The Grand Tour

And some brilliant news about water

Every day small changes happen on our building site, but as we work towards creating our off-grid eco-lodge it’s sometimes good to stand back and look at how far we’ve come.

Last year when the fabulous Vowles family came to visit us, there wasn’t much to see on the top of our hill.

But this August when we were treated to ten days of Vowles for the second year running, they really noticed the difference and left some strong words of encouragement.

We’d only just begun: but the view today is very different

We’ve been showing a lot of people around our work site recently – it was wonderful to welcome our old friend Zoe Flood, new friend Stuntman Jake and old rugby chums Kev & Rach Mahony with a sample of their progeny.

It’s a lot easier to visualise everything now we have roofs on all the buildings, so we thought this would be a good time to make a video of our vision.

We haven’t had many award-winning cameramen or women visiting recently and so I had to shoot and edit it myself, so with apologies to the artists out there, please watch our tour and share it with anyone you know who might be interested.

Vowles & Mahony clan watching England v Wales: I really can’t wait for the rugby World Cup (to be over)

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First-time visitor Zoe has already linked us up with all sorts of interesting people who want to visit the Valley of the Stars.

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The Vowles like what they know and know what they like – it begins with a B and ends with each of them.

Hannah, Pete, Matilda and Harry made a bee-line for some of the best sands from our secret spots to some of the more popular public beaches – and high season here seems to be getting a bit busier every year.

With a couple of Vowles, Zoe and Stuntman Jake and the Birthday Beach

There are still some well-hidden, harder to reach clamber-down-the-cliff coves where you come across the occasional German sausage and can even sneak a dog or two down to the ocean in August (and the dogs do love a sausage).

The first rule of secret coastline club is nobody talks about secret coastline club, but I guess we’ll have to get used to the fact that as time goes by, word is slowly spreading about our stretch of the last wild coast in Europe.

For most of the summer Simon & Garfunkel are supposed to settle for dipping their paws in the lake, but where there’s a will...there’s a relative...and the rules here are all relative.

The temperatures have been in the mid-30s and Garfie’s been letting off his daytime steam by barking through the night and joining the dusk chorus of dogs from the surrounding valleys.

Adopting the position: it’s been hard to get the Garfarator vertical in this heat

Chasing away pigs under the cover of darkness may be his job, but chatting to his mates while on the clock isn’t cutting it for us (or our neighbours), so it was good to give him some beach time.

We’re certainly not shouting as loudly about our top secret spots which we refuse to reveal in the pursuit of keeping them special, but do occasionally take our friends.

Having a stab at wild boar (wild boar) - Harry loved Dona Paula’s

Before moving to Zimbabwe where Pete starts his posting as British ambassador shortly, the guys met Dona Paula at her wild boar (wild boar) restaurant and we experimented with a new inland hike to a canyon plunge pool.

Carlos from the building supplies shop was the first to draw us a map to the rocky little valley and then we heard that our pals Cam & Vera from Quinta Camarena were taking their guests.

Although the locals were worried about how low the water level was this year, we all loved it, and it was still deep enough for us to create quite a splash.

Making a splash: Pete’s plunge

As ever, water (as well as Georgia) has been on our mind both for our limited drip irrigation system and trying to solve the bigger problem of long-term drinking water for the resort.

After deep and salty disappointments on the borehole front – and despite the best efforts of Sensor Man and Twitching Justino – we celebrated some amazing news this week.

We’ve always favoured diluting salty water over reverse-osmosising it and while planning to store hundreds of thousands of litres of rainwater, our calculations were still falling short.

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But we have finally been granted access to some irrigation canal supplies from our nearest reservoir – it’s going to cost us a couple of kilometres of pipes and some extra water tanks, but it comes as a huge relief.

After years of pondering various alternatives, it seems we have a plan that’s close to being implemented...just as well (and not just a well), with a completion date on the contract and an opening date in the diary.

Dinner for all: black pork all round with Ana’s famous marinade and Jake’s watermelon & feta salad

Ana is now searching for a used shipping container to save us from building a water-filter technical house and to give us somewhere to store all the furniture and interior decorations she’s avidly collecting.

Facebook Marketplace is our friend and this week Ana found us a fabulous chest of printer’s tray drawers which we hared down and back to the Algarve to pick up at a very good price.

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We’re hunting for some winery memorabilia and so we’ll be driving the length and breadth of Alentejo, heading into the heat of the interior, in pursuit of some well-priced clay pot talhas.

These Roman-style amphorae are used to make wine in a traditional and natural way, and while we are still only taking baby steps towards prepping the land and choosing grapes for our own vineyard, they might end up as more than just ornaments, but we’ll have to see.

The Big Portuguese Wine Adventure
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Greetings from Vale das Estrelas, the Valley of the Stars! It’s been a while…but I’m launching a new push to bring you stories from the Alentejo with a piece which has been published on the website of wine legend Jancis Robinson. The article is my submission for her annual Wine Writing Competition (WWC) and this year’s topic is “your favourite person in w…
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If you’d like to know more about the talhas and the amazing winemakers using them, please check out my other blog (which I’ve been neglecting recently) and read the first article I’ve had published on the website of wine legend jancisrobinson.com in my effort to swap war for wine writing.

What could possibly go wrong, and with no thanks to Roger O’Donnell
Alastair Leithead