur saw the same potential for the golf course which would weave and flow seamlessly between the pine trees, and rise and fall according to the land’s natural undulations.
André Jordan saw in this place the potential to recreate the type of developments he’d seen overseas, particularly in the United States. He had another problem; foreign investors had never heard of the Algarve and the local aristocratic, financial and industrial elites scoffed at the place and the idea. For all its natural beauty, the Algarve was seen as poor, rustic, and just not Cannes or St. Tropez!
“Overseas investors didn’t know the Algarve back in the early 1970s; they’d never heard of it,” recalls André Jordan. He then laughs. “It was even chic for Portuguese high society to pretend they didn’t know it, because they would go to Marbella and the South of France. Most of the wealthy Portuguese I knew had never even set foot in the Algarve.”
A deal is struck
The financial struggle and the difficulties of implementing a project in a hitherto unknown area were considerable.
“I hired a land surveyor and that was the easy part. The difficult part were the months that it took to even register a company.”
The 700-hectare parcel of land that was to become Quinta do Lago was sold to André Jordan for US$5 million and the deal was sealed with a down-payment of US$200,000. “I didn’t have the money to buy it outright, so the idea was that the remainder would be raised by selling off the properties that would be built there.”
But there was one more problem: “I failed to mention that I didn’t even have the $200,000 down-payment and had to find a way to raise that.” The great Portuguese entrepreneur and philanthropist António de Sommer Champalimaud saved the day and arranged for the banker Eduardo Furtado of Banco Pinto & Sotto Mayor to provide some initial funds to set up a company.
The resulting company, PlanAlgarve was the vehicle through which the tract of land Quinta dos Descabeçados was purchased and planning permission was sought. The company name was then changed to Planal, which André Jordan says was “simple, easy to remember and sounded good in any language”.
He then had to find the cash to finance the actual development project itself, and headed to St. Moritz, a popular hangout for European financiers.
The first investor to help get the project off the ground was World War II pilot hero Roland de la Poype, who put in US$200,000.
“I was over the moon because Quinta do Lago (The Lake Estate) — the name he came up with because he planned to create one — could now move forward.” André Jordan then closed the deal he had made with landowner Pinto Magalhães.
André Jordan managed to raise capital from the Banco da Agricultura, which he used to buy out the French pilot who had had a 30% stake in the project, as well as a 10% share held by an unreliable and somewhat slippery partner Paul de Rosière.
“The whole story of how I raised the money for the down-payment of Quinta do Lago was an epic one. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of or been involved in a business deal that was full of such adventure and colourful personalities,” André Jordan recalls, admitting that he left the envelope stuffed with the $200,000 down-payment in the room of the hotel in which he had been staying. When he returned, it was gone.
The hotel had moved him and his luggage, including the money, to another room. “What a relief!”
Once he had finally secured the purchase and bought out his by now rather charming but feckless business partners, André Jordan invited the architect João Caetano to coordinate the urban planning of the area. He also hired the services of a team of architects and engineers and appointed a chief engineer, Pedro Vasconcelos and Luís Nobre Guedes. All of them were urban planning specialists.
Another indispensable “card” was Fernando Braga, who was “staff member no1” at Planal, who Jordan was introduced to from a telephone operator at Aquazul. “He had just been demobilised from the Colonial Wars in Africa. He was a Jack-of-all-trades and could turn his hand to anything,” says Jordan, laughing.
“He had an Austin and I hired him as a driver to take me back and forth to Lisbon. I immediately took a shine to the lad. He told me he was an electrician. I gave him a job on the spot! ‘Fernando,’ I told him, ‘you’re going to keep an eye on what’s going on at my development’.”
Forty years later, Fernando Braga retired after a long career as the director of infrastructures at Quinta do Lago.
If the price is high, it’ll sell!
Once the land was bought, raising finance to actually develop the Quinta do Lago project and pay for all the architects, site workers and equipment hit another stumbling block. The project ground to a halt.
“There was no means of promoting my idea overseas from Portugal since there weren’t the marketing and estate agencies for such projects in Portugal those days,” Jordan recounts.
