Updated: Jul 19
One of my longest YouTube subscriptions has been Joseph Marsh's farmer for fun channel (he also has a website here and is prolific on both Instagram and Facebook). Joseph runs a cherry farm with his family in Fundão municipality, Castelo Branco district, in Central Portugal. He has also been offering rural property reviews and walk-throughs for local farms and plots for quite a while. Because he has lived there for years, has learned Portuguese, and has integrated into the local community, Joseph finds out about and features a wide variety of real estate and highlights some real gems. Here's the video for this property:
Being a guy from Vancouver, where the last house that could be bought for under a million dollars was snapped up about five years ago, the value for land that can be found in Central Portugal never ceases to fire up my imagination. These blog entries of mine can be thought of as a combination of window shopping and fantasy booking, an appreciation of the possibilities a particular property offers at a price range that is not absurdly out of reach.
As always, keep in mind that my experience of Portugal is limited to two visits of a couple weeks each to Lisbon, Sintra, and Lagos. Everything I know about rural property in Central Portugal has been gleaned from countless hours of vlogger content, internet research, and getting to know some of the people who live there by chatting with them online. My not-at-all unhealthy light obsession with the region started at the end of 2019 for complicated reasons, a combination of getting sober and the start of the Pandemic.
This property stood out for me on for a few reasons, not least the price, which is pretty good for three hectares of an established and highly workable olive farm with an additional supply of cherry trees. The location is great in a number of ways as well, both in terms of where it is found in the country and the specifics of its immediate environment. Let's examine the former first, using Google Earth to take a look at the local and larger area.
This property is about 2 km from the village of Alcaide, pictured above along with the local surroundings. This is a hilly part of the municipality of Fundão in the district of Castelo Branco, a region known for its water, cherries, and general fecundity. Here's a great description:
"Alcaide is located on a spur on the northern slope of Serra da Gardunha, in the district of Castelo Branco and municipality of Fundão. The village is embraced by the densely forested mountains and then by an area of plain that extends into a fertile valley already in Cova da Beira, two dozen kilometers from Serra da Estrela. The lines of water that run from the fresh springs of the mountain define its morphology. The effects of the erosive actions of water and wind were intense in this region, which can be divided into three distinct units. The mountains, the granite outcrops (hills) and the more docile lowlands for agriculture, namely cherry cultivation." (Wiki)
Alcaide is a small village that Joseph has called a "hidden gem" and "the most beautiful village in Central Portugal" (strong words), even featuring it in one of his earlier videos. It looks very tidy and attractive indeed, offering some services in the form of a few cafes, a pharmacy, and at least a couple of mini-markets. The town of Fundão is about 6 km or so away where many requirements can be taken care of, and just over a half an hour to the city of Castelo Branco, which is large enough to offer pretty much anything one might need. As the following wider view indicates, this is about as central and Central Portugal gets, with a approximately three hour drive to either Lisbon or Porto and their international airports. The coastal town of Figueira da Foz and the surfing mecca of Nazaré are both less than three hours away.
The farm sits on a hilltop, north facing with a panoramic view from its upper northwestern corner over the wide plain towards Serra da Estrela, mainland Portugal's highest point. The flanking substantial hills of the Gardunha on either side of the farm make for some very impressive scenery for a good chunk of 360 degrees. Also worth noting is that while there are many pine forests in the vicinity, the property is generally not surrounded by forest, and any nearby growths of pine (such as can be seen from the farm's entrance, below) have been thinned and look to be well-managed. That fact is not obvious on the video, but I have found the plot on Google Earth and can confirm it from that source. It's very important information due to the ever-present risk of forest fires in Portugal generally and Central Portugal particularly.
Dirt roads that appear to be in good shape provide access to the farm's entrance, pictured above from the perspective of the property. The plot has a simple, roughly rectangular shape, which is a plus in rural Portugal where plot shapes can be very convoluted indeed. The dirt road that Joseph is standing on, above, runs downhill north to south, and completely crosses the property near its western border.
Pictured above is the view from a topmost terrace at the northwest corner, a great location for a house. You would have to build that house, though, as there is nothing larger that a tool shed on the farm. Joseph assures us that building permission for a house up to 120 square meters and up to two floors with a habitation license has already been granted. That's great news, as I'm given to understand that getting a habitation license on farms like this one that have not had a traditional farmhouse on it can be challenging.
Above is a screen grab from Google Earth, with a rough indication of the border. The footprint of the potential house as shown here is 120 square meters. The land is divided into a series of wide terraces faced with low stone walls that descend the fairly mild slope and are south-facing. Growing on the terraces are around 300 olive trees in two varieties as well as a number of cherry trees. All parts of the land can be worked with a tractor, making maintenance relatively easy. Of course, all of those trees will require their own maintenance, and the harvest will require a lot of labour, but the fact the farm is well-groomed and doesn't require initial clearing affords time for other projects. In addition to building a house, there is also plenty of room for a garden, poultry, and/or sheep. Goats would be inadvisable as they would eat the trees, but fencing the terraces and rotating sheep around the property is a definite possibility. It's always a good idea to diversify what is raised and grown on a farm like this to spread income out over the year and to provide a fall-back in case one of the crops fails in a particular year.
Another project that would be absolutely essential would be having a borehole drilled and building some irrigation and water management infrastructure, in other words a cistern/tank or two and some pipe to deliver water to all corners of the property. The fact that no irrigation system currently exists suggests that the trees are doing just fine on their own, but I would still install such a system to help fight fire, and to increase the flexibility of the land. That there is currently no water source on the farm is the biggest strike against it.
These terrace walls require some work, but at least they are there, and the gentleness of the slope is reflected in the low height of most of the walls.
The above pic was taken walking south down the internal road that crosses the plot.
There is only one structure on the farm at present, this "agricultural support building" aka "tool shed."
There are a number of pastures that could be put to use, including some wide, open areas on the upper western terraces that would be ideal for a yurt or some other short-term living situation while the house is being built. While we're on the subject of house building and temporary structures, I strongly recommend this video from Quinta Fonte da Pipa, a goat farm owned and operated by Alex, Molly and Sandra, an ex-pat family from England who bought an abandoned 13 hectare farm eight years ago near Sao Vicente da Beira in Castelo Branco. In it, Alex and Sandra spend some time reviewing what is involved when it comes to the very complicated subject of zoning, land classification, building permits, and temporary structures.
Above is the view westward across one of the lower terraces, with a dry stone terrace wall in decent shape in the foreground and the Serra da Gardunha in the background.
The olive trees look mature and well-established, although in need of a good pruning.
Above is the approach to the lower entrance/exit.
These cherry trees are also very mature and well-shaped.
Above, a remarkably thicc and robust cherry tree that speaks to how long this farm has been around.
Above, wall repairs have begun in at least one spot.
If I was looking to take over a working and well-groomed olive farm and had pockets deep enough to build a house and install some infrastructure, this place would be worth considering. It would hinge on the water question, though. Water is so important in this part of the world that not having it on the property would be an immediate deal breaker.
Many thanks to Joseph, pictured here with Mariana and daughter Chloe, for his ongoing efforts to bring us properties like this and also many glimpses into their daily life and the surrounding area. Great work, Joseph!
While I have your attention, let me briefly highlight my newest creative endeavour, Lazy River Design Works. Hawaiian shirts, tees, bucket hats, graphic tees and more emblazoned with vivid and quirky imagery straight from my brain. All proceeds support my efforts to be a stay-at-home Dad for our son, Rowan. He's a beautiful boy with Down Syndrome and Autism who needs 24/7 supervision. Have a look and get yourself something - I would appreciate it!