Two quintas had the same shortcoming. The fields of Senhor B’s were lovely, his young vineyards were well made and his diospiro (persimmon fruit) orchard very productive, but the house was separated from his land. Upstairs there was only one small window giving a view of the serra (mountains) and of his neighbour’s olive orchard which the house directly adjoined. He had no right to have any windows overlooking it which meant the view of the mountains could not be enjoyed. The neighbour was uninterested in selling the olival so the house lost its appeal. The owner of the next quinta had recently died and the family did not want it although its trees were well cared for and the fields clean ready for planting.

The small but nicely-built house was on the corner of its land so no windows were permitted to look over the neighbour’s vineyards on the east and south sides. Half the rooms were lacking natural light. We added a new criterion, the house should be central in its land.

A quinta we almost bought belonged to C and her husband, who was physically unable to look after it any longer. It had good access for even a lorry. The kitchen in its single-leaf breeze-block house (not on the edge of its land) was gloomy and neither clean nor well equipped – there were connections for a gas water heater but the appliance itself was absent. There was ample hillside grazing for her flock of twenty sheep in three hectares of newly-fenced land. She said the one hectare (two acres) vineyard could produce 3,000 litres of wine which she sold to a restaurant in Castelo Branco. The adega held three 500-litre stainless steel tanks and was built adjoining the good-sized swimming pool. There was also a huge 30-metre long breeze block building, seven metres wide, divided into ten pigsties and six storage rooms, with five large poultry cages added on the outside. A tractor stood in its own spacious open-fronted shed. The vegetable garden looked well-kept and productive, both it and two ½ hectare cereal fields were irrigated from a large well near to a stream. There was a small orchard too. We liked this place. A week later we had a second viewing and negotiated an offer which included the nearly-new tractor.  We made a third unescorted visit so I could look more carefully at the vineyard. There were far fewer vines than I’d calculated to yield 1500 ℓ of wine and they trailed all over the ground. We tracked down an agronomist who said the vines should be upright and that the area gave only indifferent wine. I became suspicious about the accuracy of what we’d been told and rang the agent to say we were no longer sure about buying the place. That night C phoned us and we arranged to meet near to her home. She said that we didn’t need to use the estate agent really, how much would we pay her for her quinta? Considering all this and a series of strange related coincidences we decided not to buy this farm either.

We extended our search area further north to Fundão, and the girls in the estate agents office were very helpful in suggesting a dozen properties. Most were owned by little old widows hoping to sell up and move into a rented place in town, where they would no longer have to climb into huge olive trees to harvest or prune them, or to grow cabbages to feed to their chickens, or to sleep in a bedroom with only a magazine picture of Jesus on the wall, no paint, and (in two of the houses we viewed) rooms with bits of floor missing.

The last of these quintas was owned by a ninety-year-old man who had a black trilby which seemed to be glued onto his head. The approach to this farm was flanked by huge boulders. The upper part of the land was wilderness whilst the lower part was neglected arable land. There were olive trees and upright vines, fig trees and apples, three water storage ponds and a partly-floored granite house with a roof . However, there was no water supply, sewage, nor electricity nearby. The land sloped down to the south and the house was in the centre of the land, facing south. There was enough potential to make it interesting so after thinking about it for a few days we arranged a second viewing. The man with the hat gave us wine from the farm, fig liqueur made on the quinta and juicy fresh oranges from its trees. To cut a long story short, we bought it. After visiting over forty properties the search was over and now the real challenges began.

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