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.

After two years of enjoying our early retirement in a villa in the mountains of Central Portugal, we needed something more fulfilling and adventurous than sunbathing, reading, surfing the net and entertaining house guests. We had unsuccessfully tried to rent a smallholding when we were first married, being interested in self-sufficiency, and when our children were young we had two allotments at different times.  Now, with time on our hands, we thought of looking for a smallholding again. With half of Portugal for sale (so we were told many times) there would be no problem finding a small granite house to renovate, with a couple of acres of land and a water supply. I drew up a list of requirements and we set about looking. This was a pleasant task which involved spending lots of sunny occasional days with estate agent-types, some legally registered and many casual middle-men.

We spent three days escorted by Fernando, visiting ten properties in the Seia/Gouveia area, which borders the Serra de Estrela, very pretty countryside and granitic land. An estate agent often has to invent names for anonymous patches of land far from any village. This one had an old plough on it. . . “Quinta do Arade” (Plough Farm) was the top of a hillside, with a ruined house beside a large bare slab of stone “ideal for building a house on it”. There were several large cherry trees on this land, which were in full fruit at the time, so we took advantage of nature’s kind offer and sampled a good portion of them, some deep red, others bright red and yellow. There were no delineated fields nor crops, in fact, nothing to suggest it was a farm at all. “It has clear access to the house” i.e. no access road across the land to the bare rock site for the house. There was no electricity anywhere nearby, so it was a non-starter.

We were shown a large house with nicely terraced land and irrigated gardens, high in the mountains, having a stunning view overlooking both São Romão (a picturesque town) and a large part of Portugal. Its upper boundary was a Roman road. However, its driveway was very steep, and the trip into town was along a steep winding road. No key was available for us to look inside the place, so we moved on.

We were offered a quinta which had a substantial stream flowing through the land. Included in the sale was a Roman bridge made with five huge stone slabs about twenty feet long.

We looked around the Castelo Branco area for three days at a time, staying on its quiet and clean campsite four times. Most of the properties we were shown had a narrow access track between two high stone walls, usually only slightly wider than our car. A camper van or builders lorry would not find enough room to get through. However, one place we viewed had flat land and good access straight off a minor tarmac road. Its two storey farmhouse was in good repair, it had a big well beside the house which provided ample water, and the laden fig tree beside that supplied us with our lunch. The land area was quoted as four hectares (nine acres) but when I walked around it seemed much smaller, so I queried it. The estate agent made a phone call and said that if we came back in the evening she could get more details. As we left, a man called to us and introduced himself as a member of the family. We learned from him that the advertised land included a plot on the other side of the road which was sold some years ago, the land now for sale was two hectares and the agent’s details were wrong. The sale had not been legally registered so the agent’s paperwork was technically correct and the sale had to be suspended pending legalisation.

Another quinta had a very practical house in excellent order, although built only from breeze blocks. It had a swimming pool and springboard set in a lush garden although the pool water was as green as the irrigated lawn. The only part of house facing south was a windowless wall, as this was on the boundary of the land. Its gardens were tended by a live-in gardener built like an ox, he looked just like Jaws in the James Bond films, whose pride and joy was a very powerful rotovator. His aftershave permeated the walls of his room. Our guide said he was not very bright but he went out to Castelo on Saturdays, pulling the birds. After our first two visits the owner discussed the sale with his wife and that was the end of the sale. He sold his house in Castelo Branco instead.

Now in her 50’s, Maria ‘s spine was crumbling and her bank manager said that she ought to sell her 2-hectare quinta on the edge of a village. It included a house, an excellent range of outbuildings, a barn, and housing for her twenty sheep, lots of rabbits and chickens. The house was in superb condition, beautifully designed, nearly new and half-unused, ideal for a family of four and a granny. Her late husband had put an equal amount of thought into the excellent irrigation system for the land and the planting of its vineyard. She lived in a part of the house with her mother, an ill-natured granny, a skinny black-clad crone who sat on a stone beside the front door, scrubbing dried maize cobs together to make chicken food, complaining about her daughter Maria. The shutters of this house were always closed, keeping the place very cool even in summer. The Portuguese do not like spending money on electric lighting and it was not easy to view anything in the gloom when we returned for a second viewing. Maria insisted we stayed for dinner – she had made a stew from her own rabbits and wine. It was strong and delicious. She had not thought of a price for the quinta. It was worth about double our €150,000 budget, and we said so. She said, sincerely, we could come and live there with them until we could afford the market value! We had to pass up this offer – the granny was too much!