As restrictions lift and the dregs of the pandemic seem to be washing away, the tide is turning and ushering in a remote new world, where digital is the new detox and homeless is now wholesome. It’s never been easier to become a Digital Nomad, Broadband Bedouin, Wifi Wayfarer or Vlogging Vagabond. While caravans aren’t always designed for anything longer than a week, and high-end hotels are hard to inhabit unless your name is Anna Delvey, work-away opportunities are spreading across the globe faster than you can fetch a Corona by the beach.
Arrive In Aveiro and Vouch For Valongo
If you’re feeling the existential itch to get moving before a mix of global warming, world war 3 and other man-made miracles finish off the human race, the Four Environment Concept run by Quatro Anas is a family-run organisation seeking to promote life in Valongo do Vouga, Portugal. They describe themselves as providing:
An excellent opportunity to rediscover the basics to living a balanced, happy and creative life. Learn how to grow, harvest and cook your very own healthy food. Breathe a lot of fresh air. Be carefree. Have fun. Disconnect with the trivial things and find inner peace in a natural and sustainable environment. Connect with nature. Learn about the real Portuguese lifestyle, embrace our slow living. Feel more in contact with your true self and go back renewed. Like a mother to her children, we care about your well-being.
The Four Environment Scheme (TFES) aims to provide people with a taste of rural life by hosting experiences, events and retreats designed to give outsiders a more authentic taste of Portugal than the traditional tourist traps.
The extended host family lives between Arrancada do Vouga and Aveiro, and has become ‘self-sufficient’ by growing everything they could need on their own farms. Whether you want to escape the city or prepare for sitting out the next apocalypse in style, TFES welcome people from around the globe on a rolling basis.
Ana is the matriarch, and as a born and bred agronomist she is also the portal to any of the organic home-made wines, fruits, juices, vegetables, yoghurts and meats. You can buy small or large baskets of raw produce straight from the farm for between 10-20 euros. They also have a little cafe on-site where you can get the day’s bakes such as bread, quiches or pies for 1-2 euros a plate.
Portugal’s Spring evenings can be surprisingly chilly, and while there are gas heaters in the rooms and plenty of intermittent sun, there are a few little convenience stores nearby for extra cardigans and blankets, to accommodate the ill-prepared.
The land is home to the host family, their dogs, farm animals, accommodation for the influx of volunteers, as well as a house for ‘digital nomads’. All rooms are separated with either private or shared bathrooms, and there are two co-working areas, one of which can be reserved for private calls. There is also a small gym, yoga studio and massage room where sessions are offered via whatsapp on the day.
People come from all over the world to work without too many distractions, rest and recuperate, meet a community of likeminded people and get a dose of vitamin nature. While it’s a great area to connect, it’s not overbearing and allows you to take plenty of time and space to yourself – without the intensive organised fun approaches of similar programmes.
For born and bred city dwellers, it can take some time to adjust to the much slower pace of life. From my experience – ‘to take away’ or ‘to go’ isn’t a phrase that’s recognised in local cafés, but it might be a personal thing, as I also consistently got ham and cheese toast anywhere that I asked for butter and jam…
A Galão is the Portuguese version of a latte and no, you cannot have that with oat milk. But it does taste good paired with ovos-moles, a traditional delicacy made with eggs and sugar. These little balls of sweet-omelette goo are essentially a religious detergent.
Ovos-moles trace their origins to the nuns who lived at various convents in the area until the early 20th century, particularly the Monastery of Jesus. Word on the street is that nuns used egg whites to clean their habits (the religious clothing kind) and made the treats out of the yolks so as not to waste them, as well as to raise funds. As with all habits, they quickly become sickly after a while.
It takes about 1 hour to get into Aveiro from Valongo by train and costs 2 euros. Trains do not come very often and an Uber will take just as long to get to you, so if you fancy a little more autonomy, it’s advisable to rent a car.
Portugal’s strong Catholic heritage is allied to many local pagan customs which has fostered a popular culture rich in Portuguese saints, miracles, lucky charms, healing springs, shrines, offerings, magic, cults and superstition.
According to the internet, the pilgrimage season is May to October, where you can witness lines of devotees on the roads to Fatima just outside of Leira, praying at the site of a miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary.
The story is that three shepherd children had a vision of Mary, who supposedly reappeared on the 13th of each of six subsequent months calling for peace in the world.