André Jordan’s salespeople under António Henriques da Silva – one of his oldest staff members who today, at age 78, still works for the André Jordan Group – asked for a meeting. They told Jordan that they “couldn’t sell the properties” and thought the prices must be too high and suggested they were lowered.
André Jordan laughs. “I told them that we needed to double the prices to make it look really exclusive. That ploy is what made Quinta do Lago sell.”
From that moment, word got around that the prices at Quinta do Lago had already doubled, which made it look like there was a lot of demand and people started buying. André Jordan proceeded to do the same thing with golf years after on his return to Portugal in 1982.
A Casa Velha
In the early 1970s, the Algarve region was generally undeveloped for tourism and had few fine-dining restaurants to wine and dine potential investors interested in Quinta do Lago.
Besides, there wasn’t really much to show them at that time, except for 20 two-bedroom studios and four-bedroom duplex apartments designed by award-winning Portuguese architect António Teixeira Guerra, which were marketed as timeshare.
André Jordan needed a showpiece and came up with a marvellous idea.
“There were no fine restaurants in that district,” recalls André Jordan. “There was one in Vilamoura called Pousada da Cegonha. There was a restaurant on the beach at Quarteira, and there was another in Almancil called O Poço. They were the best and only restaurants in the area apart from a grill at Vale do Lobo in the Dona Filipa Hotel,” he remembers.
“I started A Casa Velha by reconstructing the old farmhouse. I employed an architect who was a specialist in the history of Algarve architecture called Fernando Torres. Torres had published a book about it and was well known.”
A Casa Velha was opened in July 1972 with a grand party attended by potential investors, bankers, a smattering of high-society figures and local dignitaries. The restaurant was fronted by one of the Algarve’s real characters called Zé Cabeças, who ran the Cegonha guesthouse in Vilamoura.
“The atmosphere was very personable, the restaurant had very good staff, and with the talents of a young French-Alsatian chef, the Portuguese food improved,” he says.
“A Casa Velha was an enormous success! People went wild from that first summer in 1972 when it opened, but 1973, 1974 and even 1975 were the golden years for that restaurant,” recalls André Jordan.
And adds: “Now we have the new A Casa Velha, and the food is wonderful and far different from how it had been in the 1970s.”
Red threat at Quinta do Lago
In April 1974, there was a revolution in Portugal after the armed forces seized power, frustrated with years of colonial wars in Angola and Mozambique. The policy of the revolutionary government was to seize private land for the workers, expropriate farm estates, and nationalise banks and major companies.
André Jordan managed to prevent the resort falling into communist hands because he and his team had very good labour relations with the workers he employed. “With the first impact of the Revolution in April-May 1974, all our 250 construction workers had good contracts and our contractor also had a share in the company,” he recalls.
With Agrarian Reforms proceeding, André Jordan became friends with the manager of an important regional bank at the time – Silvério Martins at Banco Português do Atlântico, who was the administrator of Lusotur Vilamoura. With Agrarian Reforms proceeding, André Jordan became friends with the manager of an important regional bank at the time – Silvério Martins at Banco Português do Atlântico, who was the administrator of Lusotur Vilamoura. He remembers: “I called a meeting and proposed to reduce the salaries from the top down; more cuts at the top, but not for those at the bottom. That way we saved jobs. However, our workers defended the property and us from the communists. I did it with the help of Mário Barruncho, a well-known figure on both the Portuguese and international golf scene who was the first manager of golf at Quinta do Lago in the 1970s. The director of golf was Portuguese national champion António Carmona Santos,” recounts André Jordan.
He explains what happened next. “We formed the Algarve Developers’ Association because I thought we had to have a body to negotiate with the government. We came up with a hibernation plan. We convinced the government that they had no interest in nationalising Quinta do Lago, because it was for foreigners, they wouldn’t know how to run it anyway, and told them it was not worth the headache of dealing with the lawsuits resulting from expropriation.”
And continues: “We renounced taking money out of the companies in exchange for our bankers providing the money to pay the salaries. We proposed a moratorium and the government agreed,” he adds.
Leaving Quinta do Lago – a sad farewell
The workers’ committee insisted that Planal management couldn’t stay. André Jordan agreed to hand over the management to the workers’ committee, but the bank wanted the cheques signed by certified directors, not committee members.
