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Algarve

Alentejo: Away from it all

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Alentejo: Away from it all

by Fiona MacLeod

A guest lodge owner tells how he was seduced by the unspoilt landscape of Portugal’s sparsely populated Alentejo region.
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Frank McClintock, owner of Quinta do Barranco da Estrada, with his parrot on the bank of Santa Clara lake
This article was published by Finantial Times on September 14, 2012. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/7485e294-f812-11e1-828f-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz26uPETDPH

Twenty-five years ago guest lodge owner Frank McClintock set off from his family home in Dorset, in southern England, in a pale blue double-decker bus with first world war aircraft painted on its sides. It was loaded up with most of his possessions, and his new wife. Their destination was Portugal, and he has lived there ever since.

The couple had just returned from their honeymoon in southern Portugal where they had discovered the natural beauty of the sparsely populated Alentejo region, in particular the area among the rolling hills of cork forests (montados) bordering Santa Clara lake.

“Going to Portugal initially was a chance thing,” says McClintock. “We had no money and someone offered us a flat in the Algarve for our honeymoon. We had travelled by car and on the way south had come across the stunning countryside of the Alentejo. The Algarve, by comparison, was just flats and high-rises, dust and sand, not what we were after at all, so we drove every day up to the Alentejo to explore its unspoilt landscape. I completely fell for it and we decided on the spot to make a go of living there.”

On their honeymoon they struck up a friendship with a local Alentejo resident who had stopped to help them with a puncture. Although they couldn’t speak the same language, the Portuguese man managed to communicate that, if they were keen on finding something to buy in the area, he could find them a place to stay. “Nobody around here speaks anything apart from Portuguese but I’ve never found it difficult to speak with my hands and a smile,” says McClintock.

The couple decided to collect their possessions from England and to try Alentejo for three months. The double-decker, purchased in a field in Wales, was for McClintock the cheapest solution to moving lock, stock and barrel across Europe. “It took three days to drive to Portugal, including a bit of a detour to Belgium, where I wanted to visit Wilfred Owen’s grave. We picked up hitchhikers on the way.”

They soon blew their limited budget on 12 acres of land on a waterfront plot on the banks of the Santa Clara lake. Three small wooden shacks already stood on the site, providing some sort of base to live in at the outset. “In such an isolated area we knew we would have to earn a living through tourism, and the attraction of being on the water was a must.”

Twenty-five years on, Quinta do Barranco da Estrada is well established as an idyllic hideaway guest lodge that offers bird and nature tours and is run full-time by Frank and his second wife Daniella. A long, low building with several verandahed bedrooms sits in the grounds of a subtropical garden: agave, yuccas, date palms and Australian bottle brush grow there.

“The key to creating a garden from scratch, as we have done, is to grow some trees for shade and to install irrigation, as the heat can be searing here,” says McClintock. “It was a barren plot when we came but we now use all the waste water from the Quinta to hydrate the garden. We have a solar-powered pumping system that brings water from the lake up to a reservoir we dug above the buildings. This supplies all the water for the house and for a garden irrigation system at more or less zero cost.”

Most of what exists at the Quinta has been created through the hard labour and often hastily acquired skills of McClintock and visiting teams of friends, family and volunteers.

“When we came to the area it was very primitive – nothing much had changed since the 1930s, or even the 1430s. The locals used horses and carts and mules for transport on predominantly dirt roads,” says McClintock. “We had a Renault 4, which struggled to transport our heavy loads of building supplies up the miles of rough, bumpy track, so we used to bring everything across the lake on a boat and then barrow it up the hill to the building site. In those days everything had to come from the Algarve and nobody would deliver.”

Years later, inaccessibility still provides hurdles and frustrations. “We are 13km away from the main road but it is illegal for us to put a sign there, as the law says you can only advertise an attraction up to 9km away. Even though we are providing vital employment for local people in a very poor area, bureaucracy forbids something that would make a huge difference to the viability of our remote business.”

State administrative inefficiency is an aspect of Portuguese life that McClintock finds most exasperating. “It took me fully 18 years to legalise the building and business that we have here. I think most people would find that excessive.”

While there are downsides to living in such a remote area, McClintock says it has mainly been a source of pleasure, for him and his guests. “Although we are quite cut off, we have our own dinner party practically every night at the Quinta, hosting people from all over the world. One of the consequences of being so remote is that we have had to survive by marketing ourselves constantly.”

McClintock can’t see himself ever returning to England. “I really believe that what we are doing here in a small way makes a positive impact on the world. We provide local employment and by doing that help to keep the countryside going.”

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www.paradise-in-portugal.com & www.birding-in-portugal.com

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A lady’s choice, Portuguese Wine in the feminine

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A lady’s choice, Portuguese Wine in the feminine

Portugal is a country of passions. Some say that Lisbon is the last romantic city in the world, our coast is one of the most beautiful in all Europe, our gastronomy sinful, our culture and heritage admirable, and our people gentle.  But it’s our wine that gets the most attention and drives the biggest passion of all.

