The Vinha da Manta experience starts with the drive there. Skirting Guarda*, you head to the Mondego Valley which hugs the Serra de Estrela mountain (a natural park and the only place you can go skiing in Portugal). Through a few picturesque villages – including Chaos! – that boast a gorgeous view of a dammed (not damned) lake, you then turn towards Faia before finally seeing a sign for Vinha da Manta that takes you up a dirt track lined by old stone walls.
Arriving at Vinha da Manta, the view greets you and you know it will never let you down. From this vantage point you can see the Mondego Valley with a few of its traditional villages such as Faia and Aldeia de Vicosa, framed by the beautiful mountains (big hills if you’re from Switzerland and used to the Alps).
On the main terrace next to the big stone house sit a few long tables with a view of the vegetable garden as well as the valley below, a promise of good meals and new friends.
Guests stay in one of nine lodges, big canvas tents set up on wooden platforms and made up of a kitchenette, couch, and two sleeping areas (typically set up with a double bed and bunk beds, but adjustable if and as needed). The toilet and shower are on one side of the terrace, which is set up with two sun beds and a seating area.
The minimum stay is a week, though some lucky guests stay for two.
Jacky and Menno, the hosts, are Dutch and the parents of Finn (19), Thyjm (16), and Keet (13). They are the proverbial cherry on the cake, making everyone feel right at home yet most definitely on vacation.
Menno cooks three meals a week, with dishes inspired from living in and traveling to various countries before relocating in Portugal six years ago. The menus are original, unexpected, bursting with flavor, and absolutely not to be missed. Saturdays, the wood oven gets fired up for pizza night.
To complement this already incredible setup are the natural swimming pool with its own bar, the Yoga Shala where yoga lessons and massages are offered regularly throughout the high season (end of May to end of September), and four horses for trail rides in the area or kiddie rides around the property.
Not to mention the range of day excursions available, to the Mondego river, to any one of the 12 historical villages all around the Serra de Estrela (they all have castles, a variety of hikes, restaurants, and occasional museums or special sights), or to a weekly market in the nearby village of Trinta among others.
This is glamping at its best.
We landed here thanks to some research and a lot of luck (thanks again Workaway!), for a total of six weeks. Our tasks ranged from working in the vegetable garden to being on breakfast duty, assisting Menno for dinner prep (yes, we wrote down some of the recipes), serving guests when dinners were on, making pizzas on pizza night, feeding the horses, prepping the lodges for the next visitors, harvesting strawberries/tomatoes/onions/peaches/figs/whatever is ripe and ready, and more.
The team of volunteers changed as the summer progressed but there were always 6-8 of us, from all over the world, of all ages (well, 19-55!), and with different backgrounds and skills.
Every day was a great day.
As a bonus, this was in some ways the proof of concept we did not know we were looking for. Proof that our dream and vision of setting up an eco-tourism farmstay in Portugal was indeed feasible and financially sustainable! We knew that, but it was still reassuring to see it “in the flesh”.
We used our days off to go visit properties, and while as of my writing this we haven’t found The One, I think we’re tantalizingly close. Fingers crossed that by summer’s end we will have exciting news to share on that front!
[More pics to come once I am back on a proper internet connection!]
*Guarda is a 2h drive from Porto and 3h30 from Lisbon, close to the middle of the country and near the eastern border with Spain