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.
Featured in Cool Camping Europe
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