Daybell’s fascination with Portugal started when he met a couple of Portuguese kids through his interest in antiques. He taught them English history, geography and culture to help with their homework and integration into British society. Eventually, they invited him to come to Portugal with them for the summer holidays, and Herbert got hooked. “It became a bit of a joke,” Daybell told The Portugal News, “because I liked it so much, I was looking for a house.”
He searched the Algarve but didn’t find any house he liked.
Eventually, after many summers coming to the Algarve, Daybell found himself taking a plane to Lisbon. In the waiting room, he met a man named Martins. “We had a word with him, and he just told us about this amazing, to me, a house that he had just bought, and I was like ‘Oh sh*t, just the sort of house I should’ve bought’,” Herbert explained.
Nothing much happened for the next three years, until a man who knew Martins brought the house back up again in conversation. It turns out that the house’s owner had fallen ill and put the place up for sale. “So, we got tickets as quickly as we could, and went to see this house, which was a bit of a ruin at that stage, but it was still a magical house and it was part of the old palace of Serra d’El-Rei,” he narrated. Herbert fell in love with the place and set out to buy it.
The book mainly covers the process of moving into his house, as well as many stories that he’s heard and witnessed throughout his time in the country. The first chapter, he admits, is the only serious one in the book, giving an insightful look into the realities of the Colonial War through the story of a woman he met on his first visit to Portugal. On the other hand, Daybell shared the story featured in a chapter later in the book where a couple he had met took a trip to Portugal, but the girlfriend was having stomach pains. Her boyfriend had went to the firemen to see if they could help, but they mistook her stomach pains as a symptom of going into labour. The couple couldn’t speak Portuguese very well, and the firemen couldn’t speak English very well either, so confusion ensued. Things were cleared up eventually, and the girlfriend was able to go to a police hospital to receive treatment, but they had “a good laugh” about it afterwards.
“I love the openness of the Portuguese people, they accept me in this little village when I’m there they invite me to things that are going on,” he said when talking about the pros and cons of being here, but also criticized the bureaucracy in the country: “If you think back, Portugal lived through a time of fascism, when people were kept under control and education was limited. The people accept endless forms of things that are completely unnecessary. For instance, in the village, there’s a fire station and you can become a friend of the firemen member, which you pay perhaps 10€ a year for, but the forms you have to fill in for your parents and what their occupations were and where they were born, but it’s all nonsense, they don’t need any of that. All they need is your support in the community and a donation, but Portugal in many places still goes through what was historically important but isn’t anymore, and that’s sad to see because it is a modern, dynamic country.” He also lamented the lacklustre rail network, before shifting back to the positive aspects. “Anybody who visits Portugal and gets away from the real tourism spots finds some absolutely wonderful people, magic surroundings, views of the countryside, the sea… The food is excellent!” His favourite beer is Sagres.
The house is coincidentally part of the old palace of D. Pedro and Inês de Castro, a story which Herbert lamented not being popular outside of Portugal.
He still lives in the UK, using this house as a holiday home. “Before covid, I visited about 3 or 4 times a year and used it as a base for travelling around,” he shared. Daybell’s stays at the house generally range from 10 days to a fortnight. Explaining his reasonably long stays, he said there are “so many hidden treasures that Portugal has that you can discover almost by accident. That little village where I live has this most amazing church; wonderful tiles, gold-leaf decorated altar, it’s a tourist attraction very few people see.”
Herbert Daybell is working on another book, this time about life in the English countryside. “From a social history point of view, it’s important that quirky things are recorded. I mean, with the Portugal book, I’ve met some lovely people and saw some very strange and quirky things, and I’ve tried to record in that when something unexpected happens. If you just want a holiday in a seaside place like Albufeira you can have a great time there, but if you just wander inland a bit where it’s off the beaten track, it’s amazing! Portugal is a really rich country in adventures and outings.”
You can find “My Portuguese House: A Palacial” on Amazon, available in paperback and on Kindle.
Star in the 2015 music video for the hit single “Headlights” by German musician, DJ and record producer Robin Schulz featuring American singer-songwriter Ilsey. Also a journalist.