Permaculturing in Portugal

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

How we got here

The older I’ve got and the more I’ve observed of nature and how humans play their part in it, the more disgusted I’ve become with so much blind stupidity and greed, and the arrogance, hubris and species chauvanism that supports it. But disgust has little to offer (apart from being an incentive to change), and to stay in that state is to continue to be part of the problem, not the solution.

For at least the last two years, this vision of us designing and building our own autonomous house and growing our own food has felt so electric, so imminent, it’s been like living with a massive thundercloud hovering in the air above us, only waiting for a lightning bolt to bring it all down to earth.

I looked around for possibilities locally in Scotland, then widened my search to the rest of the UK, then France, Spain, Bulgaria, Dominica, Oregon, British Columbia, New Zealand … but for one reason or another, none of these places seemed either ‘right’ or possible. Portugal didn’t even appear on the radar. Yet the feeling that sooner or later we were going to get zapped just got stronger and stronger.

In the summer of 2008, some good friends (and co-ecodreamers) suggested we all went to stay and work on an organic smallholding together for a while to see if we felt as good about it in practice as we did in theory. Jaded by the second successive year of the sun’s non-appearance through a Scottish summer and a growing season of barely 6 weeks, initial thoughts revolved around Spain, but nothing there worked out until, after a largely accidental trail of connections, we ended up booked to stay at Quinta das Abelhas (since sold) in Central Portugal.

We set off at the end of September with a mounting excitement fed by all we’d begun to discover about what was going on there.


Arriving in Portugal

Working on the quinta

That’s when it happened. Crack! Cloudburst! And literally at that – the first drops of a spectacularly torrential downpour started to fall the very moment we stepped off the train in Santa Comba Dão on the final leg of our journey.

All the advice on the subject of moving abroad tells you to spend time in the country, get to know it and its people, explore, rent a property there awhile, and only then think about moving. And it is very good advice, because so often it’s hard to differentiate between sound intuition and delusional projection. Yet there I was, with my feet on Portuguese soil less than 12 hours, knowing this was the place where the vision would turn into substance. Ho hum.

Things continued to happen at lightning speed when we returned to Scotland.

After ten days or so looking at numerous internet property sites and trying to get a sense of different areas, I stumbled on a blog by a couple who had stayed in a place I was interested in. I emailed them to ask about it. The property wasn’t for us, but the couple knew of somewhere that might be, close to Benfeita, one of the aldeias do xisto (schist villages) of the Serra do Açor.

We came back to Portugal within a month. This quinta was the first place we viewed. My eldest daughter, who’s always been one to see straight through every situation and person she encounters, walked onto the land, picked up an enxada lying against a wall and started to clean steps. I asked her what she thought she was doing. She shrugged and retorted that they needed cleaned (which they did) so I left her to it.

It was only on a later second viewing after seeing a few other places in the area that I realised the place was having exactly the same effect on me as it had on her. It wasn’t so much a Wow! moment in relation to the land but simply a You! Work! It was clear that we’d found the place (or rather, it had found us) straight away. A price was agreed with the owner and we shook hands on the deal on November 8th.

Purchase of Quinta do Vale

After shaking hands on the deal

Quinta do Vale

In January (mais ou menos) we return to complete the paperwork, and the adventure begins!

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  1. Aiko March 10, 2010

    I’m so happy to have found your blog! I too am in search of land…to raise my 2 boys..Have you read The Ringing Cedars of Russia?

    Best Regards,


  2. Quinta do Vale March 10, 2010

    Hi Aiko. No I haven’t.

  3. Rog March 26, 2012

    Likeminded people, You are doing what we aim to do…One thing we are concerned about are the schools. What has been your experience with the schools?

  4. Quinta do Vale March 26, 2012

    Hi Rog. I don’t have a lot of experience with the schools, but generally the kids work hard. Long hours. Education is more valued here than it is in the UK and the schools in general seem much less ‘troubled’, but I don’t know how it compares with Denmark. There are lots of foreign kids in the schools locally. They seem to have a good enough time and learn Portuguese very quickly. What are your concerns?

  5. phil beasley August 27, 2012

    Hi Wendy, So pleased you have found your dream, always knew you needed more. Phil

  6. phil beasley September 22, 2012


  7. shug quinn October 10, 2012

    stumbled across your blog while researching permaculture .brilliant and well done .me and my wife sandra are looking for a plot of land to do the same thing .found your site very helpfull.thank you.portugal keeps going to the top of the list .

  8. Quinta do Vale October 10, 2012

    Thanks Shug. Portugal’s a good place to be for lots of reasons. Nowhere’s without its occasional frustrations and problems but I haven’t regretted the move for one instant. Not surprised it’s top of your list at all.

  9. Patricio July 28, 2016

    Hi Wendy.

    I´m glad you´re living your dream… (which is my family´s dream as well and thus we´re working to take that step one day)! :D

    we spent a few at Benfeita, Coja and so on….and … just loved it!

    Anyway…. as you know, there are plots to sell with a building with 50m2 (and sometimes less)..
    Do you know if you can get a permit at local junta de freguesia to expand the building easily? (to 100m2 /150m2) or since Serra do Açor is a protected area it is a lengthy and expensive process ?

  10. Quinta do Vale July 29, 2016 — Post author

    Hi Patricio. Please note I’m no expert on this subject – the rules keep changing and what was the case when I bought my land may now be out of date so you should ask someone better qualified than me, but the short answer to your question is no. The Serra do Açor has different levels of protection but it’s either not possible to expand these buildings at all (Paisagem Protegida), or you’re limited to 20% of the registered footprint (Reserva Ecológica). Permits are not within the preserve of the Junta de Freguesia. They’re generally issued by the local Câmara Municipal and in some cases may have to be issued in Coimbra or even Lisbon. It would also depend on how the building is registered – many are registered as agricultural buildings. And yes, the process can be extremely lengthy and complex and if you’re involving a professional advisor, expensive.

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