06 December 2013

Rural tourism

As the 35th most visited country in the world in 2012 (numbers from the UNWTO), Portugal has, since several decades ago, a mature tourism sector.
The Portuguese hospitality is legendary, and it's rare to find a foreign citizen issuing negative comments on account of a bad touristic experience in our country.
The reasons for this are quite simple: we are a small country and thus (at least for now) quite safe. There are no internal fractures that threatens the nation's social stability, since we, besides being a state, are also a nation (the oldest nation state in Europe, in fact; independent since 1139 and with its sovereignty recognized by the Pope Alexander III, on the year 1179).
On the other hand, we are naturally curious for other cultures. Contrary to the present general philosophy of the so-called (wanna-be)hegemonic states worldwide, we do enjoy to learn. And what a better way to do that than talking to a foreigner. Learning is what we've been doing since the Discoveries.
You don't believe it? Check our globally respected cuisine and you'll know what I mean: you'll find pieces of Africa, the Americas and Asia on it.
So, it's no surprise that, with this modest, interested, down-to-earth and cosmopolitan way of living, our country became a destination for more than 13 million tourists on the past year. You have to recognize that, in a nation of nearly ten million, these are not bad numbers.
Such a strong worldwide demand for Portugal is answered by the country's hospitality industry, which is increasingly complex, year after year.
Nearly forty years ago, after the Carnation Revolution, the country was poor and tourism accommodations were restricted to hotels in the main cities and pensions and hostels in the smaller towns.
Well, a lot has changed since then. Like everywhere in the world, we now have resorts, lodges, motels, you name it.
Increasing in popularity (taking, for that, advantage of the perfect conditions offered by the country for nature tourism) is the rural tourism.
It uses the concept of "casas de campo" (country houses) as accommodation units and it aims at a growing niche in the market: that one of people tired of city noise, pollution and confusion and looking for a more relaxed vacation experience, preferably amidst nature or inserted in a true-to-values community lifestyle.
Portugal has now thousands of these places, many recovered from ancient secular constructions and given a new life from new owners. The autonomous regions of Madeira and Açores are no exception to the national whole.
A couple of days ago, interested in the concept, I accepted a kind invitation from a friend and headed to the North of the island to enjoy a relaxed day, away from the South coast more frivolous existence. The chosen place was the "Moinho do Comandante", or Captain's Mill. Located in the small place of Fajã do Cedro Gordo (São Roque do Faial), this was, previously, an old water mill, used for flour production.
An old building (dated from 1829), the water mill constructed near the Ribeira da Ametade stream changed hands several times in its life until being bought (already in ruins) by the former TAP airline Captain Carlos Melo Vidal in more recent years.
From that time on, an intense reconstruction and expansion work took place, leading to the inauguration, in 1999.
Nowadays, the "Moinho do Comandante", fully integrated in the surrounding landscape, is a fine example of what the "sustainable development" concept means, when particularly related to the tourism industry.
I'm glad to live in a country were thousands of these small good examples keep flourishing.
The "Moinho do Comandante" as seen from the bridge over the Ribeira da Ametade stream...
...and picturing the high peaks above Fajã da Nogueira valley, in the distant horizon.
Covered in green leafs during Spring time, the mill walls exhibit now a more bucolic, autumnal and naked look, nevertheless equally interesting.
The gate bell.
All pictures taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma 70-200mm 1:2.8D APO EX HSM, 18-50mm 1:2.8 EX Macro HSM DC and 10-20mm 1:4-5.6 EX DC HSM lenses. 77mm Hoya HMC Super circular polarizer and Cokin graduated neutral density filters.
Manfrotto 055 NAT3 tripod and 410 Junior Geared Head.
Post-processing of all images in Nikon View NX2 and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1