They say that the Algarve is Europe's best kept secret. But when the advertising campaigns then go on to tell EVERYBODY about it - they normally show endless pictures and videos of its spectacular coastline. And fair enough. The beaches are pretty wonderful.
However, the real secret - and one that I think may be just a little bit too well kept for its own good - is that there’s just as much beauty (not to mention peace and tranquillity) to be found inland, as well.
You don’t even have to drive that far. Half an hour up the twisty-turny roads into the mountains and life is very different. Here you can discover what you could call the ‘real Portugal’.
The beauty of the countryside is immense with wildflowers and spectacular views and you can still find shepherds herding their sheep (and goats) and subsistence farmers working hard on their land to grow the food they need.
Unfortunately though, with the growth of tourism in the last 30 years, there’s been a huge depopulation of these areas with the younger generation moving closer to the coast in order to make a living. This means that most of what's left are farmers over the age of 70 and with nobody to take over from them, this fascinating, traditional way of life is at risk of coming to an end.
What can we do about it?
Well, this is exactly what American couple Virginia and Josh (and their toddler Luciano), who moved to Portugal from Ohio and bought a piece of land in the Serra de Caldeirão mountain range (near Cachopo), have been trying to figure out.
They think the answer is to promote sustainable rural living. They want to use their newly acquired land to prove that subsistence farming and this traditional way of life can be showcased through tourism and by doing so they hope to inspire the younger folk to return to the countryside - and to simply bring the tourists back with them.
Visiting the farm
They very kindly invited me around to their farm which they have called Quinta Rosa de Victoria (after Virginia's mum and grandma) and I was delighted to find Virginia in a patch of sunflowers outside their front door.
Virginia is originally from Venezuela but her dad is Portuguese from Madeira. She is 6 months pregnant but still happily took me on a little tour of the land pointing out all the trees and wildflowers and telling me what they had been learning to do with them.
Life with the locals
They have spent the last year renovating the little old house, watering their many plants and trees, growing vegetables, making a chicken coop and, of course - getting to know their neighbours.
They have learned all kinds of things from these older folks who are happy to have some young (and curious) life back in the area.
The couple seem to really be embracing this traditional Portuguese way of life. And I have to say, having recently bought an old farmers' truck, they certainly look the part.
Virginia told me she has always been a city girl and so when they decided to move there, they were a little concerned about how she would find living so remotely - but she told me that she has never been so happy.
This is part of the reason why they are so passionate about promoting rural tourism, she explained. “Because when you find something good, you want to share it with other people”.
Homemade with love
After our walk, we sat down for a chat and Josh, who had been inside looking after Luciano, came out with a tray of the most delicious things.
There was bread that they baked in their very own restored wood oven. Delicious medronho and quince jams from their trees. And they had even pickled their own olives.
Fish to plants and back again
Talking to Josh, I found out he is a horticulturist and back in America built what's called Aquaponics. These very neat systems work by creating a wonderful symbiotic relationship between fish and plants. Feed your fish and they excrete waste which provides nutrients for the plants and in consuming these nutrients the plants help purify the water.
I had heard about this before, but Josh talked about taking it a step further and using it to grow prawns and salmon. I may very well be back to find out more about this one day.
Visit the mountains for the day?
They have started offering activities and tours where people can come and do things like pick wild lavender to make candles, meet the local goat herder, learn how to make homemade bread, visit their local watering hole for a swim and, basically, just enjoy being out in nature for the day and experiencing a different and very peaceful side of Portugal.
I can vouch for that. I was only there a few hours and I felt deeply relaxed - like I was floating on mountain air.