We are sat on a ferry, lolling from side to side, on our way back to Britain for Christmas. 2020 is coming to a close, and at the windmill we closed the big solid door to our last guest in November. With two weeks of quarantine ahead of us, and no animals to walk, feed or move, no vegetables to water or to weed, no guests to greet and care for, no confusing local paperwork to complete, and no windmill to maintain, we are at a loss of what we will actually do with our time! But for now, we are happy to use this time to reflect on all this. So here is what the decidedly different year that was 2020 bought to our gates.
We got back to the windmill in February, with a van full of wine and John Lewis products that friends had ordered from England, together with a futon and boxes of nonsense that we might need one day. Living in such a small space really does make you appreciate the small amount of space that you do have, and boxes of essentials we couldn’t live without in our flat in London, soon transformed into boxes of nonsense.
It was glorious to be back in the windmill, despite the cold and wet weather that February brings. We got busy and by the beginning of March we were ready for our first guests, our first pets and also our first photoshoot of the year (Thanks to Anna at Mazda Stories!). Our very first guests were a local couple from the nearby city of Abrantes (the husband was surprising his wife to a weekend at the windmill for her birthday) and we are happy to say that we received many more local guests this year, some of whom had only travelled twenty minutes!
Our first pets were the ever-mischievous Smudge and Skittle, stray kittens that had evaded capture for weeks before our friend Carlos managed to get his hands on them. They arrived as feral 10-week old beasts, hissing and striking out with their miniature paws, but after a few weeks of handling and much patience (and scratches!) they became very lovable.
At the beginning of March, European countries were still deciding how to handle COVID, and it was only when our guests, from Milan, had to leave urgently that we began to realise the impact of what was about to happen. Shortly after this, Portugal went into lockdown and we had to shut our doors after only three sets of guests.
Lockdown meant different things for different people, and certainly would have affected us much more had we been back in our flat in London, but without neighbours and with open space as far as we could see, we were already self-isolating in a very conscious way. As it turned out, we didn’t open the windmill to guests for three months and we took the opportunity to work on other ideas.
Firstly, we got a dog to match (literally they look the same) the kittens. Princesa is a complicated but utterly loving and happy dog, and we can’t imagine life without her. Princesa is Fiona’s shadow and goes everywhere with her, she is also a great friend to Smudge the kitten, and likes Simon a lot (when he is lying down!). When we did open the windmill to guests again in the summer, she was always the first to welcome people, and it’s safe to say she stole many a heart with her beijinhos and abraços.
Also during lockdown we regenerated a little piece of land where guests could go to relax and watch the sunset. This involved building a little waterfall and pond, introducing some baby frogs (thanks to Beatriz and Gabriel!), building a clay oven from scratch, and using river stones to create a patio. The clay oven was a long process and involved many stages and much mess, but it was really rewarding to build something together, and so gratifying to eat the first pizza from it.
We also started preparing to get some goats during lockdown, although it was not until much later that we actually got them. There is a saying here that goats spend 23 hours of each day planning for their escape, and one hour executing their plan, so we knew that we needed a secure area where the animals could do their planning! We built a house for them out of wooden pallets and with so many nails that our friend Gady called it the Iron House. We built an enclosure using cut-down eucalyptus and wire fencing, and then a larger paddock where the goats could start on their primary work – clearing land.
In mid-June we opened the doors to the Moinho once more, unsure of what kind of interest there would be, and we were astounded with the numbers of bookings we received; 25 nights in July and 26 in August! Nearly all our guests were Portuguese, with many from Lisbon and the surrounding area. It was so lovely to host Portuguese people, after all they are one of the primary reasons we moved to this country, and it is great to know that what we have created appeals to them. We were also really pleased to see so many Portuguese tourists in the area in general; it seems that with COVID, holidaymakers were avoiding the crowded beaches and cities, and instead discovering parts of Portugal off the usual tourist track, like our little part of the interior. We hope it is not just the risky era we are living in that drives people to discover Central Portugal, and that a happy remnant of this awful season can be an increased interest in less populated areas.
One highlight of the summer, and yet another reason to visit(!), is our discovery of a river beach on the edge of the property, that we’d managed to completely miss last year! Public river beaches are an important part of the tourist offering here, and we are lucky to have a number of very good ones within an easy drive of the moinho. They can be busy in high season though, so we are even luckier to have one (albeit small in comparison) literally on our doorstep, and with water deep enough to swim in as well. Ourselves, our guests, and occasionally some local families spent many a happy hour picnicking, splashing in the river and cooling off from the summer heat on our very own ‘private’ river beach.
The river brought one more surprise also – gold-diggers! We came across a number of groups across the summer armed with unusual equipment, including what looked like washing-up bowls. It turns out that the river running through our land is known to contain gold – the name of nearby village, Caratao attests to this – and the bowls were actually gold pans. We hardly believed it at first, but we’ve seen the proof and will certainly be having a go ourselves next year.
In September and October we continued to be busy but also made sure to take a little time for ourselves and for our friends. We love hosting friends at the mill and we hope that more of our family and friends can have this chance next year. We took a week’s holiday in Andalucia and also a weekend in the Alentejo and relished this taste of freedom.
November bought olive harvesting season, and we discovered many more olive trees than we thought we owned! Not enough for our own oil, but a good crop of eating olives. The dog and both cats came down to supervise the harvest, and it was a lovely afternoon.
The goats bought the growing menagerie to a close this year. Rebel and Savannah are lovely, forever-hungry creatures that are surprisingly social. One of my favourite things about the windmill is silence, but the sound of their bells as they roam the land is a glorious interruption. They are both pregnant and due in March, so we look forward to more tinkling bells, and hopefully some tasty goats’ cheese as well (once we’ve had some time to perfect it!).
All in all, we have had a packed and productive year getting to know our land and our animals, and also welcoming some fantastic guests at the mill. We’re super happy to have retained our 100% 5 star rating as superhosts on AirBnB, and we were over the moon to welcome our first repeat guests too. There have been ups and there have been downs, and we sometimes feel as though we are juggling 15 things in one hand, and feeding a goat with the other, but we love it, and wouldn’t change a thing. We very much hope to welcome more of you at the windmill next year.