Updated: Oct 16
It's been almost a year since I last wrote about the YouTube vloggers pursuing a simpler life, renovating land in rural Central Portugal. Since that time, some new faces have arrived on the scene and some major developments have transpired on channels I am very familiar with. I thought it was time for an article to catch up things and make some introductions, at least that was my intent. It turns out there's so much to say about the first subject that the others will have to wait for now.
As you will have noticed, the name of my blog/website is WhyTheAlgarve, so you might wonder why so much of my attention has been held by Central Portugal, far to the north of the Algarve. The answer is that when I first started thinking about Portugal, back at the start of the Pandemic, the Algarve was one of the areas I was personally familiar with and the source of a lot of really good memories. It took a while to fully appreciate the bargains that could be had to the north and the growth of the community that cheapness of land attracted up there.
So I was pleasantly surprised when my YouTube feed recommended Real Algarve Living, and I had the chance to see land renovation up close and personal in the Algarve. The channel was created in June, 2021 by Andrew, "or Andy, your choice," a Brit who has been living in the Algarve for over six years. He has bought, renovated and sold three properties there in that time, bought a fourth property to live on and renovate, and bought another property in the nearby village with his brother to renovate and sell. If that all sounds like a lot, it is, because Andy is a man with a drive, energy, and enthusiasm that borders on the incredible. What sets him apart from people who just like getting things done in a timely fashion is that all of that energy is paired with an emphasis on aesthetic, presentation, and personal comfort. He's the kind of guy who buys a big piece of land, realizes he needs a tractor, buys an aging Lamborghini and immediately paints it a local green (as he did in episodes 2 through 4). He's also one of the most upbeat, chipper and optimistic people I've ever seen, topped off with a chattiness that feels very natural in front of the camera. I suspect that it's a combination of the tractor and Andy's personality that keeps Rowan (our youngest son) content on the couch beside me while we watch.
Some screencaps featuring Andy's property.
Joining Andy on his six hectare property near Benafim, about a half hour drive to the many beaches around Albufeira and Vilamoura, are his dogs Burt, a very mellow spaniel, and Will, a much friskier pointer. Just down the road lives his brother, James, and his wife, Christina. The property itself is quite unusual in that it is a long, skinny rectangle that runs uphill from the road to a considerable elevation, with the lower half(ish) gently sloping and covered in cork oaks and the upper part steeper and more overgrown. It's a configuration I've never really considered before and I can see that it has its appeal as long as you have good and/or absent neighbours on either side; Andy seems to have gotten lucky on this front.
Screencap from the introduction to episode 2, a drone shot from near the top of the land looking south towards the road. I have lightened my best guess as to the shape of the property in the second image.
I've watched almost all of the videos on the Real Algarve Living channel, in part because they pass the Rowan test (meaning he does not reach for the remote) but mostly because the projects Andy takes on are tackled with such enthusiasm and a willingness to expend immense amounts of physical labour that it's hard to look away. I, like many people, enjoy watching good work done well; it's satisfying and inspirational. You get that with Andy, along with the awareness that he might change his mind at some point in the future and cheerfully undo or redo what he has worked on.
When he moved onto the land, Andy brought with him a bus that he planned to convert to a living space (which he did) while the house was being worked on. During the early episodes, that bus got moved at least three times, even after spending many hours in the summer sun installing a deck in front of it at one location. I know he has received comments on his videos regarding his apparent impulsivity because he addressed those comments at one point in an episode. At the end of the day, it's clear that he is comfortable in his own mind with his approach and that labour, to him, is simply a resource that he is very willing to expend as long as it furthers his goals. If the path to those goals is circuitous and includes some setbacks, so be it; as his tagline says, "It's all about the journey."
Setting up a place to live next to the much neglected house occupied a lot of time during the early episodes, resulting in a living space that feels both stylish and practical. He has also fenced a large area for his dogs, reconditioned a large cement cistern, planted many trees, cleared overgrowth in the terraces spotted with the cork oaks, cleared a path up to the small pond on an upper level, painted the exterior of the house and filled the many cracks in the roof and exterior walls, built an outdoor shower, set up a coop and got some chickens, helped rebuild the top of his brother's stone-walled well, and, perhaps most strenuously, spent many days digging out his collapsed well by hand until he managed to get a front-end loader with backhoe in to clear the rest of it. Even the liberal use of time-lapse footage sells short the immense amount of effort that Andy has put towards renovating the land. And all of this by himself, while taking the time to film. It is impressive.
