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Embracing the Alentejo: Our Journey to Finding Home in Portugal


In the quest for a place to spend quality time and create lasting memories, our family set off on a special journey that led us to a farmhouse in the Alentejo region of Portugal. Here is the story of how this rural monte became not just a house, but a rural escape for us.

A Seed Planted in October 2017:

The idea of finding a place in Portugal took root in the aftermath of a devastating wildfire that claimed my family's home of many generations. It felt like the severing of ties to my father's hometown. Faced with this loss and with our oldest son off to university, we conceived a plan to establish a new home, a gathering place for our family to connect. As a Luso-American, Portugal held a special place in my heart. Summers spent exploring the Alentejo region in the 1980s had imprinted a dream of returning. Despite growing up in Chicago, Portugal had become a spiritual home, and the Alentejo remained a cherished destination.

The Shifting Tides of COVID:

Then came the pandemic that reshaped our lives, presenting remote work opportunities. Portugal emerged as a beacon in a dark time. The allure of the montado cork forests, fresh local cuisine, and a laid-back lifestyle became increasingly appealing. Our collective love for being together fueled our vision of a rural farm where friends could visit, and life could be savored. The challenge was getting there!

Navigating Preferences: Urban vs. Rural:

The search for the right home was not without other challenges. Differing preferences emerged, with my wife favoring something more urban or near a beach, while I leaned towards a rural setting. The Alentejo, with its diverse offerings, emerged as a compromise, offering both tranquility and proximity to cafés, Lisbon, and a bunch of experiences.

The Real Estate Odyssey: A Wild West Experience:

The real estate market in Portugal, especially in the Alentejo, presented its own set of challenges. Dodging unresponsive realtors and navigating misleading listings, we embarked on a three-week scouting trip in the summer of 2021. The area between Estremoz and Alandroal captivated us, with its rich history, friendly locals, and proximity to Lisbon. After considering so many options, we stumbled upon a traditional Alentejo farmhouse, or "Monte," set amid olive trees and oaks. Situated on 15 acres of land, this 18th-century Monte had lots of cool features—a pigeon house, a ruined dairy barn, and even a Roman tomb carved out of marble. The Monte offered a perfect blend of history, culture, and natural beauty.

Settling In: Learning the Ropes:

Our first summer in Estremoz was an adventure in acclimating to a new culture and managing the sprawling 15-acre property, complete with a resident shepherd. Despite the initial challenges, we forged connections with fellow expats and Portuguese friends, forming a supportive community. Dealing with administrative tasks, from property taxes to utilities, came with its own learning curve. Language proved to be an asset, with Portuguese facilitating smoother interactions. Online systems, while different from what we were accustomed to, streamlined processes, making tasks like setting up medical appointments and managing taxes surprisingly straightforward. The construction process, often a source of concern for expats, proved to be a positive experience for us. Research, local insights, and a bit of luck led us to a reliable builder who delivered on time and stood behind his work.


Takeaways: An Open Mind and Cultural Nuances:

Our journey in Portugal taught us valuable lessons. Keeping an open mind, embracing the welcoming nature of the Portuguese, and understanding their unique approach to life were key to our integration. Navigating bureaucratic hurdles, though initially challenging, became manageable with persistence and a willingness to adapt.

So if you're considering a move or an extended stay in Portugal, be prepared for a multifaceted experience. Portugal, with its warm embrace, beckons those who are willing to appreciate its nuances and treasures. As outsiders, let's celebrate the nation's fondness for its own, respecting the unique charm that makes Portugal a special place to call home. Just remember - you won't change Portugal, but if you are lucky - Portugal will change you.


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