Slow Living and Travel in Central Portugal


Enjoy the tranquillity with One Planet Journey’s Enrico Belcore as he settles into slow living and travel in Central Portugal. Staying off-grid, he tends a vegetable garden, visits farmers markets, and socialises with the rural community. A slower pace of life allows him ample of time to read the classics, and walk among cork trees and waterfalls. Read on and don’t miss Enrico’s tips on how you can plan your own slow living experience in Portugal. 

One of the first things she pointed out was the barren landscape, explaining, as if she needed to excuse herself, that the 2017 wildfire had drastically changed the scenery. Once green and shaded by neck-cramping maritime pine trees, it was now dry and beaten up by the sun.

‘They keep planting Eucalyptus trees. Anything that isn’t profitable, it’s not even taken into consideration,’ Ana explained to me, making little effort to hide her resentment. 

She came to pick me up at the bus stop in her dusty Panda 4WD. We were heading to her place up in the valley, a restored quinta (the typical Portuguese country house often built with local materials) nestled among the mountains of central Portugal, where I would spend the following month looking after the garden and her beloved cat, Pat.

A nature lodge hidden among the trees.
Can you spot the quinta?


Deforestation and the Eucalyptus Tree

As soon as we left the town of Coja behind us, I started to understand what she was talking about. The view from the car window was contradictory. The very centre of the valley, where the river was passing through, was blooming with life. Massive cork trees were scattered all around, with streams of water spilling out of the steep rock walls. Land of a rural and slow lifestyle, Central Portugal has in fact managed to escape the intense tourist fluxes that cram the coast of the country, leaving the area wild and free from large cities. Forestland, rivers and steep waterfalls are still the main attractions of the region, attracting a more conscious and often more respectful type of tourism. 

As we ventured up the valley, and the hills started to gradually open up before our eyes, the landscape transformed. Trees thinned out, leaving space to an ochre, dry environment that suddenly carpeted the entire area. Most of the trees on the higher part of the hills were no taller than 150 cm. The region is in fact undergoing a slow process of reforestation following the large fire that spread in the area a few years back. Several trees have been replanted in an effort to regenerate the native forest, although, as Ana didn’t miss the chance to mention, controversies surrounding the ever-growing number of eucalyptus trees and the risk of fire attached to it had created a lot of tension in the last few years.

A valley with a variety of green trees covering the hills.
The valley in a regenerative process – eucalyptus trees covering the hills on the left



The eucalyptus tree has taken up the role of the main villain in the recent discussion about Portuguese policies on environmental preservation. The species, besides being extremely flammable, is infamous for its capacity to drain out the soil, making it difficult for the native vegetation to compete and thrive in the same ecosystem. Native trees, such as the Holm Oaks and Cork trees, that for years had been a pillar of the Portuguese economy, are being largely outperformed, both in terms of water accessibility and economic desirability, leading to an ever-increasing number of landowners who switch to a monoculture of Eucalyptus, especially when it comes to reforest large areas. Following correct regenerative practices is often difficult and economically unsustainable, as it would take years before oak trees or walnut trees become profitable.

As we arrived at Ana’s house, she told me about the night fire reached her house, describing the vision of the burning valley, with flames moving closer and closer to her property. She was lucky enough to have her house spared, but since then, all the residents of the valley had to take several countermeasures to be prepared in case of fire. 

She gave me a few more instructions on how to water the vegetable garden that extended throughout the whole property, and said her goodbyes, to the cat, first, and me, leaving me alone in the stone house towering over kilometres of rural sunburnt land.

Cat outside a window looking in at a desk with papers.
Pat the Cat – eager to read


Off the Grid – The gentle art of slow living

Regardless of being completely off the grid, the house had all the comforts one may ask for. A large water container for storing the water pumped up and filtered from the river, solar panels for electricity, internet connection, and a compost toilet. Despite having a hot shower in the house, most times I simply showered outside in the garden. I would tie the hose to a low branch of the apple tree and turn on the cold water. Minor adjustments like that would keep the running of the house smooth. Less water consumption meant having to refill the tank less frequently. Less electricity usage meant more electricity stored in the batteries outside to be used in case of need. Candles soon became a preferable choice over electric lights, just as spending the night reading or going for a walk became more common than browsing the web.

Walking was usually the best solution to cut down on downtime. It was during my evening walks that I met most of the people living in the valley, often ending up on their land without realising. The whole valley was sprouting with new residents. Central Portugal, just like the south and the major cities in the country, has seen an increasing number of foreigners moving in. Many Northern Europeans and Americans have moved to the area attracted by its rural surroundings and affordable land.

A creek by a waterfall in a forested area.
River and waterfall just a few metres below the property


It only took me a few days to realise how much the valley had become popular abroad. A few weeks into my stay, while I was doing my routine watering of the vegetable garden — a task that would take me about two hours a day, as sprinklers were severely untrusted by the owner — I ran into a group of shirtless Swedish men, who exhausted from a run had come to say hello and a have a dip in the nearby river bordering Ana’s propriety. They told me about the workshop they were taking part in, for which they had flown all the way from Stockholm: a two-week-long immersion into eco-building techniques and meditation. There was some sort of admiration in their words, as they asked me all kinds of questions, still unaware of the fact that I was, much like them, just a guest of the valley. They were getting ready to leave their lives behind and start a different one, a life closer to nature that valued doing less and doing it slower.

