Twelve years ago on our Chile trip, Rick and I would often imagine an ideal backpacker place: something simple, good wifi but not too many frills. Cheap but nice. Since then, we've hosted and been hosted dozens if not hundreds of times. But Portugal feels the most like someone else has played that game: making a vision, following through.
The rooms are simple but the Wifi is strong. The free tea in the lobby is loose-leaf, tisanes as well as proper teas. In another home, a host has a rack for surfboards in the foyer: not my dream, but someone's.
There are few places to eat in these off-season surf towns, and food isn't cheap in general, but the pizza place in Fonte do Vale makes their crusts with sourdough, and the €11 deconstructed burger platter in Carrapateira looks better than nice dinners I've had out in big cities. The house wine is €2.80 and good.
Dana was the first to open my parents' house as an Airbnb, back when she needed more money for college. A shrewd businessperson, she intentionally set rates below market for the area for the first months, and offered sumptuous breakfast service to her guests. Fresh cookies were placed in the room.
I ran the place as a high-throughput guesthouse a year or two later, an income stream between travels, on fresh listings of the same rooms. Everyone else was out on travels, and I gave the hotel-like experience the market had begun to demand. Every room was full, my instructions were automated but with personal response available, and I often had guests I never saw— but they might meet each other in the dining room.
Rick and Eileen picked up the business up until COVID, again on their own listings of the rooms. Their motive was cultural exchange, which sometimes worked— but guests who treated the place as just a bed were a frustration to them.
Recently, we've been talking about what it could look like to host again: transforming the tiny cabin built into the back of the woodshed into a fully off-grid eco-cabin, say: an excuse to learn a solar battery array, and to cut dependence on the main house for shower and bathroom.
In my vision, we build an eco-experience, something sufficiently expensive that guests won't miss the beautiful trails we maintain; it's not a hotel. I would show them what plants you can eat in the forest. Rick and Eileen would teach the use of map and compass, if they wanted to. We could cook and eat foraged foods with guests. Breakfast would be sumptuous, sourdough de rigeur, everything custom and included.
Rick's angle is something explicitly fee-free, good value for a straightforward price. I'm not sure what Eileen wants, but I'm pretty sure she doesn't want to spend her time changing sheets.
It's a moot point anyway; I'm not moving home soon, and they're not likely to do it without me. But I've been reading James Crews and Will Guidara, the pleasure of bringing joy to others.
I made a Thanksgiving dinner in London for all my new friends, the full feast as a way of saying thank you for the welcome. I enjoy cooking, but more than that, I enjoy intention, attention, detail. It's Priya Parker, too: with purposeful hosting, a meal becomes a moment. Guidara: generosity has outsize impact. Crews: acts of service are opportunities to show love.
I am nervous to stay in London. It's a city. I don't generally like them. I'll be settling in just over a week from now, and I'm used to being surrounded by long-time friends. I want people to drop by casually after work and make dinner with me, or to go for a walk on a weekday. It takes time to build rapport, and I haven't had to in a while. But I think I'll be all right; I like to host.
As we travel, I get to stay in one- or two-night homes. It's an intimate view on the values of strangers: which one keeps conditioner in the shower, which are clean where, whether the kitchens are sparse or thorough. Though we seldom meet the hosts, I know each one a little.
Tonight, in Aljezur, there's rice in the cupboard and a gift of vinho tinto on the table. The sleeping space is small, but there's a roof deck looking out over town. This is a quiet place, out of time and beautiful. It suits the trail; we walk until we stop, and sleep when we are tired. We are only here one night, but the sunset will be beautiful.
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