A new life in Tavira: the eastern Algarve

It took a drama to drive one London family into action, heading to the Algarve for a new life in the sun.
John Lennon once warned that life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. His sharp observation certainly fits with Tim and Hallie Robinson's story. At the start of the millennium, the couple from north London made a five-year plan to move abroad, but then they became happily engrossed in their full-throttle London lives.

The five years extended towards 10 and they were still in London, and it took an unexpected health scare to make them think again.

Holiday homes in the Algarve
One London family moved to the Algarve from north London. Hallie Robinson, 43, and husband, Tim, 48, moved to Portugal with children Riley, seven, Felix, 12, and Milo, nine - now joined by Pablo the dog

Which is why today they live in the less-visited eastern Algarve close to the historic coastal town of Tavira, surrounded by traditional whitewashed villages, undeveloped hillsides and wide Atlantic beaches.

They swapped their family home in Muswell Hill for a 200-year-old Portuguese farmhouse 30 minutes from Faro airport. After four years of renovations, including a near-total rebuild, their property, Fazenda Nova, opened as a boutique hotel last autumn.

"I adore London," said Hallie, 43. "I'd lived there all my life and had an exciting job in the fashion world while Tim built up a logistics company. Life was good, work was going well and we had three children but always wanted to spend more time together abroad. Then out of the blue Tim had a minor heart attack. We realised that postponing our dream wasn't sensible and set about plotting our escape."

Holiday homes in the Algarve
£136 a night: one of the 10 suites at Fazenda Nova, which is open now. Visit fazendanova.eu

Buying a home in the Algarve
The couple knew the Algarve well and believed it offered everything a young family would need. They flirted with the idea of setting up a delicatessen, but when they looked round Fazenda Nova in 2008 they knew they had found the perfect property for a rustic guesthouse.

"It is a traditional farmhouse, empty for several years and built on one level with a central corridor which all the rooms lead off," said Hallie. "As soon as we walked in, it was easy to see how it could work as a hotel."

As work began it soon became apparent that the house had no foundations and was impossible to save. So with Tim as project manager they rebuilt it on the same footprint, copying the original design and reusing as many of the original materials as possible.

Roof and floor tiles were made to order from original designs or bought from a salvage yard in the Alentejo while modern finishes were added, such as polished concrete bathrooms with Villeroy & Boch fittings. Corten, rusted metal, is used on feature walls in the main reception room and around the hotel entrance.

Fazenda Nova opened six months ago as a romantic 10-suite hotel in more than 20 acres of grounds. Its restaurant serves traditional Portuguese food, such as porco preto and chicken piri-piri, while a 200-year-old bread oven rescued from the original house is used daily to produce breakfast treats served by the saltwater pool.

Hallie and Tim live on-site with their children, Felix, 12, Milo, nine, and Riley, seven. Tim, 48, spends much of the day on his tractor, farming the land with its 300 olive, carob and almond trees, while Hallie manages the hotel and her three full-time staff.

"It's a very simple life with no pressure to have the latest clothes or gadgets," said Hallie. "I collect the children from school each day, often heading to the beach with them. They speak Portuguese fluently and have a freedom that is not possible in London."

Get the look
For furnishings, keep it simple, romantic and yet functional. At Fazenda Nova, much was made locally but several pieces were bought from Paul Thomas Design (paulthomasdesign.co.uk) in Bromley, including an antique Chinese wardrobe in turquoise blue and wooden slatted chairs painted in faded primary colours. Other favoured hunting grounds include Ardingly Antiques Fair (iacf.co.uk/ardingly) in West Sussex — the largest fair in the South of England — as well as Portuguese flea markets.

Rates at Fazenda Nova start from £136 a night per suite B&B. Visit fazendanova.eu

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