When we were contacted my a man named Filipe last year we were still in the north of Spain, and Portugal seemed far away. A few thousand miles and a couple of months later and we found ourselves passing by Alvito in the Alentejo so we stopped in to pay him a suprise visit. Filipe has recently moved to the area from Lisbon to live in his family's home in the small village with a view to promoting the region for tourism and converting the rambling property into a series of apartments for holiday rentals.
Within a few minutes of our arrival he also helped us to get some help from the local mechanic as Sam had some telltale signs that all was not right - it was nothing major this time - just one spark plug from one of the six cylinders which we know doesn't always fire correctly. A quick clean and we were back in business. The cost? He asked for €5, we gave him €10.
Filipe took us for a stroll around Alvito and told us his story. With a background in professional translation, publicity and marketing, Felipe was much like any other urban professional. But when the economic crisis hit Portugal his life changed and things have not got any easier. Portugal has one of Europe's highest unemployment rates and everywhere we've been people have told us many people are struggling to make ends meet. Filipe decided to leave Lisbon an create a life here in the Alentejo doing what he loves - showing people his beautiful country.
We went to see his family's house where Filipe plans to create three guest apartments and where he currently lives with his wife and children. The stunning house was full of hidden corners, beautiful details and tons of potential. There is much to do but this will be a beautiful place to stay in an area of Portugal that is relatively unknown outside the country.
We had so much to discuss with Filipe - both Carlos and I have suffered due to the economic crisis of the last 8 years. We've both lost businesses, I've lost work - we've both had to reinvent ourselves and start from scratch. This journey is the continuation of that process. We spent a year and a half refurbishing our apartment which we now rent and which has given us the freedom to create We Follow The Sun. Filipe's story hit very close to home.
Filipe has already been guiding people around Lisbon and Portugal and set up a website: www.afriendinportugal.com. He plans to celebrate the unspoilt Alentejo and look for ways for people to come and sample the best of the region's cuisine and culture without tourism spoiling the region's sleepy and old-fashioned atmosphere. We can't wait to see what Filipe creates in this beautiful part of the world.
Filipe sent us south through the countryside, past Odivelas, Ferreira do Alentejo and Aljustrel to Castro Verde.
The drive in itself was spectacular passing olive groves, lakes, pine forests and crossing over a dam. In Castro Verde we wandered the sleepy streets drinking in the beauty of the blue and white tiled church, and gorgeous 19th century architecture before continuing our journey east. We promised Filipe we would return and we can't wait to come back to this special undiscovered corner of Europe.