Real Algarve Living posts a minimum of once a week and sometimes twice, with 60 episodes so far. Each episode averages 22 minutes or so, supplying quite a bit of content. It's not all just Andy working on his land, though. He takes the camera with him on trips to the beach, visits to towns in the area, and drives through the hills of the Algarve's central region. You get to know the area a little.
I viewed the channel in more or less chronological order, so just when I thought he's got his hands full with the house renovation and dealing with the red Mars-scape that surrounds the open pit that is his well, Andy surprised me in episode 49 by revealing that he and James have bought an extremely distressed house in the nearby village and are starting to renovate that for eventual resale. The house is not large but does have two floors (in a weird way) and an attached garage with courtyard. Describing the place as in a state of extreme disrepair is an understatement. I think the gallery of screencaps below shows you what I mean:
I'm a little hazy on details here because there is often an element of distraction when watching TV with Rowan, but I believe the motivation for the project is primarily financial - the brothers see this as a way to make some income to help support each of their operations. That makes sense, as Andy has mentioned at least a couple of times that his resources are limited and he's working within a budget (a fairly healthy budget, by the looks of it). I know they bought the property for 40,000 Euros and plan to spend about that amount rebuilding it. They will be providing almost all of the labour (except for some specialized skills), and believe they will save enough by doing it themselves to make the endeavour profitable.
Granted, Andy has renovated three houses in the area and I have not. I have not renovated any houses, in fact. The only knowledge I have picked up about the subject comes from many hours watching the labours of Bee and Theo at The Indie Projects and Guy and Kylie at Make.Do.Grow.. Given all that, but also given the state of the house, I think they are being optimistic. It's true that the work will require an immense amount of brute physical labour, and the two men (now joined by a neighbour whose name I've forgotten and sometimes by Christina) have demonstrated that they are up to the challenge. They have spent the last eleven episodes clearing out huge volumes of crap, taking down roof tiles, power washing, and finally some stone wall building in the courtyard. They are definitely getting shit done and again, it's impressive. Even so, it looks to me like every square inch of that building will need, if not replacing, then a lot of attention. Of course, it needs a new roof, but that's a fairly straightforward (if expensive) thing. It's the walls and the floors that concern me, with the rich stew of rot, mold, and mouse poop that many years of rain through many holes in the roof have created. The floors will need replacing and the walls need stripping. The whole place needs to be wired and, likely, re-plumbed. It's a mind-boggling amount of work.
***(Edit, April 12: One of the episodes that I hadn't watched was #38, "Three Renovations, Before and After," obviously very relevant to the above discussion. Rowan and I watched it yesterday after school and work, respectively, and I now have a fuller appreciation of Andy's ability to tackle a project like this. My gut tells me he is still being characteristically optimistic, but I have to defer to the evidence. I strongly encourage you to give this episode a watch to get an idea of the scope of these past renos, but also Andy's style, which is considerable.)
I have to run out the door for a trip to Victoria this weekend, so I'm wrapping this up rather abruptly. I heartily recommend Real Algarve Living to anyone who is interested in renovation, land reconditioning, and/or living in the Algarve.
***Edit Oct 14, 2023
Eighteen months later, and Andy and his brother, James, have pulled it off. The village house is finished and sold. All I can say is wow, what a crazy amount of work. That work was more than even they expected due to their inability to find people who could render the house's exterior to their satisfaction and do the roofing for a reasonable price. In other words, Andy and James ended up doing two of the biggest and most challenging jobs themselves. I will say, though, that the place looks great - modern finishing with traditional Portuguese touches that give it some character. If you would like to get an idea of just how much work is involved in this kind of reno, please do watch this video that documents the house from beginning to end and the one below that does the same for the property's courtyard. Congratulations, guys - you did it! I'm impressed.
While I have your attention, let me briefly highlight my newest creative endeavour, Lazy River Design Works. Hawaiian shirts, 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!