Jane Winkworth

My secret Portuguese hideaway January 06th 2012

For more than thirty years, I have had a home in Portugal in the Algarve. My beautiful and remote house is a real “hideaway” - an away-from-it-all haven of peace and tranquility on the top of a hill and looking directly out over rolling hillside down to the sea, with amazing sea views. The village is tiny and primitive - no hideous golfing sweaters, better still - no hideous golfers and definitely no smart cars or tourists! Yet, it is close enough to the beach to pop down in the afternoon for a stroll with my dog or a swim with my grandchildren and, perhaps, a lovely seafood supper with friends and then a quick drive back up into the hills, gazing down at the twinkling lights everywhere as I drive!

There are many second home owners in my village, but they are all creative, artistic and discreet. People up here are often referred to as the hillbillies! Well we adore it. My greatest friends live on the same hillside - friends for over thirty years and never a cross word, they are the best neighbours you could wish for. Writers, artists, painters, designers and poets have for many years been attracted to this part of the, as yet, unspoiled Algarve.

We have just acquired our first ever Supermarket! It is tiny and full of fresh produce from local farmers. Whenever I venture down there with my wonderful housekeeper - we are the only people shopping! Quite often, we have to manoeuvre ourselves carefully around a goat whose owner tethers it to the railings outside (that house the grand total of ten wheelie trolleys!), while he whiles away the time in the next door cafe. Knowing I am fond of Rod Stewart, the accommodating manager of this lovely little supermarket will always change whatever music he is currently playing to “Maggie May” whenever I walk in!

However, this remote part of the Algarve is not without its dangers and last year we were subjected to a spate of terrifying robberies by itinerant Moldavian and Eastern European migrant gypsy workers employed on building sites and road works as cheap labour. They are unscrupulous and with no morals, they have broken into homes around me and held the elderly as hostages, using brute force and in some cases guns to obtain cash, credit cards, jewellery or anything else that they fancy. People ask me all the time, ‘How can you live up there in the hills - miles from anywhere, are you safe?’

The answer is no - I am not safe, but where is anyone safe these days? I take all the obvious precautions - I have a dog who is a brilliant guard dog - barks at all the birds and rabbits, protects me from dangerous lizards in the garden and God help the geckos on the terraces! I have an amazing intruder alarm system around the property which is activated by a beam, endless house alarms which is all well and good - providing I remember to activate everything!

Now, I realise there is only one way to be absolutely certain of not getting savagely burgled and that is to have absolutely nothing to take! So all my lovely jewellery is left behind in England , I have just one credit card - a Portuguese Banco Agricolo credit card, which only has a thousand euros available and the PIN number carefully written on the back of it and a bundle of euros, about 500 kept in my purse.

So if I am attacked - they are welcome to the money and if they take the Banco Agricolo card they will easily have 1,000 Euros and good luck to them - for a mere 1,500 Euros in total I figure they have an easy night’s work, I lose precious little and with luck will not get beaten up - of course I will offer them a lovely cup of coffee from my Nespresso Bica machine and offer to help them remove my television set if they would like it - but there again I have been quite smart.
No hideous “room-ruining”, horrible common 52 inch flat screen TV’s for me! I just have a couple of very small, ancient televisions that are hidden away in cupboards and that not even my mother would have in her house! I doubt I could even give them away! In fact, on the day of the Royal Wedding (when my lovely customer Kate Middleton married her Prince), I had all my neighbours round to my house to watch the event and to have lunch. My dear old television set was so small we had to all crowd around it, with noses pressed to the screen to see anything!

Most of the Algarve that I knew forty years ago has been steadily ruined by over-development. The rambling green tin shed that for many years was the only airport at Faro has now been replaced by a huge International Airport of hideous proportions - although a couple of months ago, the roof was blown off by a small tornado! Undaunted by this dramatic event, the airport was open the following day - could Heathrow or ghastly Gatwick achieve this? Unlikely.

The once exquisite Ria Formosa nature reserve, which ran along from Faro beach almost up to Quartera and was designated for decades as a “no building zone” has now been completely desecrated and ruined by huge, tasteless villas, endless roads which lead to nowhere, estates of houses that resemble public lavatories and dust and lorries everywhere. Where the beautiful and exotic birds have fled to I dread to think, the aeroplanes fly in every two minutes low over the salt pans and the expensive houses on the Quinta do Lago estate rumble and shake with every landing! .
Lunch with some friends on the San Lorenzo estate at Quinta do Lago was ruined by the noise of aeroplanes landing - we could even see the faces of the passengers waving from the windows! “How do you stand this all day?” I asked, “Oh” replied my host “you get used to it!”..............

So it is with pleasure and delight that I sit quietly on my beautiful terrace in my own unspoilt hillside nirvana, looking out to sea or over my enchanting Italian style garden, listening to nothing more than birdsong or a little Chopin, reading, writing or painting and waiting for my lovely to neighbours to come over for lunch.

Categories: My Week

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Charities Jane supports:

The Royal ballet school English National Ballet Starlight ACCA The Royal Marsden Havens Hospice