Adventures in Portugal

Some of you might remember me

as Fiona Petto, from the days of the Scorpion Inn back in the 60s when my parents (John & Toinette) bought it and built on the Yew Tree dance hall but that is another story. Years past, I married Adrian (Adie) Wisher, had children and moved to Dorset where this story begins.

In 2016 my husband got the all clear from cancer which, don’t get me wrong, left us ecstatic but going back to the rat race of night shifts and worrying about bills, left us feeling that there really must be something more to life, it is said “you get one life” and just waiting for your 2 weeks summer holiday to do something special appears to be extremely bad time management , maybe the youngsters have got it right with gap years ?  Having made the decision we were going to grow old disgracefully, the next big decision was how? Many months on, aided by gallons of tea and some chardonnay, a bit of a plan started to take shape.  Being too young to retire (at 56) we had to earn a living because it was unlikely that the lottery would produce a retirement fund of a few hundred thousand. Gradually the idea of moving to Portugal and setting up a holiday business, where the cost of living was a lot cheaper and we could make our £ stretch a lot further, began to form. If I did the catering  ( I trained as a chef at Cambourne Catering College ) and Adie the DIY (he used to build boats for Sunseekers in Poole) we might have a chance at setting up a fledgling glamping business using Mongolian yurts , throw in a few extras like attempting to grow our own fruit and vegetables and keeping chickens and it would be The Good Life meets Carry on Camping. At this stage you might be muttering “nice idea” but I must point out at that particular moment in time neither of us had ever visited Portugal and would be hard pushed to come up with more than just a few basic facts about the country.

Anyway our lack of knowledge about Portugal was soon rectified, bed time reading consisted of everything from the Home Builders Manual to tour guides and maps, and within a matter of months we found ourselves traveling around central and northern Portugal jumping on and off trains, hiring a car for the more remote areas, visiting the port cellars in Porto, sailing along the canals in Averio and swimming in the Rio Mondego. It was fantastic, our minds were made up and when we met an English couple who wanted someone to look after their house and animals in 2017 everything just appeared to be falling into place.

The next little hurdle was selling our house, which I would not have managed without our friends help, getting a buyer was fairly easy but with everything it was the paperwork that was the drag, 19 weeks just for the search alone (apparently Dorchester is the worst place in the country for this) but while the solicitor was doing her best I was selling things to friends and listing on eBay whilst packing those special bits and pieces. Gradually our house had everything downstairs in boxes ready to go. Then I started sorting through my mother’s flat in Dorchester due to her deciding to move back to Liskeard. On the 22nd of March 2017 we were sat on board the Santander ferry with no job, no home and our car in the hold absolutely bursting with all the necessary’s like 22 boxes of tea bags and my much loved Kitchen Aid, whilst Adie had packed all his tools ready for the house sit and perhaps a new home in need of some DIY. That left 2 storage units in Portland filled with furniture and bits and pieces to follow at a later date, goodness we could have powered the ferry with our excitement: we were like a couple of 5 year olds.

Our first few weeks in Portugal at Villa Seca near Tabua were spent looking after the animals, tending the vines and gradually getting to know Portugal, not from the aspect of a holiday maker, but someone who wants to settle down there. We opened bank accounts, attended weekly Portuguese lessons, even got NIF numbers (a sort of ID number for everything). Whilst doing this we surfed the internet and looked in estate agents window at local properties on the market and by the end of April we found our little slice of heaven, the ideal property with a stream at the bottom of the meadow, 2 ruins, a well and cellars/man caves that were making Adie go dewy eyed just thinking about them.

The shell of the house is made of granite with some of the granite blocks nearly a meter square in size. The rest of the house was in a terrible state, not having been lived in for 10 years and also at some stage suffering from a raging infestation of wood worm that had left little pyramids of bits everywhere. You could see through parts of the roof and necessities were extremely basic for instance when the family had built the house in 1937 the husband had thought a bathroom an unnecessary expense so plumbing was 1 tap in the kitchen, there was also an old rusty heap of metal that I was reliably informed could be used for cooking on… yeugh. But at a grand total of 52,000 euros there was no stopping us, we found some excellent builders and the house was gutted, walls out, roof off, stairs out, windows out, in fact right back to the granite walls and start again. We stacked all the wood while the builders got on with it and worked on land clearance, it was a veritable hive of industry with everyone clambering up ladders, walking across beams and not a hard hat in sight, health and safety appears to take a back seat in Portugal but nevertheless I had an excellent first aid kit in the car just in case and I am delighted to say that it was never used.

Sometimes we stayed over, I lashed a hammock to scaffolding in the house and looking up through the space where we now have a roof, gazing dreamily at the stars while being rocked to sleep, we have had many moments like that and each time we say “this is what we signed up for”.

Our new home is situated in the village of Nogueirinha (which means village of little walnut trees). Everyone is so friendly and helpful. We have fallen in love with the village which is situated on the edge of the national park and at the foot of the Serra da Estrela mountains about 90 minutes away from Spain . We are forever being given little gifts of eggs or fruit and vegetables, even homemade bread, and our neighbour makes a particularly lovely red wine with a heck of a kick so whenever he sees us he drags us into his cellar for some more sampling.

Gradually the house inside started resembling the home we had dreamed of the first time we looked around and we had even pushed the boat out and put in 2 bathrooms (stuff the expense) and outside the stream had been cleared, hedges cut back, the ruins were being made safe and that was only the first 8 months.

As soon as spring 2018 arrived Adie built a gazebo, bathroom facilities for the yurt, a hen house, rebuilt dry stone walls, started a pig sty in fact Adie was as happy as a pig in muck with all the DIY.

Our yurt was delivered and set up amongst much excitement in the village, in fact on that day a lot of children and dogs were walked past our house many times, they must have been worn out even Jorge the local goat herder made sure his 50 goats walked through the next field so he could get a good view. The plan is we let friends stay during 2018 in the yurt as a trial run and in May 2019 we rent the yurt out, breakfast included with evening meals available if requested, that leaves us with 2018 to put the polish on what we are calling Yippee Yurts. We are starting with 1 and would like to gradually invest in 2 more yurts if everything takes off.

We are loving our new life, it has thrown up many challenges, it is an amazing experience and we have never felt healthier and happier. I have made everything from Nettle Soup to lemon curd with our own lemons and drunk fresh orange juice from our own oranges and Adie wants to start making cider with our own apples, so I can quite truthfully say “E boa vida” .