The Portuguese wine industry has come a long way from traditional production just 15 years ago to the development of highly sophisticated wines from all regions which are now competing with the best and most prestigious wines from countries around the world including South Africa, Australia and France.

Like football, when it comes to Portuguese Wine everybody has a word to say. In the North, Port Wine is famous and graces the after dinner table in the finest restaurants and homes around the world. Sir Cliff Richards was not a pioneer in the production of Algarve Wines but he has definitely help to increase the visibility of the Portuguese wine industry and to promote the Algarve as a wine region.

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When it comes to the wine it’s not a man’s world any more. The natural growth and influence of women in today’s society is reflected in many aspects of our life, and the wine sector is no exception. Women buy more wine than men. An online survey conducted by Wine Spectator in 2009 concerning women and wine concluded that 93% of the respondents drank wine at least once a week and 80% of the time during meals. Having wine during a meal defiantly helps to promote the wine culture as an integral accompaniment to food. The survey also found that 79% of women prefer red wine to white or rose. This was quite surprising as it goes against the stereotype of women usually preferring white wine. And when it comes to loyalty to a particular brand the survey concluded that 65% of the time women would try a new wine rather than buy a wine they have had before and enjoyed.

Sarah Ahmed is known as the Wine Detective. She’s an independent, award-winning wine writer with a particular passion for Portuguese wines. Her main areas of expertise are Australian wines, the wines of the Loire region, South African wines and of course Portuguese wines. Anyone familiar with wine will recognize Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as the dominant grape varieties. Sarah however became fascinated by the glittering array of over 300 native grape varieties plantedacross some thirty wine regions across Portugal.  The result as she says is “a rich kaleidoscope of unique flavours, textures and aromas”. According to this Wine Detective “Portugalis really exciting because winemaking bravado wed to viticulture excellence is unleashing the full potential of these diverse grape varieties and regions”. As a writer passionate about Portuguese wines she feels a certain frustration to encounter so many unsung heroes – producers, wine styles or regions – yet to make their mark.

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Sarah Ahmed was honoured with the invitation to select the line up for the annual Fifty Great Portuguese Wines press and trade tasting in 2010. This was a fantastic opportunity for her to showcase Portugal’s dynamic and diverse wine scene.  The list of wines chosen for the tasting are listed below and having tasted some of them we recommend you have a taste of your own.

White

    * Quinta do Chocapalha Arinto 2008

    * Quinta de Ameal Loureiro 2008

    * Anselmo Mendes Contacto Alvarinho 2008

    * Quinta do Louridal Poema Alvarinho 2007

    * Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas Alvarinho 2008

    * Vale d’Algares Seleccion White

    * Quinta das Bágeiras Vinho Branco Garrafeira 2007

    * Quinta do Cardo Siria 2008 

    * Quinta dos Currais Colheita Seleccionado 2007

    * Quinta de Saes Reserva Branco 2008

    * Poeira Pó de Poeira Branco 2008

    * Niepoort Reserva Redoma Branco 2008

    * J. Portugal Ramos Vila Santa Branco 2008 (VR)

    * Adega da Cartuxa Pera Manca White 2007  

Red

    * Quinta das Vinhas de Areia Fundação Oriente Ramisco 2005

    * Monte da Casteleja Maria Selection 2007

    * Monte d’Oiro Reserva 2006

    * Quinta dos Currais Reserva 2003

    * Filipa Pato Lokal Silex 2008

    * Luis Pato Vinha Barrosa 2005

    * Dao Sul Encontro 1 2007

    * Quinta da Dona Bairrada 2004

    * Quinta Vale das Escadinhas, Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2007

    * Dão Sul Quinta de Cabriz Colheita Seleccionada 2007

    * Quinta da Pellada Tinto Reserva 2006

    * Vinha Paz Reserva 2005

    * Quinta dos Roques Garrafeira 2003

    * Quinta de S Jose Colheita 2007

    * CARM Quinta do Coa 2007

    * Quinta do Noval Cedro do Noval 2007

    * Quinta do Noval Labrador 2007

    * Niepoort Redoma 2007

    * Quinta do Passadouro Reserva Tinto 2007

    * Lemos & Van Zeller Curriculum Vitae "C.V" 2007

    * Quinta do Crasto Vinha de Ponte 2007

    * Quinta Macedos Pinga do Torto 2005

    * Alves de Sousa Abandonada Tinto 2005

    * Quinta do Crasto Reserva Vinhas Velhas 2004

    * Quinta do Vale Dona Maria 2004

    * Herdade dos Grous 23 Barricas 2008

    * Terrenus Tinto 2007

    * Herdade de São Miguel dos Descobridores Reserva 2007

    * Herdade do Esporão Private Selection Garrafeira Red 2007

    * Herdade do Rocim Grande Rocim 2007

    * Herdade da Malhadinha Nova Malhadinha Tinto 2007 (VR)

    * Herdade de Mouchão Tonel 3-4 2005

    * Quinta do Zambujeiro 2004

    * Quinta do Mouro 2004 

Moscatel

    * Quinta do Portal Late Harvest 2007

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