AWhen we stop at the gate of Lavoura da Bouça, a huge but friendly mastiff is waiting for us. Behind him a bunch of noisy geese waddle, followed by a scattering of sheep. In the back of our brightly colored rental bus, my two sons and their school friend look doubtful. Are we at the right place here?
Admittedly, the stone farm with its animals and apple orchard doesn’t look like your usual motorhome on the edge of town. There are no other vans, no amenities (except a very clean composting toilet), and no lights other than the stars.
I assure them that this rustic place, an hour and a half drive from Porto, is where the EasyCamp website led us to and so, although it looks like someone’s private home, it must indeed be our destination. Then Aurora and José, the cheerful owners of the farm, appear, as if on time, from behind a large fruit tree and lead us through the gate.
It’s late afternoon and by the time we’ve figured out how to unfold the double beds and set up the fold-out table and chairs, the sun is low in the sky. It is wonderfully quiet, a million miles from the industrial garage close to the Porto airport where we had recently picked up the van. The geese are silent, the surrounding hills glitter in sunset sky and sunlit gold, and in a moment of phoneless magic, the boys play an old-fashioned board game.
Then, to top it off, Aurora, with all the light-bearing divinity of her namesake, appears with a basket of delicious homemade treats. Once she’s gone, the boys reach for the freshly squeezed apple juice while I uncork Jose’s artisanal wine. We keep the apple cider vinegar and the bag of nuts in the van as a souvenir.
Aurora may have prepared the basket, but the original idea to offer a selection of local products came from EasyCamp founders, Teresa and Bruno Matos. Inspired by the examples of France Passion and Brit Stops – two leading booking systems that direct motor home owners to unusual stopover sites – the Lisbon-based couple founded an online platform in 2019 that would direct holidaymakers to motorhome-friendly quintas (or farms).
Today, EasyCamp has about 60 such locations in Portugal, mainly clustered in the central belt, the rural heartland. The idea is to help holidaymakers “escape the tarmac” of RV parks while providing a “taste of the countryside”. The second point is literal: instead of paying a subscription or nightly rate to park, EasyCamp’s booking site only invites visitors to buy a basket of goods like the one Aurora presented to us – basket prices vary depending on from the host site.
Quinta, as a quick scan of EasyCamp’s online map reveals, is a relatively loose term. Options range from fairly high-end wineries, such as Fita Preta in Alentejo, to small-scale cheese makers, fruit growers, and even a producer of aromatic plants. What connects them is their owners’ love for their respective corner of the Portuguese countryside – plus a willingness to open their doors to strangers.
That’s exactly what our next hosts do. “Relax,” Laura, the co-owner of Apibéricos, texts me when I contact her to tell her we’re late. “No rush.” We had left late, thanks to a second tour by Aurora and José, this time of other sites they have in and around the village (listing a small mill house and a beautiful stretch of shady riverbank). As we drove through the Alvão Natural Park on our way south to Apibéricos, we came across a lovely picnic spot along the Rio Olo River. By the time the boys had finished bombing, rope-slinging, and generally bobbing about in the water, it was mid-afternoon.
Luckily we didn’t have to drive far, and after we parked, Laura offered us a tour, with the added requirement of a bee suit. Apibéricos, supplier of half a dozen excellent different honeys, has about a thousand beehives spread over several locations near its base on the Vila Real border of the Douro Valley. “Do the bees sting?” wants to know the youngest. “Yes,” replies Laura, with brutal honesty. His face turns pale behind his helmet mesh. “But not often,” she adds. “And if they do, you’re unlikely to die.”
I feel this information is not comforting to him, but we head out anyway and enjoy a fascinating hour with Laura and her husband, Vitor, learning all about beekeeping. When our basket arrives later with different kinds of honey (“Brits like the heather flavor best”) and a jar of pollen (“rich in protein”), we appreciate it all the more because we have seen the worker bees working hard on it . Later in the evening, she recommends a restaurant in the next village for dinner. The mulas (stomach muscles) and tripas (tripe) are a must, she says. The boys’ friend translates, and I duly go alone.
Our last stop is Greenval, an hour or so south of Porto, on the edge of the beautiful Serra da Freita Mountains. Owned by another charming couple, Isabel and João, the farmhouse is located on a plateau with beautiful views west to the distant ocean. In the middle of the site, which is strewn with various recycled shipping containers, is a spacious chicken coop. Two sheep roam the edge, eagerly watched by a few understaffed but very friendly guard dogs.
I have an early night in mind, but Isabel and João suggest we all have dinner nearby at Mira Freita. A restaurant with 120 place settings in a village of 40 inhabitants seems very ambitious, but the family atmosphere and fantastic meat dishes make it a well-known favourite. More than one of the largest and most succulent steak dishes (vitela no forno a lenha) I once had dinner, we spend a few pleasant hours talking about the joys of country life (both are former city dwellers) and their hopes for the future.
Felgueira is a friendly village. João tells me how he recently struck up a conversation with a local man he knows who has a donkey. The man showed João how to hold the good-natured beast and then gave him a “donkey driver’s license”.
João now plans a walk in the hills, with pack animal in tow. Would I like to join him? Of course I answer. From camper to donkey, for a vacation experience designed to take us off the beaten track, it feels like the kind of destination that would get Teresa and Bruno’s approval. We will be back soon.