André Jordan ingeniously suggested the bank financiers set up a power of attorney. That way, the workers’ committee could run the business, but the cheques had to be signed under the bankers’ power. Planal got out.
André Jordan would go back to Brazil, but not before throwing a glamorous inauguration party for the first golf course at Quinta do Lago on November 1, 1974, attended by the rich and famous.
That party was famously attended by one of the military revolutionaries, Colonel Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho. “None of the Portuguese upper-class spoke to him, but the overseas guests, particularly the ladies, thought him very dashing in that uniform and couldn’t get enough of him,” he laughs.
It was an ironic date. The day of the Great Lisbon Earthquake in 1755, when so many buildings came tumbling down. Would André Jordan’s dream end in ruins too? Or would Quinta do Lago rise from the chaos of revolutionary Portugal, to become even better and more lovely than before? Today we know the answer.
Jordan returned to Brazil with some sadness. The developer who had done well there in the late 1960s got burnt on various business ventures. So much so that two of his partners in Portugal thought that, as a businessman, he was all washed up.
Back in the saddle
Seven years later, André Jordan returned. “In 1981, I brokered an agreement whereby I bought the bank and shareholders out, got my shares back and settled a lawsuit. I got all my companies back. Jorge Jardim Gonçalves, then Chairman of Banco Português do Atlântico (BPA) and later the founder of Banco Comercial Português (BCP), sponsored the financial backing of the transaction.”
Any real estate business depends on sales. André Jordan and his team had started out by attracting an elite public from Europe and the US to buy the properties at Quinta do Lago.
At that time, the US elite liked Portugal as it was. Jordan persuaded the Portuguese to believe in their own qualities. “I said we don’t have to be like Dubai or Las Vegas; we have to be Portuguese, and there is a segment of the market that likes our discreet and low-key style.”
André Jordan’s philosophy at Quinta do Lago was to offer clients the option of privacy, tranquility and seclusion when they required it, and a busy social and sporting life combined with a wide range of leisure facilities.
As for the villas and townhouses, the concept was to have a main road that collected the traffic and side roads off roundabouts that funnelled vehicles to specific parts of the resort only. This meant that very few sections were affected by through traffic, and residents would enjoy peace and quiet and not hear the noise of passing cars.
The same project but different
But how does André Jordan view Quinta do Lago today? The developer says it is essentially the same, except the elite has changed.
In the 1970s, property buyers at Quinta do Lago were still mainly composed of bankers, industrialists and members of the European aristocracy. “The new elite, however, comprises financiers, technology developers, services industry entrepreneurs, and members from the world of entertainment and sports.”
This elite also has different tastes. “The current owner, Denis O’Brien, was a part of that new elite at that time; he applied his own style and views of what a great resort is and should be, which is very different from 25 years ago.”
Jordan ponders: “The basic master plan has remained the same. This is why they like to say I am the father of Quinta do Lago, because it gives people the peace of mind that this is a protected project with a legacy, one which spells good maintenance and top quality. The project is the same one, but it has evolved over time.”
And as for the resort’s deserved green credentials for being in the vanguard when it comes to sustainability, André Jordan chuckles. “I’ve been a pioneer of sustainability for about 50 years, before most people even knew the meaning of the word in today’s terms.”
Overall, André Jordan says he is extremely satisfied at how Quinta do Lago has evolved into the residential golf and lifestyle resort it has become today.
“The clients may have changed, but the requirements for excellence and quality haven’t. The standards are exactly the same ones we set at the beginning, attracting a sophisticated clientele.”
After selling Quinta do Lago in 1987, André Jordan would go on to replicate his success in luxury residential golf resorts in Portugal at Belas Clube de Campo and Vilamoura XXI. He has been decorated by the Portuguese and Brazilian republics and was awarded with the Order of the British Empire.
But André Jordan will always be remembered for his remarkable contribution to luxury residential golf tourism in Portugal, of which the Quinta do Lago resort was the first example, and continues to be the international gold standard of what a first-class residential golf and lifestyle resort should be in terms of excellence, quality, luxury and sustainability.
Text: Chris Graeme Photos: Quinta do Lago