Yurt Holiday Portugal (Lugar Várzeas)
At the turn of the century, Hannah McDonnell and Derek McLean packed their newborn baby and a few belongings into their camper van and, eschewing the urban sprawl of south London, drove towards the hills and valleys of rural Portugal. In the mountainous village of Pracerias, an hour’s drive from Coimbra, they bought an abandoned roadside goat shed that they spent two years transforming into a traditional slate "xisto" house. After the birth of their second child, they began planning their unique eco-tourism venture.
Taking supreme care to nurture their smallholding, they chopped down the bare minimum in order to zig-zag rows of steps down the hillside. On the valley floor, the couple bought a locally crafted Yurt, which they now rent out to guests. Originally the preserve of Mongolian nomads, Yurts are the epitome of luxury camping, more commonly known as ‘glamping’. Opulent and decadent, this particular beauty is perched on top of a raised platform to level with the natural slope of the land, sheltered by the branches of a sprawling chestnut tree.
Inside the Chestnut Tree Yurt is a riot of colour, whereas their second yurt, Apple Tree Yurt, is home to lighter tones of white and blue. Chestnut Tree's vibrant orange, purple and red covers swathe an old-fashioned, brass-knobbed bed, whilst the turquoise canvas sets off an imposing Egyptian Ankh ‘symbol of life’ design on the roof. Despite an array of collectible, retro furnishings there’s plenty of space to walk around and stand tall. The site now has handy heaters for those colder spring nights. However, when the weather is really baking, you can open up the Yurt roof altogether before lying back on the bed to gaze at the stars.
Vines, olives, figs, lettuces, watercress, broccoli, courgettes, basil and a lot more, grow on the couple’s organic allotments. The family’s chickens lay your breakfast eggs, and the site serves tasty meals up on the veranda (next to the house), where guests can mingle. On special requests Hannah and Derek can also serve breakfast down at the Yurts. If you’re planning a busy (or lazy) day then you can pre-book dinner, as well. Hannah’s home-cooked three-course meals washed down with a bottle of local Dão wine, in your own secluded sanctuary, are hard to refuse.
The Yurts run on solar power (in terms of electricity), but the shower is powered by gas heaters, providing reliable, hot water. The composting loo indicate the couple’s strong ecological ideals and have a cleverly modern, odour free design that keeps the facilities in check with the luxury vibe. It’s the feeling of isolation, though, that is the main attraction here. Private and hidden from the road, the garden is at your disposal (yours and that of the family’s black Labrador, Bula) so you can really relax amongst the fresh scents of pine, eucalyptus, jasmine and orange blossom, without ever having to rejoin civilisation. When you fancy some company, mingle at the large market at Arganil on Thursday mornings where farmers and artisans ply their produce and other creations.
Anyone who’s seeking the ultimate escapist retreat or simply looking for a stop-gap on a longer trip through the country would do well to look up Lugar Várzeas. This serene spot makes an ideal destination for honeymooners or small group bookings looking to use the two yurts at once. Those who linger longer reap the true rewards; adventurers with wild swimming and hiking trails or alpaca treks through the beautiful and remote Portuguese countryside.
2 Yurts. The Apple Tree Yurt has a pod attached with twin beds making it perfect for families. 1 Bell tent available for families to add to Chestnut Tree Yurt so kids can sleep separately. Inside the Yurts: there’s a double bed, 2 children’s beds on request plus power points, wardrobe, games, books and eco pot-in-pot fridge (2 differently sized terracotta pots sandwiched with coarse sand and saturated with water). Each Yurt has its own private bathroom with hot and cold water, shower, sink and a modern, Swedish made compost toilet. Garden table and chairs, ping-pong table, badminton nets, swings and hammocks. Hannah and Derek also offer a popular honeymoon package including massages and local excursions.
Glampers, families, groups, honeymooners and retreaters – yes. Tents, caravans, campervans and dogs – no.
Food & Drink
One restaurant well worth the 45-minute trek is Varandas do Ceira (00 351 239 549 833) on the way to Coimbra, which serves tasty Brazilian food. Onsite, tasty veranda suppers are available, with cocktails served at 6pm. There is also a handy honesty bar so you can enjoy a cool onsite at your own convenience.
April – October.
2 Yurts, Yurt pods and 1 Bell tent.
Contact Yurt Holiday Portugal (Lugar Várzeas), Lugar Várzeas, Pracerias, Celavisa, 3300-207 Arganil, Portugal
From Porto it’s a 2 1⁄2-hour car journey. Follow the VR1/A28/Porto for A1/ IC1 Lisbon, then to Sul (south). Exit at Coimbra North/Viseu IP3. After crossing Rio Mondego, head to IC6/N17 Covilhã (some maps show this as IC7, confusingly). Turn right to N342-4 to Arganil. Through Arganil, turn right at the fountain roundabout and right at the next roundabout for Góis. At the white chapel turn for Pracerias for 3 1⁄2 miles (6 km) to a stone house on the right.
The nearest train station is Coimbra and the nearest bus station is Moita de Serra in Arganil. Hannah and Derek recomend car hire as the site is very remote and public transport is limited.
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