We set sail from England, with our trusty new steed (a VW T5 Van we've named Hilda) on the evening of March 15th 2019. For the last four years we had been looking at properties in Portugal to buy, and about a month before our departure we had signed on many (many!) dotted lines to secure our new home in central Portugal. We had bought a windmill on a hill in the Ribatejo and we were on our way there!
Skip this bit if you don’t want to read of our travel woes… (but you know you do!)Hilda, despite being relatively new compared with our old van Frida who saw us through four years of travel, had given us a few scares already and when we drove off the ferry in Spain, she introduced us to her ‘safe mode’ (akin to that feeling when you’ve drank too much wine and you just want to lay down and shut your eyes, but other people keep talking to you so you can’t). Hilda would drive fine for a little while before suddenly losing power and however hard we tried to keep her going she just shuffled along. On a motorway (120kmph limit) we found ourselves doing top speeds of 50 kmph. I would hardly call that safe mode! We called our friend and VW guru Andy who said that ‘limp home’ mode was a safety feature that meant the computer was picking up a fault after the car was started, and when it picked up this fault ten times or so, it would force the car into safe mode, instantly dropping our speed (and moods). To cheer ourselves up we stopped for tapas and were offered chicken necks, pigs ears, cockerel crests (cock a doodle don’t) and pigs lips! We opted for tortilla.
We have ACP breakdown cover (the equivalent of the AA in Britain) in Portugal but not Spain, so we limped on at dangerously low speeds until we got to Portugal. We’ve never been so pleased to cross the border! By this point we knew our meeting with friends and architects, Bruno and Ricardo, in Porto was not going to happen that evening and we found a little place to stay the night.
After a morning visit to a mechanic, who was located up a treacherously steep hill (the best place for people to take their broken cars???) we thought we had the problem fixed (we had an oil leak due to a broken sealant) and were happy to hand over 100 euros for the work done and new oil. We re-arranged our meeting in Porto for that afternoon, and with renewed energy and a pep in all our strides, we hit the road. In fact, we hit a very big and very hilly road.
Forty minutes later and Hilda was back in safe mode and we were cursing the last mechanics. It was at this time that we admitted defeat and called ACP. To cut a long story short, we then went through a procedure that involved; a deaf tow truck driver, Francisco the talented taxista who made calls and took notes while driving, a rental car office that had just shut for a two hour lunch, a lengthy kebab, and more dealings with ACP. All of this while we carted as many of our essential belongings as we could carry (bedclothes, toiletries, devices and chargers, clothes, cafetiere, coffee beans, backgammon board). Finally we were on the road and headed for the windmill. Hilda would be delivered to a garage near us sometime in the next four days.
Windmill (Moinho da Fadagosa)We arrived after dark at the windmill and were overjoyed to find that the electricity and hot water were working. We were worried that after a month unlived in, and with our current run of bad luck, that she would disappoint us, but she restored our faith and smiles. We drank wine, sat in front of a roaring fire and then slept like warm logs.
The next morning was a sunny one and we were reminded of why we’d fallen in love with the mill in the first place. She stands petite but majestic on the peak of a small hill, surrounded by bigger hills, like the centrepiece of a crown. A river runs around the base of two thirds of her hill. The surrounding landscape is made up of pine forest, eucalyptus, meadows and a small white village (Vale do Grou) about 2.5 km away. From the windmill you can hear the river flowing and birds tweeting, but not much else. It the most peaceful place we have ever encountered.
The property itself is made up of two buildings, the windmill (O Moinho) and the miller's house (Casa do Moleiro). The windmill has two floors connected by a winding stone staircase. Downstairs is the kitchen and living area with big stone fire, and upstairs is the bedroom and bathroom. It is pretty darn perfect and just needs some cosmetic improvements; don’t we all! The miller's house is about 20m down the hill and resembles something out of Teletubbies or Hobbiton. It comprises of a large terrace area that leads (through very broken doors) into a large room. Leading off from the room are a tiny kitchen, a bathroom and a sauna. We are at a loss as to why the previous owner decided to install a sauna in central Portugal, but there it is! The miller's house needs more work than the mill, like replacing the doors and getting rid of the sauna (perhaps we could use the wood from the sauna to make a new door!). It has mostly been left unused for some time, so we need to bring the whole place up to scratch.
I love to have a plan! I always have, and it was lovely to find my husband Simon five years ago, as he also likes to have a plan! So now we have a shared plan and it is this: we want to build a remote retreat here, where people leading jam-packed, stressful lives ruled by their smartphones and devices, can recharge and de-tech, and remember what it really means to feel alive. There are no modern luxuries here (well there is a sauna), but there is nature, solitude, comfort, fresh produce, fine wine and whoever you choose to spend your time with. Isn’t that the recipe for a fine slice of life?
Up at dawn
The next morning we woke up at around 6am and decided to climb one of the hills behind us where we were rewarded with beautiful views of the mill. Waking at 6am has since become a habit, and although back in London I’d be dismayed to find myself awake at this time (a whole hour before my alarm), I’m finding it really energising to be getting up at the same time as the sun. And I’m not staying awake much later than the sun either! Most nights we’re in bed by 9.30 and asleep by ten. This is not a rhythm we actively pursued, but it has happened, and I like it. I think this deserves further thought at some point, so let’s see how we feel after a month.
