Here is an opportunity to enjoy life on an organic vineyard estate in a little-known part of the verdant and hot Alentejo away from the mass tourism of the Algarve. For many, owning a home in Portugal has meant golf courses and family-friendly mass tourism. But travel an hour north and the Alentejo is the new kid on the block.
This summer, flights from London to the region's airport, Beja, provide some rare good news for troubled, cash-strapped Portugal and mark fresh efforts to encourage visitors to this unspoilt, unpopulated region.
Similar in size to Tuscany, the Alentejo covers a thick slice of southern Portugal 45 minutes south of Lisbon, running from blissfully empty Atlantic beaches on the west coast across to the Spanish border. It's an agricultural area of gentle green hills dotted with sheep farms, vineyards and cork trees. Annual rainfall is low and summer temperatures can top 35C.
José Cunhal Sendim, a Lisbon-based lawyer-turned-property developer, grew up on his parent's Alentejo farm until the military revolution of 1974 forced them to flee to Spain. "All land was seized and it wasn't until many years later that we could reclaim our farm," says Cunhal Sendim. "Alentejo remained a poor area but a wild, unspoilt one with a culture based around wine."
Owning a vineyard
It's this culture that Cunhal Sendim aims to capture at L'AND Vineyards, a newly opened, classy 22-room hotel with 120 homes for sale near the historic city of Evora. Walk into the clubby reception which is fitted out with warm retro furniture, and where pride of place goes to the winery, encased in a vast glass box so that guests can view the steel vats as they sample the end product.
Property owners at L'AND Residences who want to become more involved in wine production can join the wine club, owning their own organic vines and getting stuck in to every part of the process.
Cunhal Sendim's other passion is modern architecture and he has employed five international architects to create striking, low-level homes on the 66-hectare site.
Two- and three-bedroom single-storey town houses cost from £191,850 to £261,600, and 87 two- to six-bedroom villas from £305,210 to £697,630. They can be put into a rental pool managed by the hotel. All villas come with pools, while town houses, arranged around a large lake, have gardens with space to add a plunge pool. Excellent on-site facilities include a spa, gym, tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools and a top-class restaurant.
Exploring inland Alentejo
"Our biggest problem is that people do not know the Alentejo," acknowledges Cunhal Sendim. "It doesn't have the usual tourism anchors in Portugal like golf but it does have beautiful landscapes, wonderful beaches and is close to Lisbon."
Tourist facilities in the Alentejo are rudimentary. Main roads are good but away from the main towns there are few restaurants or leisure centres. There are wine routes and Europe's largest man-made lake, perfect for gentle boating, but for bright lights and all-night clubbing this is not the place to house hunt.
Resale property in the Alentejo
Rogerio Cabrita of Portugal Best Properties says buyers can snap up a rural property from £44,500, or one by the coast with land and possibly a sea view for £174,400. "This is one of the cheapest parts of Portugal to buy, with mainly rustic properties," says Cabrita. "They range from unrenovated one-bedroom town houses for £26,100 up to large farms with manor houses."
* L'AND Residences: 351 266 242 400, l-andvineyards.com.
* Sales: Glow (0800 311 2193; glowproperty.co.uk).
* Portugal's Best Properties: 020 3239 5372; portugalbestproperties.com.
* Property at L'AND Vineyards is exempt from all purchase taxes, a saving of six to seven per cent.
* Monthly maintenance charges range from £104 to £260.
* BA, easyJet and TAP fly to Lisbon from London. Sunvil Discovery has weekly summer-only flights to Beja from £169 return (020 8758 4722; sunvil.co.uk).