Living the good life on a hillside in Portugal

Given how sustainability is and undoubtedly will remain the ultimate buzzword between now and the end of life on earth, two friends of mine decided to tackle it head-on, by relocating and making some radical changes to how they live.

Three years ago, the couple — a yoga teacher and a builder — bought a few acres of arid hillside deep in rural southern Portugal, for the kind of money that might buy you a parking space in the Dublin suburbs.

This idea was not like those TV shows where retirees buy a holiday home in a gated community around a blue tiled pool somewhere Mediterranean. 

No. Their hillside is miles from the nearest village and a steep drive on a dirt track that without a map is impossible to find. 

The hill grows nothing but eucalyptus — no running water, no electricity, nothing. 

At night, the only sound is owls. Horrifyingly, there is no wifi.

Now this couple are not Mr and Mrs Bear Grylls. 

They are city born and bred, but had long hankered after a different way of living, possibly spurred by the idea of a zombie apocalypse when the oil runs out and we are killing each other for the last packet of Tayto, the last roll of Andrex. 

Anyway, since moving to this bone-dry hillside so remote it doesn’t even have an address, they have, with the help of friends and volunteers, created something out of nothing.

Using her vision and his know-how, and their combined bloody-mindedness, they got spring water to go uphill. 

They cut back the highly flammable eucalyptus that should never have been planted in Portugal in the first place (their homestead narrowly escaped the last two killer wildfires). 

In its place, they planted fruit trees, a vegetable patch and flowers. 

They initially lived in a truck as they built a solar-powered bungalow, an outdoor kitchen and dining table overlooking the valley, and a yoga studio. 

Erected furnished bell tents for visitors who like glamping. They made a swimming pool and added compost loos and hot showers.

They even gave in to the complaints of their visitors and sorted out the wifi. 

The contents of the compost loos is magically converted into bio-energy that powers the fridge and the cooker. 

My friend loves to explain how, in graphic detail, which tends to clear the room.

Not everyone is able to become a 21st-century version of Tom and Barbara Goode. 

Even though my friends’ new life costs them virtually nothing in terms of money — they are almost entirely self-sufficient by now — this way of living is not everybody’s dream. 

But as the prospect of the zombie apocalypse becomes less dystopian cartoon and more future documentary, we do what we can to lower our impact.

The environmentalist George Monbiot says that the two most important things we can do as individuals is to fly less and eat plant-based. 

This seems reasonable, and considerably more doable than converting composted poo into electricity on a remote hillside. 

Although frankly, the hillside option grows more appealing as each day passes.

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