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Article from The Belfast Telegraph

There is another Portugal
Forget the golf course-strewn Algarve seaside. Inland are hidden gems that you can still buy at amazing prices.

By Ginetta Vedrickas

Buying in Portugal does not have to mean moving to one of the myriad golf developments that now line the Algarve. There is another side to Portugal where period property in rural splendour is not only aesthetically but also financially rewarding. If you can find it.

Rosie Peddle (who featured earlier this year in House Hunter) this month finally bought her Portuguese dream home in Moncarapacho, in the hills of the eastern Algarve, far away from the golfers.

"We found that agents often tried to sell us houses that they wanted to get rid of, rather than listening to our wish list," says Peddle whose main requirements were to be among locals (instead of in a British enclave) and a large garden. She eventually found her property through a sympathetic agent for €240,000 (£163,000). Rather than having views of other houses, Peddle's property stands alone: "I look out onto blue skies and greenery. The house has 7,770 square metres of land, incorporating pines, oleanders and aloes. Who needs golf?"

Location was paramount for Peddle but period detail is a draw for increasing numbers of buyers searching for "the real Portugal", says Connie Vito of Quadrant Overseas Properties. "Anything unusual or with a bit of history always generates interest." Vito also believes that buyers get far less for their money if they buy newly-built property, which is increasingly small in size and costly compared with the attractive price tags of period property: "The Portuguese owners of these larger period houses are getting old, the young prefer modern so don't want to take them on, so they often come on at reasonable prices."

Although the country's southern coast may be saturated with new developments, looking a few miles inland reveals a different side of Portugal. "You can still find lovely 18th-century quintas here, gems which have often already been renovated," says Vito, though she advises people who want a real choice of period homes to look farther north, in and around Lisbon, Sintra and the Estoril coast. "There you're literally tripping over them, there are so many beautiful properties to choose from."

Quadrant is currently selling a particularly stunning example of 18th-century architecture, Quinta da Ponte Redonda, in Sintra. This 27-acre estate comes with a range of buildings, including an eight-bedroom house, chapel and several fully restored outbuildings. At £1.6 million, the property may not rank as bargain basement, but Vito believes that, compared with exclusive enclaves in the Algarve's Val de Lobo and Quinta do Lago, which attract celebrity buyers such as footballer Michael Owen, Quinta da Ponte Redonda represents excellent value. "An equivalent sum spent at Val de Lobo would only buy a villa on a quarter of an acre, whereas here you're buying a slice of history," she says.

Chartered surveyor Caroline Thomas works as a search agent sourcing properties for clients looking for homes with character. She finds that many period properties have lain empty for many years. "There are scores of these dilapidated old houses, empty and neglected, crying out for new owners willing to restore them to their former glory," says Thomas, who points out that these older properties are often undervalued."It's assumed that everyone wants a new villa on the coastal strip, so there are some real deals around."

Thomas points particularly to the many period properties above shops "in dusty market towns" which so far have not attracted interest; she believes this will soon change. "You often discover beautiful tiling, wrought ironwork and lime-washed facades, with no one living in these places. It doesn't occur to most Portuguese to sell, as they assume nobody wants them. But buyers are getting younger and many now want restoration projects."

Tracking down owners of empty properties means some real detection work for Thomas, and she often has to "almost invent a value", as the local market would consider these properties to be valueless. As little as €30,000 (£20,400) could be enough for a period gem, and restoration costs need not be prohibitive.

George Lacey of Lacey Property Brokers sees a growing trend among British buyers to look inland, away from the "overblown" Algarve. "It's not surprising when you consider that £35,000 or £40,000 can get you a lovely country property, whereas a coastal holiday apartment is now about £120,000- £130,000," he says. Lacey's current selection of properties around Coimbra includes a rustic house in need of refurbishment for €40,000 (£27,200) and a seven-bedroom house, "one of the most important in the area", set in 10 acres and near a thriving village, on offer for €350,000 (£237,800).

Fiona Sheffield moved permanently to central Portugal eight years ago: "Even then, the Algarve was horrible and now it's horrendous and so are the prices." Sheffield and her husband, Barclay, bought a dilapidated farmhouse in the countryside near Coimbra and spent five years restoring it. They now live there with their two children and specialise in the sale and restoration of traditional Portuguese property through their agency, Lapis Lazuli. Properties on their books start from as little as €40,000 (£27,200).

While Sheffield's children were initially the only English speakers in their local school, English is now its growing second language. She believes that many other Brits will be tempted to join them: "We've just sold a gorgeous, huge old house with fabulous scenery to a couple who decided against spending €200,000 (£136,000) on an apartment in the Algarve and have bought this instead for €45,000 (£30,500)."

Quadrant Overseas Property: 01276 507513, Caroline Thomas: cape9@clix. pt, 00351 917 735 917, Lacey Property Brokers: 01702 603210, Lapis Lazuli: 00351 239 455 773,

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