That seemed to be the very connection between everyone in the valley, new and old residents. And the longer I stayed in the valley, the more I began to feel the same. When the afternoons were getting too hot, I would go up to the waterfall in the nearby valley. A docile hike connected the two valleys, passing through a tiny village of white houses nestled at the top of the mountains. I would usually make a stop over there, get a coffee and a pastel de nata at the local bar, and stay a few minutes on the terrace overlooking the mountains behind.


Farmers market and rural communities

Some days, when working on my laptop didn’t seem a particularly attractive option, I would wander around the hills, exploring old abandoned quintas and finding new routes to get to the village. The latter was more active than I could have ever imagined. The Sunday farmer’s market gathered many people from the area. Little stands would pop up on the narrow, windy streets of the village.

Everyone seemed to have something to sell: vegetables, books, old kitchen appliances’ parts, and homemade pastries. The main square hosted a little stand serving tea, where most people were standing by, chatting and sharing stories about their week.

Orange tree growing over a wall near white buildings.
Orange trees growing spontaneously in most gardens in the village


I chatted with Ron, a British man living in the area. He insisted that I shouldn’t be buying vinyl from the large stand in the main square.

‘They’re all scratched pieces of junk, only good as trivets.’ He warned me. ‘That guy has a son who used to DJ in a few places in Coja. I bet he even managed to screech over Louis Armstrong.’

He then told me about the tiny cabin where he has been living since moving to Portugal a couple of years ago. He grows most of the food he needs, and only buys a few things here and there at the market. Ron said that he really doesn’t need much more than that. Sometimes he picks up some odd jobs at the village, but it’s more for keeping himself busy than anything else.

‘You see, it gets you bit by bit. At first, there’s the awe of nature, then, when that passes, it’s easy to start feeling isolated and wondering if what you are doing really makes any sense at all,’ he confessed to me. ‘But that usually doesn’t last long; once you are over it and find your place within the community, life becomes suddenly easier’.

Under the blistering heat of mid-August, I was starting to feel the need to get into the water and I decided to make my way to the river that cut through the village. The river had been enlarged with a small dam, so that people could swim and use it as a natural swimming pool. A tanned guy under a sun umbrella was in charge of keeping the situation under control, as well as giving out books to whoever asked for one. Among the titles, some in English, others in Portuguese, there were several Portuguese classics, as for the Book of Disquiet (a bit of a demanding read for a sunny day of swimming), and English fiction, such as Forster and Melville.

I ended up spending the whole afternoon swimming and trying to understand the harshness of living described by Pessoa with my very poor Portuguese, only to go back home in the evening, as the sun had already gone behind the mountains.

A water fountain with a dispenser made in the shape of lion shaped face with human features.
Water – a precious resource in seasons of heat and fire.


Eucalyptus Fire

On the narrow path to the house, I could barely see my feet. Everything was quiet and hidden behind the night. The moon, almost at its full point, provided just enough light for me to stay on the path, as a smoky cloud overcast the night sky. I thought of a distant storm at first, or perhaps some long clouds dragged away by the wind. But its turbine shape soon began to resemble something else, taking on a more vaporous or smoky consistency.

The following morning I woke up in dizzy and ill weather. It soon arrived the news that a portion of the forest a few valleys away was on fire – an eucalyptus plantation was burning. Nothing to be too worried about, people said. It was a summer wildfire, a small one expected to extinguish itself in a few days, before it had the chance to reach any inhabited areas. Neither Ana seemed to be too worried about it on the phone. Rather, she was worried about the cat.

‘Is she eating? Make sure to give her her treat and spend time with her.’ she said. 

I went dissecting the cat’s meat once more, taking all the white bits onto a small plate as Ana instructed me. Outside, the day was hot, and the air felt heavy and gloomy. From above, I could hear the chanting that accompanied the morning meditation of the eco-building workshop, mingling with the rushing of the river below. I made my way down the hill and immersed myself in the freezing morning water.


How to plan your slow-living stay in Portugal 

– Get off the beaten track! Leave the major cities behind and head towards more rural areas. Douro and Beira regions are great starting points to discover the authentic flavour of Portugal.

– Look for alternative accommodations and connect with people. Portugal abounds with retreats, glamping sites, eco villages and permaculture projects. Opt for a stay closer to nature and get to know people who have embraced a slower pace of life.

– Make the most of the Portuguese wild nature. Hiking and mountain biking are popular activities everywhere in the country, with trails that follow the coastline and dive deep into the inland mountains. The Trilho dos Pescadores (the fisherman’s trail) runs for 230 km from Alatejo to Algarve – a slow and sustainable way to discover the country. 

– While the golden beaches of Algarve attract thousands of tourists every year, the large rivers of Centro region are still hidden gems of tranquillity. Spending the day swimming at the waterfall and sipping a cold Super Bock is the way to go to defeat the Portuguese summer heat. 

– Join an eco-project in Portugal. There are several NGOs throughout the country that promote regenerative practices and permaculture projects. Services like WWOOF and WorkAway are great ways to connect with them and spend some meaningful time in nature learning about self-sufficiency and slow living, as well as get insights on how to start your own project in Portugal. 


Have you tried slow living and travel? What are your best tips for a successful experience? Let us know in the comment section! Subscribe to our newsletter and benefit from travel guides, sustainable tourism and luxury travel tips, insightful interviews, and inspirational places to visit. One Planet Journey – The World’s First Deep Travel Magazine.


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