A visit to Barbara from Tomelo

Before we set off on our trip to Portugal, we went in search of Portuguese products that could fit into the Kitchener range and asked our producers.André from La Paz immediately raved about the Tomelo soaps. He doesn't need anything else and the project is fantastic. (Even Cleopatra is said to have bathed in donkey's milk.) Tomelo makes soaps from donkey's milk. Donkey milk from the only Portuguese donkey breed, the Burro de Miranda. The Burro de Miranda is now threatened with extinction. Barbara von Tomelo breeds this breed and uses it to make soaps.

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André himself has never visited the project and so he decides to come with us to the "Planalto Mirandês", a nature reserve on the border with Spain.

We set off from Porto early in the morning. In the hinterland there is a fog typical of autumnal Portugal. The journey takes us towards the Duro Valley, one of Portugal's major wine-growing regions and, above all, the center of port wine production.

The drive to Barbara in Atenor takes three hours. We meet her at the Tomelo Shop and Info "Center", a small house next to the building of the "Association for the Preservation of the Miranda Donkey". The Tomelo Shop is also a small information center for the "Parque Natural do Douro Internacional". This nature reserve is one of the most important in Portugal and the entire Iberian Peninsula in terms of fauna and birds in particular. Several endangered bird species breed here. Barbara first came to the national park with her partner José because of the birds of prey. Both are biologists and studied the black vultures, griffon vultures, golden eagles and Bonelli's eagles here.

But now we want to find out more about the "Burro de Miranda" and Tomelo from Barbara.

The remote region of Miranda do Douro is struggling particularly hard with emigration, says Barbara. Originally from Porto, she feels a strong connection to this region, which is why she and the Tomelo project focus on promoting and preserving traditions and protecting its human, natural and genetic heritage is a priority for her and the Tomelo project.

The Miranda donkey is symbolic of this barren rural region. For centuries, the Miranda donkey was an important pillar of agriculture. They helped the farmers with plowing and transported goods.

Today, there are around 600 of these donkeys left. 90% live with older people and it is feared that the donkey species will die out with this older generation.

In addition to breeding Miranda donkeys, Tomelo is also about finding an economic benefit that helps to finance the breeding of donkeys and thus also about promoting sustainable employment for people as a solution to the desertification of these rural regions.

Donkey milk is most similar to human breast milk. It contains vitamins, proteins and fatty acids that are said to stimulate the production of collagen in human skin. In addition, donkey milk also has antioxidant properties that can slow down skin ageing. People with skin conditions also report the positive properties of donkey milk products.

With the production of donkey milk products, Tomelo also aims to promote value creation through the use and valorization of previously unused raw materials, in this case the milk of the Miranda donkeys. Tomelo produces approximately one tonne of soap per year and sells it all over the world.

Finally, we get to the donkeys. Barbara and José live in an old farmhouse that they have renovated in the traditional way. They also rent out three beautiful vacation apartments on their property to nature lovers:

The donkey pasture lies in the blazing midday sun and the donkeys are nowhere to be seen until Barbara hits the feeding trough a few times. Now the eleven animals cheekily come out of their stable. It is obvious that this is a special kind of donkey. They are significantly larger than our donkeys with very long, hairy and pointed ears. The young animals even have long fur.

For the portrait we want to take with Barbara, we go to the shaded part of the pasture and the donkeys follow us. It's obvious that the donkeys are at least as curious as we are. They are trusting, want to be stroked and even seem jealous.

The Miranda donkey is considered to be particularly social. The portrait is a challenge. Time and again, a donkey will pose in front of the camera or would rather be stroked than photographed. We can well understand that you can fall in love with these animals. After lunch in a rural inn right next to the print shop that produces the soap packaging, we head back to the Tomelo store. Here Barbara packs us some soaps and creams by hand, as she does with every product.

Now we are eager to get home and test the Tomelo products. Freshly showered and moisturized, we sit in our apartment in the evening with a glass of port and reflect on the day. We all agree that Tomelo products definitely belong in the Kitchener range.

If you are interested in this northern region of Portugal, we recommend a visit to Barbara, José and the wonderful Burro de Miranda. Casa da ti Cura is the name of their beautiful vacation home, which is available to rent.

Pictures by Raffael Waldner