Up on the mountains near Aljezur, second windmill to the right and straight on ’til morning, lives a three generation family of English origins and Portuguese heart.
When we arrive at the New Forest Lodge, the first person we meet is Manny, down at the stables. With a big smile he tells us we’ve passed the farm house, where we’ll be staying, so we are going back. Again, I miss the parking spot and in the rear-view mirror I see Milton promptly jumping on his motocross bike to rescue us. I turn back with our Mario, park it under a tree, let her rest after some off-road uphill.
Milton leads us in, through David’s garden up to the brick walls, where we are introduced to Bob the Builder, in charge of the entrance. Milton shows us around: we meet Frances, who is watering her garden, and Black Sabbath, trying to escape the heat in the shade of a tree. We sit down for coffee and hear a bit about the story of the Lodge. Frances leaves the hose and joins us for a while.
David was a sailor when he met Frances. Their wanders lead them to Portugal and they deeply fell in love with this country and its people. They had two kids, Manny and Ossie, who now has two kids with Milton –pure Portuguese, as he defines himself-, Rose and César.
Our plans to sail around the world were quickly shelved and we moved with our young children to the charming fishing village of Ferragudo, where we founded the Ferragudo School of Art.
After a quarter of a century, it was time for us all to move to the hills, with our family and horses, to experience the space and tranquility of the Cabo Vincentina National Park.
And here their new adventure started. The NFL is today an almost self-sufficient farm, where the family grows vegetables and fruit, has pigs, chickens (and two quails), four dogs, one cat (The Survivor), breeds horses and more.
When they bought it, it was only an abandoned old farm in the middle of nowhere, with no water nor electricity. They built everything with their own hands, every detail shows a trait: the place is imbued with love and personality, hard work and passion. It’s still a work in progress, an unfinished dream that will probably never be completed. There is no 100.
Milton and Manny usually work on the projects in the winter, when the horses take less of their time. David and Frances have their own garden – yes, one each, as in most of best marriages. David grows softer vegetables, while Frances grows sturdy ones and takes care of the seedlings for both. She is also a wonderful chef and runs a small cookery school. Ah, the delicacies we tastes over those two days..! From the most wonderful jams – nectarines and ginger, three fruit, pumpkin and ginger – to homemade yogurt, wood oven baked bread, tomato chutney, plums and rhubarb crumble.. I can’t go on, it’s too painful, please forgive me.
Manny does a bit of the prep too: he loves making sausages, the one thing is generally hard to find in Portugal. He loves to experience with the ingredients and the fulfilling feeling of actually making something that comes with it.
Milton is the grill master – he spoiled us with the juiciest chicken and mouthwatering sausages that night, when we had dinner with the whole family, including Ossie and the kids. Such a lovely time.
We went to NFL for a day horse-ride and a two-night stay but discovered a place offering a much greater experience, bringing us back to the basics and allowing us to learn while reconnecting with nature.
While riding around the National Park, Manny told us about the story of this beautiful land, including its plants and bushes. For example, the park is now full of eucalyptus trees, which are not native but had been brought to Portugal many years ago and took over the territory. Cork bark is peeled off from trees every 9-10 years. The numbers on the trunks indicate when the cork was last stripped. Freshly peeled cork stacks are left to desiccate in the sun before being taken to the factories. Pine trees are used for their nuts and are the only trees protected by law in the National Park. Their umbrella canopies cover slopes and peaks like broccoli florets. We came across very few farms. The land is very little cultivated and mostly left to its natural state or freed from wild bushes to let room for the animals. Bushes of Medronho, a typical red berry, can be found all along the paths. The berry is used to make a clear alcoholic liquid also known as aguardente (fire water). Manny is a big fan. We haven’t had the chance to try it yet.
We fell in love with the New Forest Lodge and this beautiful family. It’s not a secret. During these two days we learnt more about Portugal than during the whole holiday.
The Lodge brings you back to your origins, it reconnects you with the part of your heart you may have left aside while living on a rush in a busy city. The family leads a simple, honest life, respecting the land and enjoying its fruits. I can’t think of a better place where to spend a few days meeting lovely people, learning new skills and fully appreciate simple, good values.