Folk have been coming to volunteer at Quinta do Vale for 8 years now and we’ve had many wonderful people stay here and many truly excellent times.
The catastrophic wildfires which swept through a vast area – almost 2,000 square kilometers – of Central and Northern Portugal in just 24 hours of October 15-16 2017 cut off these valleys and burnt everything in sight, including the quinta. In these valleys alone, 22 families and individuals lost their homes. Two people in the village of Cerdeira were among the 49 people who lost their lives.
We were lucky enough not to lose the main communal building (still being renovated) and yurt, but the wee house, geodome greenhouse and all the volunteer/course participant accommodation and facilities were destroyed. It’s taken nearly 18 months of gruelling paperwork to get help through the EU disaster relief funding provided to Portugal, but as of April 2019 I’m delighted to say the wee house is to be rebuilt.
But since our situation on the ground hasn’t really changed much since the fires, I’m throwing the whole volunteer, visit and learn thing wide open again for 2019 with no clear boundaries between them.
- If you want to just rock up in a campervan or with a tent, take a tour, and stay a couple of nights, you’re welcome.
- If you’re just looking for a park-up while you do other things in the area, you’re welcome.
- If you want to stay from a week to a month or two, volunteer some work and learn everything you can, you’re welcome.
- If you’re particularly interested in doing some natural building repairs and reconstruction, you’re welcome. Not only will there be plenty to do on the quinta, but for July and August we’ll be partnering with our local education project, Folha Verde, to run a natural build-in. More details shortly.
- If you have DIY skills or a trade and fancy coming to spend a summer helping us and the rest of the community, you’re welcome and we will all love you forever.
- If you want to come and download all the accumulated knowledge and experience that’s in my head from nearly a decade living off grid, you’re welcome to do that too.
Anything and everything will be considered. Please email in the first instance.
All I ask in return is that you treat the place tenderly while it recovers from its wounds and trade what you think your stay is worth, either in volunteer work or in funds to help us rebuild.
Volunteer work details
Work is likely to involve any combination of digging, hauling, clearing land, pruning, weeding, watering, sowing, planting, harvesting, cooking, preserving, laundry, cleaning, emptying the compost toilets, caring for the poultry, planting trees, felling trees, cutting and chopping firewood, construction and building work, and helping out with the courses here.
There’s minimal use of machinery – it’s impossible to get anything seriously useful onto most of the land – so all earthworks are dug by hand and all building materials moved around the site by hand. Petrol strimmers/brushcutters, chippers and chainsaws are used and it’s an advantage if you’re an experienced user of any or all.
There’s no rigidly set working day. We work as weather, project progress, materials, machines, power availability, inspiration, flow and necessity dictate, and we frequently work on several projects simultaneously, moving from one to another as conditions suggest. Days can range from a full-on, intense, 12-hour stretch at one extreme to a what-the-hell-let’s-go-to-the-river-beach at the other.
While the days aren’t rigidly defined, getting an early start in the morning is essential in summer. It works best to get most of the day’s work done by lunch time, leaving the hot afternoons freer to slow the pace or go cool off in the river.
As of July 2018, I can once again offer accommodation. The one surviving 4-berth caravan has had all its melted windows replaced, electricity and water services to it are restored and the shade structure is repaired. We’ve also added a woodstove for heating, so it’s now available for use year-round. At the moment, this is the only accommodation we have. The rest is up to you to bring.
There are 2 camper van pitches. Electric hook-up to our solar supply and water are available on one. There is one other park-up without services.
There is a limited amount of level ground for camping which can accommodate a couple of small tents. As we move forward into 2019, this will be expanded massively to accommodate people for the courses we’ll be running this year so by summer there should be no limitation on the amount of people we can accommodate for camping (courses permitting).
Fresh vegetables, eggs, and whatever fruit has survived will be available from the quinta in exchange for cash or work, depending on the arrangement we come to. Depending on current resources, I may have to ask you to contribute towards food.
There are composting toilets on the quinta, an off grid power supply, hot showers (water supplies and bathroom repairs permitting), communal cooking facilities, laundry and refrigeration.
Many here in these valleys are still struggling to come to terms with their losses and all the rebuilding work necessary. Many people lost their homes and everything they had. It will be a long time yet before we are truly back on our feet. It’s a bit like a war zone here. As we go forward into summer, there is a possibility of water shortages.
Nevertheless, good things are happening. Lots of community self-help initiatives and people coming together to volunteer help and support for each other and the devastated environment. To volunteer here at this time is certainly not your usual type of volunteering, but you will have the opportunity to be part of something very special.
There’s a lively social scene in summer revolving around the river beach, craft cooperative and local cafés. There’s lots of music, local markets, events, workshops, parties and lots of opportunities to meet locals and other eco-immigrants.
The following photos provide a flavour of what volunteering at Quinta do Vale has been all about. As I said above, we’ve had some brilliant people stay here over the years. Some of them loved it so much they never left and now have their own places in the valleys, so be warned – this place can capture your heart and your imagination.
If you can’t come and visit but feel moved to help us get our facilities back together again, please see the Support us page.
Find us on HelpX
Benfeita village shop, which stocks a reasonable range of basics, is 500m away down the hill from the quinta. There’s also a post office (mornings only) and café, and a craftworkers’ cooperative with a workshop and shop. The butcher’s is open on Wednesdays. There’s a number of van deliveries: two daily bread vans, weekly fish and vegetables, and monthly frozen food, though catching any of them is mostly a matter of luck or ESP.
There are also two village shops/cafés in the village of Luadas, 100m above the quinta and around 2-3 times the walking distance.
Mobile phone signal here is good to reasonable, depending on your network. Portugal Telecom’s MEO network has the best coverage. Vodafone is patchy to poor. If your network doesn’t work here, you’ll get a signal in Luadas.
In summer, the outdoor café by the river beach in Benfeita has free wifi. The café/restaurant in Pardieiros, the next village along from Benfeita, has free wifi year round.
If you don’t have your own laptop/tablet/smartphone, free computers with internet access are available for use at Côja library 8km away.
There were great walks to take in the surrounding hills and valleys. There will be again.