Fátima remains a strange mix of devotion and commercialism, with shops selling a mind-boggling array of religious swag to visitors.
Every town and village in Portugal has a patron saint, whose saint’s day is celebrated by the whole community, fostering a sense of communal identity and local pride.
The main themes of these festas is a procession of a statue of the patron saint after Mass from the local church, accompanied by fireworks, music, dancing and getting drunk enough to instigate some miraculous visions.
On the day I arrived in Aveiro, I walked straight into a vivid procession in violet. Searching around for answers led to the final conclusion that this was ‘something religious’.
Apparently the purple robes symbolise humility, penance and sorrow for Jesus’ suffering on the cross. A large statue of both Jesus (on a cross) and Mary (on a thrown) were paraded to the sound of a brass band – far from being a celebration, it was a festa for a funeral.
Aveiro has a surprisingly young spirit and is very much a student town, being strongly integrated into the local university where the majority of attendees are on an Erasmus. This makes for a nice contrast to the seclusion of the Valongo farm, which is also located in the type of village where you will find people drinking wine for breakfast (without any sign of toast and jam).
One of the best local dining spots is BlueFin, serving up an experimental mix of Japanese-Mexican. They manage to pull-off hot sushi tacos, strawberry salmon rolls, and spicy ginger teas alongside charming service and a nostalgic, jukebox atmosphere.
Perch In Porto and Leave With Lisbon
Porto is a beautiful place for just enjoying the city, strolling the streets, taking in views and tasting Port wine at the Port lodges. The stunning Old Town on the picturesque Duoro River is a UNESCO world heritage site, and you’ll also find amazing Beaux Arts and Baroque churches scattered throughout the area.
The Hilton Gaia and The Yateman are popular for their city spas, and the Selina chain is home to great co-working spaces, wellness events, tours and cafés – however the Porto branches are a major party hub and get a little chaotic towards the end of the week.
Known as the Portuguese Croque-Madame, the Francesinha is a dish that originates in Porto and is best described as a meat feast wrapped up in a shrimpy cheese parcel. It consists of two slices of toast stuffed with almost every meat imaginable (chipolata sausages, chicken or steak, and slices of ham), coated in melted cheese, swimming in either shrimp or tomato and beer sauce, and topped with a fried egg. It is the definition of having your meat cake and eating it.
In the town of Tomar in central Portugal you can soak in the Da Vinci Code and visit the Convento de Cristo – the main legacy of the Knights Templar. Free your imagination and be guided to the very heart of Portugal by stories that take you on a quest for the Holy Grail… It’s a short train ride away from Lisbon and full of Gothic-Renaissance style architecture from another world.
In recent years, the Portuguese government has been opening its doors to innovative companies and the fintech sector, with the aim to turn Portugal into a tech-hub and bring modernisation to the country. As Portugal is relatively safe and expat-friendly, the feeling is mutual for remote workers.
The Cascais Tourism Board has also launched a new campaign called “It Works For You” to invite British nomads to swap their office desks at home for a ‘workation’ in the riviera. Located on the Atlantic coast, Cascais offers remote workers sunshine throughout the year, is in close proximity to Lisbon, and has an established expat community with a variety of appealing co-working spaces.
One of the trump cards for Portugal is the reduced cost of living, even compared to its near neighbours of France and Spain. Lisbon and the Algarve reign as the most expensive options, while the wilder Silver Coast and the green regions north of Porto tend to be easier on the overheads.
Lisbon is a seven-hill wonder of a city, with high lookout points that gaze across the wide Tagus Estuary, Moorish castles that go back hundreds of years, and a buzzing nightlife like the Bairro Alto. It’s not a vast metropolis like London, but it is a little easier for urbanites to adapt to compared to the far reaches of Valongo.
Each of Lisbon’s various neighbourhoods host their own distinct personality – whether it be the historic maze of alleys in Alfama, or the spice-scented hills of Martim Moniz, the oriental and Indian quarter. Once considered a destination for the retired, Portugal is keen to rebrand itself as a hotspot for the remote.
Although such a lifestyle requires a decent amount of planning, problem-solving and budgeting, the option to live and work abroad is an experience like no other. While what promises to be the exponential era of the Technological Singularity has often positioned itself as aiming for quality and not just quantity when it comes to innovation and progress – the shift into hybrid organising, increased integration and the greater autonomy offered by remote work is just one feature of a more hopeful horizon, amidst the global landscape.