Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way

Cob building course 2018

Quinta do Vale will be hosting a cob building course this summer.

Well, strictly speaking, it’s a cob rebuilding course because the project we’ll be undertaking is to repair the beautiful cob bathroom (featured in Natural Homes) which was damaged in the fires.

Cob building course at Quinta do Vale

To put the building to rights we need to replace part of the green roof, take down and rebuild the burnt end wall, and dig out and replace the front window which shattered in the heat of the fires.

After the amount of muddy boot traffic the earthen floor has endured this last winter, it’s also needing attention, so we will use the opportunity to take it up, install underfloor heating, and then lay it again. This will vastly improve the comfort levels of the bathroom in the depths of winter.

Since we don’t have to go through the entire building process, course participants will get to experience most of the phases and aspects of creating a building like this within a much shorter timeframe than a full build.

You’ll learn how simple it is to repair a cob construction and re-use the original building material. You’ll also get to see first hand how well cob performs in a catastrophic wildfire.

We will cover

  • rubble trench foundations
  • stem walls and ensuring a good bond between stem wall and cob
  • making test cob bricks to determine the right ratio of ingredients
  • mixing cob efficiently and knowing when the mix is just right
  • creating a solid monolithic construction with cob
  • setting windows with and without frames
  • burying service lines (plumbing and electrics)
  • roof construction/repair using round pole timbers
  • creating a turf roof
  • installing underfloor heating
  • laying earthen floors

Please note the cob won’t have dried sufficiently by the end of the course for us to be able to plaster the walls or apply the finishing treatment to the floor, so these will not be covered in the course.

Daily programme

Cob building course at Quinta do Vale

The course will run Monday to Saturday, leaving Sundays free.

Breakfast will be available from 7h00 to 8h30.

We will work on the bathroom during the mornings when it’s cool from 9h00 until 13h00.

Following a light lunch, afternoon activities are free choice.

July afternoons are often hot and if you’re not used to physical work in the heat, it can be easy to overdo it. You can carry on with the build if you’re into it and up to it, or you can take a rest or a shower, help tend the quinta gardens, take a turn preparing the evening meal, or pursue other activities.

For more details about the quinta and the immediate area, see the quinta page and the volunteering page.

You can swim and relax at the river beach in the village below the quinta, take advantage of the free wifi at the open air café nearby, explore the area, meet the locals and other eco-residents, get involved in Benfeita events (which this year include our initiative to become a designated ‘Eco-Freguesia’) and generally experience life off grid in a stunningly beautiful mountain landscape which also happens to be a disaster zone right now.

There’s also the possibility of helping out on community workdays if any happen to be organised while the course is running.

For more details about the community in and around Benfeita, see this page.

The evening meal will be from 18h00 to 20h00.

In addition to cob building, you can pick my brains about …

  • the realities of nearly a decade living off grid
  • designing and constructing off grid infrastructure
  • permaculture design
  • growing food in a warm temperate/Mediterranean climate

There will also be ample opportunity for exploring and learning about the serious environmental issues facing us, some of which led to the wildfires which destroyed this area last October, and how ordinary people like us can really make a difference.

Cob building course at Quinta do Vale

Cob building course duration and dates

The cob building course will run for 2 weeks from Monday 9th July to Sunday 22nd July. If you’re staying onsite, you can arrive anytime over the weekend of 7th-8th July.

If you can only attend for one week of the two, then this can be accommodated, but to balance numbers, bookings for one week will only be confirmed once I can match your application with another for the week you’re not attending.

Number of participants

Numbers are limited to 10 people – it’s a small site on a narrow terrace and we don’t want to be tripping over each other – so book early to secure your place.


Book before May 15th for early bird prices …

  • Staying onsite: €285 per person per week
  • Staying offsite: €236 per person per week

After May 15th, the cost is …

  • Staying onsite: €315 per person per week
  • Staying offsite: €266 per person per week

There is a 5% discount for couples, friends and families booking together. (Couples, friends and family discount is not available on early bird prices.)

Children over 12 years old are welcome but the course isn’t suitable for under 12s, largely for safety reasons. There is a 20% discount for young people 12-18 years old. Staying onsite, they pay €228 per person per week early bird rate or €252 after May 15th. Offsite, it’s €189 and €213 respectively.

If you want to come with your family including children under 12 and only one of you takes the course, then this is also possible. There is a fee of €105 per person per week for meals and use of the quinta’s facilities for any adult not participating in the course. Under 12s are free. (Please be aware under 12s will need constant supervision while on the quinta as terrace edges with steep drops and broken glass, rusted metal, etc, still remaining from the fires make it quite a hazardous place for small children.)

Your place on this cob building course is secured by a 50% non-refundable deposit paid when your booking is confirmed.

Payment in full is due by June 15th.

Payment can be made through PayPal or interbank transfer.


Cob building course at Quinta do Vale

All my volunteer and guest accommodation and facilities burned down in the fires, so accommodation will be onsite camping. Campervans can be accommodated but there is only space for 2. Spaces will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you can’t bring a tent, please let us know and we’ll do our best to provide one for you.

If you prefer not to camp, I have the use of a house nearby. It’s a 500m climb/scramble straight up the mountain from the quinta or a couple of kilometres by road and track. The house can accommodate 2 couples (no families). It’s very basic, but has all the necessities, including washing machine. Rates are €10 per person per night for couples. Single occupancy rate is €14.50 per person per night. If you would like to use the house, you will pay the staying offsite rate for the course plus the rental of the house.

Three meals a day are provided, mostly organic. There will be fresh food in season from the quinta and other local organic producers, dried staples from our local wholefood coop, and the remainder from local markets. We will share the cooking. All diets can be catered for. Please make your food preferences clear at the time of booking.

Hot showers and composting toilets will be available onsite (your deposits will go towards providing these facilities). There is abundant off grid electricity for phone/tablet/laptop charging and we have refrigeration onsite.

Cob building course requirements

You need to be reasonably fit. Building work, especially in heat if you’re not used to it, is physically demanding and so is this steep terrain. Cob is also heavy stuff.

Prior building experience isn’t necessary, but if you have a building trade or a lot of DIY experience, you will be particularly appreciated.

Be prepared to get thoroughly covered in clay! We make cob by treading it with our bare feet and the building process is inevitably extremely messy. Bring old clothes. (Laundry facilities are available.)

Crocs or flip flops, sunhat, sunscreen and water bottle are also useful, as is moisturiser – clay can make skin dry.

Working gloves will be provided if you want to use them.

I make learning opportunities and the facilities here available in good faith, but at your own risk. Accidents happen so please make sure you have adequate and appropriate health and travel insurance and are covered against injury to others as well as yourself.

Cob building course at Quinta do Vale

Getting to Quinta do Vale

Please see the Getting here page.


Please email and we’ll take it from there.

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