I spent many hours in conversation with the owner Michelle, a fellow South African. What really stood out for me was not so much the credentials of the sanctuary (although those are impressive), but rather that another foreigner has invested significant funds and time in Portugal to make this country their home.
As an investment migration consultant, many clients come to me for general advice. They are not always picturing a new life in Portugal, Malta, Greece, or the Caribbean. What they want is extra mobility or a Plan B. They desire something to keep in the safe for future use. At a personal level, it was fantastic to meet a Portugal Golden Visa investor who is making such a difference in my adopted second home.
Michelle & her husband Richard spent 2 years traveling, scouting for the perfect place to develop their dream retreat. They spent hours online researching Australia, Greece, Colorado & California. They visited Spain, the UK, France & Italy. Finally, they found this 42 hectares of land due north of Santarém. Michelle remembers the first time she set eyes on the land: “It was not when I stood on this piece of ground for the first time. It was actually when I drove up to the barn, stopped the car, opened the door and put one foot out… and then it just hit me. Finally, I was home. I was still in the car with one foot on ‘my’ land, and I just sat there.”
"It felt like my entire life’s searching for something I can’t articulate. Something that was missing since I was a child… this search had just ended.”
The property had abandoned buildings and no fencing, but beautiful tall trees and a pond. The design and building phase took five and a half years. Michelle employed only local builders and artisans. She had between 5 and 15 construction workers on site daily, supporting the local employment.
4 years after the soft opening, the retreat has 16 full-time staff members and another 3 contract workers. There are currently 3 interns on-site learning about sustainable development, hospitality, hosting retreats, and animal management.
The stable is the only completely new building on the farm and is home to 11 horses and 2 boarders. Some horses are instrumental in therapy sessions. Others are simply much-loved or rescued beauties that live on the farm. The renovated structures offer accommodation and studios for yoga, presentations, and art classes. The lounge, dining room area, and kitchen are in the main house. The current spa only has 2 rooms and is one of the items on Michelle's list for expansion.
Her expansion plans include a great opportunity for an entrepreneur with green fingers. The fertile ground, water, and facilities are ideal for a lush vegetable farm. This vegetable farm will provide organic produce to supplement the delightful vegetarian menu at the retreat and can be developed into a private business.
Michelle sources local produce to support the economy. The farm has olive trees and the local co-op presses oil that is for sale at reception. The honey served at breakfast and teatime comes from a neighbouring farm. A local artisanal baker, Padaria Rachense delivers to the farm daily.
Michelle is a very hands-on business owner. To get a few minutes of her time, I joined her in the kitchen before breakfast. Here she spoke about her history and her husband Richard, her biggest cheerleader. She talked about their lifelong dream to create a center of restoration and tranquility. All whilst chopping fruit and baking croissants for our breakfast. Her passion for healing and making a social financial impact in her community is apparent. She wants to transform people's lives
“You have to focus on what lights you up,” she says “…and when you are excited you inspire other people. Our life purpose is to find out what excites us. When you live a life of pure joy, that is when you are an inspiration to others”