On 29th July 2019, we marked the official commencement of the reconstruction of the Solar de Girões, a 17th century manor house and chapel in Sobral Pichorro, with a traditional ceremony of Placing the First Stone, attended by The Secretary of State for Tourism, Drª Ana Mendes Godinho, the President of the Câmara Municipal of Fornos de Algodres, Dr. Manuel Antonio Fonseca, The Very Reverend Don. Antonio Luciano Costa, Bishop of Viseu, and  other state and public representatives, friends, associates and colleagues.

The idea is to mark the event, and to place a memoria in the foundation, that could be of interest to the future generation, when it comes to time for a further reconstruction. We collected objects from recent and history, including a photo, pamphlet and magazine from 1940s, a quartz wand from the land, and a piece of pottery from 2000BC, found by archaeologists at Fraga da Pena, and kindly donated by Fornos Archaeology Museum, and two seeds, a walnut and an avocado – raising the question of what kind of climate might we expect in the future.

Additionally, a group of six young people, representing all youth of this generation, selected and created some objects to be included into the “time capsule,” as a message to the future, carrying their hopes and fears. Bruna, Diana, Simão, Rodrigo, João & Beatriz created a drawing which depicted living in a virtual world, and being disconnected from the world of Nature. During the ceremony they expressed their hopes for more balance in the future. They also included selfies, biographies, favourite songs, a podcast, in which they spoke directly to future generations about their lives, a pen-drive and a mobile phone. These items were all representative of the current culture. After all these items were carefully inserted into the time capsule, the assembled guests were invited to write their own prayer for the future on to a piece of paper, and these were also placed into the capsule.

Secretary of State, Drª Ana Mendes Godinho, gave an enthusiastic speech about  the value of projects such as this one, which will help to bring much needed commercial life back to the interior of Portugal. She thanked the founders of Vale das Lobas for their vision, determination, for wishing to preserve the patrimony, and for taking the risk of investing in a period when there was still no strategy defined for developing tourism in the region. President Manuel Fonseca also thanked the founders for their resilience, and he declared that he was one of the first to believe in this project.

Food and refreshments were prepared by Ana Maria, and her team from the “Centro Dia.” The logistics of the occassion were supported by our construction team and the Cãmara Municipal of Fornos de Algodres. Many villagers also came along, and cheered the Bishop and the Secretary when they arrived. A crew from RTP filmed the event, to be screened on TV soon as a magazine-style news item.

Here is the transcript of my speech:

Good afternoon.

It is both a pleasure and a privilege to welcome you all, esteemed guests, friends and colleagues, to mark The Lançamento da Primeira Pedra. Due to the time of year, some people are unable to be here. Amongst them is our co-founder Lizzie Mae Smith, who is taking care of our youngest grandchild, Ailbe who is 5 months old. To those of you who ARE here – appreciation. The end of July is a good time to celebrate The Lançamento da Primeira Pedra. This is the time to stop planting, and focus on the ripening. And these construction projects are the ripening of the empreendimento Vale das Lobas.

We began with the seed of an idea, to create a Nature Tourism resort somewhere in Portugal. It had to be in Portugal, because we had fallen in love with the diversity of the landscapes, the continuous surprises, the relaxed style, and the genuine hospitality of the people. But where in Portugal? That was a question. We travelled North, South, East and West, from Monchique to Bragança, Minho to Castelo Branco, and as we searched, the vision became clearer, but harder to find.

  • A wide open valley, at 400 – 500m altitude
  • A traditional village
  • A Solar, with olives and chestnuts, and its own water mine.

When we first saw the Solar de Girões in 2009, it was exactly the place we had seen in our dreams, and we knew immediately that we had arrived. In fact we wrote a letter to the Bishop of Viseu that very evening, with our offer of purchase.

It takes time to bring a dream into reality. Even discovering the boundaries for the various “artigos” was a mission in itself. Licensing the projects was an education. But step by step, everything fell into place. During this process, there were many professionals, in the Câmara Municipal, and in the wider community who have all played their part. To all of you – I want to express our deepest gratitude, for your support, your hard work, and most of all – for your belief in the vision for change that we offer.

 So what is the vision?

 There are three pillars to the vision of Vale das Lobas:

  • NatureTourism
  • Regenerative Agriculture
  • Ecological Construction

The first pillar is Nature Tourism:

In 2010, when we heard that wolves used to bay to the moon on a large granite plateau close to Fraga da Pena, we decided to call the project Vale das Lobas. The she-wolf is the ultimate symbol for living in harmony with the natural rhythms. To millions of people, she represents a yearning for reconnection with wild nature. Urban populations are struggling with stress and chronic health problems. Well-Being tourism is the fastest growing segment of the global tourism market, and what this group are seeking is peace and inspiration in nature. Due to the range of offers, people of all ages, with a variety of interests, will all find value at Vale das Lobas. 

  • Artisan Market
  • Festivals
  • Natural swimming pool.
  • RestauranteRota 22
  • Camping Park;
  • Artisan Village – AldeamentoTuristico
  • Botanical gardens
  • Course and conferences
  • SPA treatments
  • Well-Being programs

All of these offers – including gastronomy, adventure, discovery, well-being and education – are included within the concept of Nature Tourism.

The second pillar is Regenerative Agriculture:

Floods, mudslides, hurricanes and forest fires are increasing in frequency and intensity throughout the world. Extinctions of flora and fauna are now spiralling out of control. One of the biggest causes of carbon emission is agriculture. But perhaps the tide is now beginning to turn: In US, more than $320b is currently being invested into Sustainable Agriculture, and $45b of this sum is going into Regenerative Agriculture projects. Regenerative Agriculture can mitigate climate change, improve soil health, and revitalise rural communities.

We will produce botanical health products, organic olive oil, chestnut flour and fruit products. The vegetables served in the restaurants will be produced on our own farm, using regenerative organic agriculture. We envisage the creation of a “Parque de Biodiversidade” – a sanctuary for nature, run and managed by a local community association.

The third pillar is Ecological Construction:

Building with low-impact natural materials, integrating traditional wisdom with innovation; including Compressed Earth Blocks, ecological heating and cooling technology and waste management. We will demonstrate in practice that well-designed, comfortable buildings can be created from natural, organic, local materials, and they don’t have to cost the Earth.

Regenerating Biodiversity, Revitalizing Community, Restoring Health

This development will revitalise the local community. It will provide jobs; Around 40 jobs long term. Our strategy is to employ locally wherever possible. It will also provide opportunities for existing businesses and new entrepreneurs.

Thank you for coming to mark this milestone, for your time in listening to our vision, and for your support. Let’s work together to ensure a better future, for the environment, the villages, the council district, and for the region.