One of our first priorities was to sort out a way of receiving post at the windmill. It’s pretty remote and, as far as we know, has only a post code (note added later – the post code we were given was wrong, so we didn’t even have a post code). We visited the post office in our nearest town, Mação, and talked with a lovely lady called Dora. She happily called the postman and confirmed that he knew where the windmill was, and she sold us a post box too. Simple! We then went to the Câmara (town hall) to try and formalise our address. We filled in a form (basically saying that we live in a windmill on a lonely road) and when we returned a week later we were given a street tile with number 1 on it. So, we are now officially the inhabitants of number one, lonely road! Or to be more official ‘1 Fadagosa.’ What a lovely address!
Luisa brings stories and citrus A few days after our arrival, Luisa came to visit. We had met her on the day of many signatures, as we bought a few small plots of land from her (so that we could unify our own land around the windmill). Luisa is about 70 and was acting as power of attorney for her parents (they last long out here). She turned up at the base of the hill on a tractor and waved and shouted to us. We chatted a while (chatted is a euphemism here, our Portuguese is pretty basic) and invited her up for a coffee. She told us that she couldn’t possibly walk up that hill, which is a fair point for a 70 year old, and that she was in a hurry to get home. A few minutes later she remembered the mushrooms she used to pick as a young girl on this hill (Champignons de Paris) and she was off into the forest like a crazed mountain goat! While we struggled to keep up, she searched up and down for the famous champignons she remembered. Sadly, they were nowhere to be found, but she took us on a guided tour of the land, advising us on medicinal plants and of what trees grew best in what locations. Sadly, like many parts of central Portugal, our hill had been replanted with pine and eucalyptus years ago but we would like to restore it to its former glory with mixed native trees and plenty of fruit. Luisa remembers the bountiful harvest of decades gone by and said she was ashamed that she and her husband replanted with eucalyptus, but with nobody in the family willing to farm the land, it's one of the few options to retain an income from it. Luisa still claimed to be in a hurry and after inviting us for Easter lunch at her village she said we would not see her until then because she had to care for her elderly parents. She then hopped on her tractor and was off. She turned up the very next day with two large bags of oranges and lemons for us, and we have seen her almost every day since; driving or standing on the back of a tractor and waving fractically from the road. She is the best type of hypocrite; claiming to be unable to do something (no time to chat, can’t get up that hill, won’t see me again) and then doing it. Nike or perhaps Duracell could use her for an advertising campaign (Just do it, or Just keep doing it). I look forward to seeing more of Luisa and hope I can emulate a hundredth of her fortitude!
One of the attractions for coming to Portugal is the slow pace of life, but unfortunately that also goes for the internet here. At the windmill we can use our smartphones for a very limited connection, but the best internet by far is to be found in the café of the local supermarket, or in its carpark (if you don’t want to part with 60 centimos for a coffee), and since we are both working remotely, we have spent a serious amount of time in the supermarket! (UPDATE - We now have a mobile modem supplied by PortugalInternet, and it's working a treat!)
We don’t just sit and use the internet at Intermarche, I also try and befriend some of the stray cats in the car park, Simon likes to spend time browsing the very good wine selection, and of course we do some food shopping now and again. Two days ago Simon bought some food and when he came to pay the 22 euro bill, the cashier couldn’t get his bank card to work. She put it through twice but reassured him he had only been charged the one time. Today, when Simon visited the store, he was pursued by the cashier and the store manager. The cashier was waving her hands around and pointing Simon out to the store manager, what was he being accused of???? Then the store manager handed 22 euros over to Simon, and told him they’d been looking out for him again, they were very sorry, they had overcharged him on his last visit! Now that’s good customer service :)
A lot of the country folk out here just gawp at us in bewilderment as we walk or run past them, but a good thing about Portugal is that it seems to be the law here to reply to someone when they say ‘Bom Dia’ or ‘Boa Tarde’ to you, so even the most baffled farmer has to greet us when we greet him. This is as far as our relationships in the countryside have gone (exc. Luisa), but in town we have a good friend in Daniela (the lady who acted as interpreter for us when we bought the mill) and she invited us to dinner our first week. In her lovely colourful house, straight out of a fairytale, we met her new German neighbours; Katrine and Anton. They turned out to be a friendly couple who plan to work with Daniela in revitalising the small village in which they live. Like many towns and villages outside of the big cities, Rosmaninhal has a lack of young people and a lot of empty houses, and they plan to reverse that trend. It has worked in other parts of Portugal and we really hope it can happen here.
So much to do... but so much time...
We have to-do lists coming out of our ears at the moment (like I said, we like to plan) and it feels somewhat overwhelming, but we keep reminding ourselves, we have time! And we have made good progress. We are two weeks in and we have lovely new doors on the millers house, a new shelf constructed, 3 stools painted, 2 armchairs bought, green beans, tomatoes, cabbage, vines, and a herb spiral planted, and smiles on our faces. Let's hope that the veg and our smiles continue to grow :)
More to come...#moinhodafadagosa #windmill #newlifestyle #simplelifestyle #wanderlust #portugal #ribatejo #centralportugal #ruralretreat #moinho #vidasimples #vidaboa #natureza