South African Cheryl Smith and her family first bought a holiday home here and then a forever after property which they turned into a rental business with a special character. Her story features in Alyson Sheldrake’s A New Life in the Algarve anthology.

We purchased our first coastal property in 2005. It was ideal for our family holidays, with a huge array of facilities and activities to hand. Our children have some fabulous memories of holidaying there. My daughter, Lara-Ann, and I enjoyed the beach life, whilst my husband Graham escaped to the golf course to play with our son, Robert. With a view to purchasing a home where we’d like to live in the future, we found a waterfront property in 2007 that had two buildings: a one-hundred-year-old farmhouse with stables on either side and a barn with adjacent pigsties. Both buildings offered complete privacy with a 365-degree view of the countryside.

The farmhouse, now known as The River House, was restored into a modern, stylish, and spacious villa with five double bedrooms. We added an infinity pool overlooking the river, and decking areas designed for dining, entertaining, and most importantly—relaxing under the carob trees. Winding pathways were created in the garden to the water’s edge for easy waterside access for canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, and fishing enthusiasts.

We were not living in the Algarve then, so it was an obvious choice for us to offer both properties as holiday rentals when we weren’t using them. The self-catering villa became a popular choice for families looking for privacy and peace, allowing the guests to disconnect from their hectic lifestyle.
We have now started renovating The River Barn and when complete it will accommodate an additional eight guests, making the location well suited for small group activity holidays. The two dwellings, The River House, and The River Barn, are referred to as Figs on the Funcho, as this is the name we gave the location. The river Funcho flows past the property and there are several fig trees on our land, hence the name.

Spring begins in February, when the almond blossom appears and it is a gorgeous time to be outdoors in the fresh air, exploring the countryside with its abundance of wildflowers, creating a feeling of renewal and energy. The hills surrounding us are filled with nature’s bounty—the fragrant wild lavender, the white rock rose, with its floppy large white petals, aromatic rosemary, and sweet-smelling almond blossoms.

Our riverside property nestles in hills overlooking the Barragem do Funcho, the local river dam. The outdoor views are an absolute gem, and it is this countryside location’s peaceful and timeless characteristics that shaped our decisions in making Figs on the Funcho what it is today.
Creating the traveller’s dreamMany travellers now are seeking holidays that include a special interest. Portugal is not just a summer haven, but an all-year-round destination, and there are countless activities beyond the Algarve’s sun, surf, and sand to explore. The Algarve tourist board is now actively promoting particular opportunities, such as walking and birdwatching, and the Algarve’s traditional arts and crafts including pottery classes, basket weaving, and tile painting.

Having now settled in the Algarve, it seemed right for us to move from a business model offering exclusively self-catering breaks, to a framework that promoted special-interest holidays. We also recognised that we have the opportunity to be environmentally friendly by introducing ecotourism and sustainable tourism practices. Our intention is to employ local walking guides, support environmental sustainability projects, educate travellers to be environmentally aware when exploring the countryside, and ensure our visitors are sensitive to the Algarve’s long-standing water problem; a dilemma that is only expected to worsen in the future because of climate change.

Our location is not only on the banks of a river, but is set in a protected nature reserve and attracts a wide range of bird species. Many nearby locals refer to our villa as the villa with the two ducks. We have one black and one white duck, which have been residents on our waterside since the beginning of 2020. We have named them Whitney and Winston, to the amusement of the locals. There is nothing more relaxing than having the opportunity to enjoy birdwatching from the comfort of our outdoor lounge. Other than keeping up to date with the activities of Whitney and Winston, we have a good view of the heron that spends hours wading in the soft mud picking up juicy bits to eat, and the exotic hoopoe and Iberian azure-winged magpie birds that fly around the garden. We would like to leave the world a bit better than we found it and in doing so we are working towards implementing simple policies and procedures to help us gain recognition as a responsible travel destination, and in turn educate others to be environmentally aware.

Birds of a feather
We identified several possible solutions and to start off we partnered with Vita Nativa, an association whose aim is to develop conservation and environmentally sustainable projects that will help us play a part in conserving our surrounding natural area.

Vita Nativa’s project, ‘Local Accommodation for Birds’, aims to encourage nesting sites for birds in the Algarve region. It also promotes the important role birds have in the biological control of the pests the farmers have to endure, without having to resort to the use of poisonous products. They installed several nesting boxes on our site for the little owls, blue tits, hoopoes, and starlings.

Whilst the team were fixing the nesting boxes to our carob and cork oak trees, they identified forty-one different bird species in less than two hours! This is a very creditable bird spotting total for an inland site. The Iberian magpie and Iberian green woodpecker are of particular interest, as their habitat is limited to the Iberian Peninsula. Other species sighted that are not present in much of Northern Europe were the white stork, Eurasian hoopoe, Thekla’s larks and crested larks, Sardinian and Dartford warblers, spotless starlings, and European serins. This bodes well for bird enthusiasts interested in visiting us.

The Algarve is a popular destination for guided birding and bird photography tours, and is a major fly-way for thousands of birds migrating to Africa. One of the most important events in the world’s birdwatching October calendar is the annual Sagres Bird Watching Festival, which has an awesome programme of activities. You can visit several bird hotspots with extensive bird lists without having to travel long distances. Of particular interest are the Ria Formosa, Salgados, Castro Marim, and the Vila Real de Santo António marshland nature reserve, and Alvor’s nature reserve. The popular birdwatching town of Castro Verde in the Alentejo is only a 45-minute drive away for us.

Moving to a new country can be challenging, but the Portuguese are lovely, gentle, genuine people and they are particularly welcoming. We moved for the lifestyle, the sunshine, the gorgeous beaches, outdoor living, excellent food, and award-winning wines. In those respects, the Algarve actually reminds us a little of South Africa. Combined with the friendly welcome and relaxed style of the Portuguese, it’s not hard to imagine why we spent so many holidays here and eventually made it our home.

For information about activities and holidays at Figs on the Funcho,

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