Courtesy of Viagense Caminhos
Architecture today has the ability to unite this dual function: technical in design and artistic in the ability to blend past and present. Both can coexist peacefully, and mutually enhancing each other. And nowhere exemplifies this better than the Alentejo with its whitewashed quintas [farms] and one-level houses underlined by blue or yellow.
Estremoz is a historic town located 1 hour and 37 minutes from Lisbon Airport and just 37 minutes from Évora. It can be spotted from afar with its imposing castle walls and well-preserved tower overlooking vineyards. In the hazy sunsets, the landscape evokes fairy tales.
The beauty of the region lies in its peaceful and expansive landscapes, the serenity of its preserved nature punctuated by bird songs and gentle breezes, and the soft rhythm of everyday life in small towns encircled by ancient walls and olive groves.
A TALE OF A FAIR QUEEN
In the center of the medieval town, the Torre de Menagem is one of the best preserved in the country. Rising about 27 meters high, it reflects the typical Portuguese military architecture of the late 13th and early 14th centuries.
Isabel de Aragão, Queen of Portugal (1271–1336), was married there to the king D. Dinis of Portugal, who ascended the throne at the age of 17. She was 10 years old and received the towns of Óbidos, Abrantes and Porto de Mós as part of her dowry. The king built the Estremoz Castle for her. Isabel de Aragão was known as a generous, faithful, and motherly queen, often mediating for peace. Notably, she mediated a peace treaty between her son, Alfonso IV of Portugal, and grandson, Alfonso XI of Castile.
Left Isabel de Aragão, Queen of Portugal (1271–1336) Right King D. Dinis of Portugal (1261 - 1325) in The Battle of Alvalade
Cidade Velha (old city) of Estremoz.
THE MIRACLE OF THE ROSES (‘O Milagre das rosas’).
The queen was known for her charitable acts, which gave rise to the legend of the roses. Once, she was accused by her husband of hiding something under her coat. She claimed they were roses, even though it was the month of January. When asked to remove her clothing, the loaves of bread she was hiding miraculously transformed into roses. The queen was later canonized. Following the death of King Dinis in 1325, Isabel retired to the Monastery of the Poor Clares in Coimbra, where she lived as a nun without vows, after laying down the royal crown in the sanctuary of Compostela and donating her personal possessions to those in need.
Today the tower hosts Pousada Castelo Estremoz, a luxury hotel, with its swimming pool offering 360-degrees views of the Alentejo fields.
THE WHITE CITY FOR ITS MARBLE QUARRIES
Don’t think of Estremoz as just fairy-tale pretty and steeped in the past. Instead, it has always been a town known for its industrious and rural hard work. Dubbed the White City, it owes its name to its deposits of white marble. Estremoz Marble has gained worldwide fame and accounts for approximately 85-90% of the country's total exports. The marble quarries are located near Vila Viçosa. Estremoz pink marble (Rosa Aurora and Estremoz Pink), is in high demand.
This marble has been used since antiquity as a material for sculpture and architecture. It can be seen in the Monastery of Jerónimos, the Monastery of Batalha, the Monastery of Alcobaça, and the Tower of Belém.
Portuguese navigators exported the marble to Africa, India, and Brazil. Today, the marble is primarily supplied as blocks to China or Italy, as well as slabs to the Middle East and European markets. There is so much marble around Estremoz that it is used everywhere; even doorsteps and cobblestones are made from marble and are sometimes converted into whitewash for painting houses.
Estremoz is divided into two well-defined areas, each with its distinct beauty and charm. Within the castle walls, the Cidade Velha (old city) is a labyrinth of winding streets converging on the historical Largo Dom Dinis. The lower area is known as Vila Nova (new village). WHEN A #GOLDENDREAM COMES TRUE With this historical context in mind, imagine if someone had told you: “We have a #goldendream house for you, nestled against the medieval walls of Estremoz, the White City, world-famous for its marble quarries, with the option of a great yield from Airbnb and Booking.com rentals. We can negotiate the deal for you, handle all of the bureaucracy, and renovate it for you. We will help you transform it into a charming house with a garden and the option of a pool.Within the house, we will build four bedrooms available for short-term holidayaccommodations, suggest a business plan for you to maximise on the entirespace. And, finally, assist you in obtaining the Short-Term License [or AL License*].” *A local accommodation licence ("Licença de Alojamento Local") — also known as AL Licence — allows you to legally rent residential accommodation for short-term accommodations.
This is no fairytale nor miracle, but a result of business instinct combined with hard work and an expertise of understanding the region. It took nine months to make it happen, and here’s the story of how it all unfolded:
Lisbon, November 2022. Merinda Sadio, our expert real estate manager, meets a potential buyer during an apartment viewing in Lisbon. An American woman in her 30s from California, she had came in with another agent and was interested in buying property in Lisbon. In a conversation, Merinda recommended the Golden Visa program over her choice of a D7 visa.
Two months later, the potential buyer contacts Merinda. She mentioned that she “really appreciated how Merinda explained the legal options so clearly, especially since her French agent hardly spoke English”. Now she was fully committed to buying a house that would meet the Golden Visa requirements, knowing that the visa program was ending soon. Merinda promptly presented three property options that met the requirements, among which the house in Estremoz stood out as the best choice. This house came with garden, five rooms, a garage, a large water tank tat could be converted to a pool, and met the potential criteria of obtaining a Short Term Rental License, all for the price of €230, 000. As a side note, the house leaned casually against the 13th-century walls of the White City! See the house outlined below.
