When we arrived in Vale das Lobas (Valley of the She-Wolves), located about 15 kilometres away from the northern edge of the Serra da Estrela, we first met Chan and Diana from Spain and their little son Arun. They live part-time in the little village of Sobral Pichorro, which is built into one of the slopes of the valley.
Chan supports the project and the vision of a British called Tony Conway, who bought an old chapel and quite some land in and around the village 9 years ago. Since then, Tony has been raising capital from investors and public funding to initiate a project to rebuild the chapel and other ruins in order to create a nature resort for well-being and education (project website: www.valedaslobas.com).
In contrast to a lot of little mountain settlements on the Iberian peninsula that became ghost towns in the last decades, Sobral Pichorro is still an active and living Portuguese community. The landscape itself is very beautiful and totally different from the the last place, we stayed, though the distance is just 50 kilometres. The reason is rather obvious and plain to see: no Eucalyptus plantations. Without this foreign tree that brings a high risk of fires the real beauty of Portugal becomes visible.
The region was inhabited by Lusitanians 4.000 years ago. Next to an impressive rock formation close to the village one can find the remains of an ancient stone circle of that time.
The actual rebuilding of the project has not started yet. But when we finally met Tony, he told us that the constructions will begin by November this year. We like the place, the landscape, and we like Tony. He is a visionary, who persistently follows his dreams. We are looking forward to report about the upcoming changes in and around Sobral Pichorro that will take place the next months.
The actor Bruce Willis was well known in the 90s for his Die Hard movie series, in which he did not die at all despite all odds. He became the perfect example of an indestructible type of his species.
In the past, the word Eucalyptus used to remind me to menthol candy. Since my stay in Brazil, I know that the fast-growing tree is used extensively in forestry to extract pulp for the paper industry and charcoal for ore smelting. If you travel by car through the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, you will inevitably cross huge eucalyptus plantations.
The Tasmanian bluegum or Eucalyptus globulus from Tasmania and southern Australia has also spread in Europe. Large plantations can be found in northwestern Spain and Portugal. The tree species became a contentious issue in Portugal after two big fires in 2017, in which mainly eucalyptus plantations have burned. The fact that this tree increases the risk of fire is due to its specific properties: its deep roots lower the groundwater, and the oil it develops is highly flammable.
Nevertheless, the eucalyptus loves the fire. Rhizomes and seeds survive the flames, which, at the same time, cause the destruction of parasites. The seed pods of some species even need the fire to break open. After a fire, the eucalyptus recovers faster than other plants and can therefore spread more efficiently.
The pictures below show how eucalyptus trees and sea pines, which were the most important tree species in Portuguese forestry before the introduction of eucalyptus, developed after a fire that occurred just about a year ago. While the sea pines have died, new shoots from the trunk of the eucalyptus are sprouting and the forest floor is covered with new eucalyptus trees.
We contacted an alternative British network in the region, where Steve and Caryn run their eco farm, and went to one of their parties in Benfeita, a little village next to the mountains of Serra da Estrela. It was nice to be among people and enjoy good music and talks. We realized that there are quite a lot of British in this region and they almost know all of each other. Since we have been in Portugal we are speaking much more English than Portuguese.