After a couple of calls, the buyer agreed to the purchase via Zoom without physically seeing the property. The offer was accelerated in January 2023, just before the Golden Visa legislation was no longer available. The offer was accepted and paid in cash. It was a done deal! A few months later, the estimate for renovations came in. An amount of €160 000 was needed, and the work was divided in two parts. First, the pre-renovations for €80 000, which were the minimum required to obtain the Golden Visa. The first part of the renovation, currently in full swing, would take about 3 months.
Left side of the house. One of the entrances. The facade of the house. At the bottom of the staircases, the Vila Nova (new city]. View angle. Behind the house, the old part of town.
D–DAY, ON THE HIGHWAY
And this is how we hit the road on a picture-perfect sunny day, the 26th of September 2023, heading in the direction Estremoz. On the empty highway, the car, packed with furniture, meandering through vineyards and plain fields with BBC Global News on the radio.
The meeting with the municipality’s representatives for the AL License to approval was just three hours away. And here we were, decorating the place, and moving in the furniture. Alex Martins, project manager, gave instructions to the workers and Julia, founder and CEO of Mojo, fine-tuned each room with design precision, adding a rug, a frame here, a bench there, soft lighting, and so on. It honestly felt like we were setting up a movie set for the protagonist to step into.
One of the workers was still carving the kitchen sink on an outdoor marble table. Another was carrying the fridge indoors, and the last was screwing in the bathroom mirror. It was a beautiful ballet of busy bees, all working with visible ease and expertise in these tasks.
At 3pm sharp, the three protagonists, responsible for granting, or not, the AL Licence*, made their entrance. The place looked pretty, rustic and neat. Still, everyone held their breath. With the works only 1 and a half months in, even masked with precision decoration, it was not a guarantee that the approval would be given.
A HAPPY DAY FOR A HAPPY WINNER On that day, the happy winner: our young property owner from California, with her gut feeling and creative ideas, could finally get closer to her dream. She was now the proud owner of a house with an accredited AL License, which allows her to legally rent residential accommodation for
short-term and long-term stays.
Once the second part of the renovations will be over, she’ll be able to kickstart her business-driven project, that will contribute to the region’s spirit of innovation. This success story serves as a perfect case study, embodying the commitment that Mojo Boutique provides for each potential property buyer.
Americans settling in Portugal don’t sit idle. And so, when housing investments align with the rejuvenation and innovation spirit of these smaller towns, the result becomes a perfect alchemy. Today, most rural regions are sparking interests in eco projects and cultural tourism, calling for tech and business-savvy collaborations. On the other side, American Millennials are seeking a new lifestyle where work and leisure seamlessly merge, and housing is offered at fair prices.
Soon, in the shade of the walls that have witnessed a tumultuous and rich history, from the front porch of the house and its legendary staircases, we will raise glasses filled with Alentejo wine, enjoy bread dipped in local olive oil, and celebrate what this housing project has become. OUR BOUNDLESS IMAGINATION THRIVES ON YOUR WISH LIST! If you’ve placed your bet on Portugal with a dream that keeps you awake, and a plan to live/work in a small European town filled with historical landmarks, 300 days of sunshine, and prospects for innovation, don’t hesitate, reach out to us.
Mojo is a Boutique Real Estate guiding and assisting investors and buyers in Portugal. We scout and cherry pick the best possible property within your brief and budget. We manage and coordinate the purchase process with expertise in renovations.
THRIVES ON YOUR WISH LIST! If you aspire to live in or invest in a house that requires renovations, even substantial ones, to better align with your personal taste and vision, this is truly our area of expertise. For reference, here's the description of this specific house when it was still on the market. We transformed it into a four-bedroom house to maximize space:
"This property, with an adjoining piece of land, is in need of a complete restoration and is situated at the entrance of Estremoz's medieval wall, offering captivating views of the city—an exceptional location accessible to all. An architectural restoration project is in the works, intending to create a restaurant with a terrace, as well as five rooms and a swimming pool for those wishing to explore the beautiful city of Estremoz. The project has yet to be submitted and is currently categorized as accommodation."
If you are fond of culture and archeology, many monuments spread across the city and in the region, bearing witness of various periods of history. Marks of the Roman and Moor occupations as well as dolmens and funerary remains from the Neolithic period can be seen around the Serra d’Ossa.
The region has been inhabited since pre-historic times and went through many conquests. The doors date from the 13th century, and on the central square, the marble pillory in Manueline style is originally from the 16th century.
When you enter Estremoz, you have the choice of four prestigious doors:
– Porta de Santo António
– Porta de Santa Catarina
– Porta dos Currais (or de Nossa Senhora dos Mártires)
– Porta de Évora (or Porta Falsa)
What to visit: – Castelo de Estremoz (castle) – Café Águias D’Ouro (café) – Convento dos Congregados (convent) – Igreja de Santa Maria e Santiago (church) – Torre das Couraças (tower) – Fonte das Bicas (fountain) – Capela de Nossa Senhora dos Mártires (chapel) – Claustro da Misericórdia (cloister)
Estremoz was captured in the 12th century by the army of knight Geraldo Sem Pavor (Gerald the Fearless), who had conquered Évora. Estremoz was soon retaken by the Moors and in the mid-13th century, was reconquered by the Portuguese King Sancho II. Estremoz received a charter (fuero) in 1258 from Afonso III after the Moors were driven out a second time, which promoted Christian colonization in the area. King Dinis rebuilt the castle as a royal palace.
During the Portuguese Restoration War (1640–1668), Portuguese forces (including from Estremoz) defeated the Castilians in the nearby and decisive Battles of Ameixial (1663) and Montes Claros (1665).