On the Road Again – Racing the Brexit Clock to Bulgaria

by Oct 11, 2020Bulgaria, Moving to Portugal, Nomad Life

Sunday the eleventh of October and my eyes creep open to the early morning light in Medinaceli, Spain. One day, 612 kilometres, and a lifetime away from yesterday’s awakening near Monsanto in Portugal. Everything has changed in the casual blink of an eye. The road stretches before us once again. One thousand, eight hundred and forty two kilometres to Ancona and the ferry to Greece. Our route to the east. To the East and Bulgaria.

What was that? You’re surprised you say? Confused? We’re buying a place in Portugal aren’t we? I did all that research. We got our residency. Everything was going so well. What on earth are we up to now? Bulgaria? Where did that come from? What on earth are we doing in Medinaceli?

Jay. I blame Jay entirely. And I’m sure by the time I have finished explaining you will completely understand why. So let’s go back to yesterday morning, and all will soon be clear. Or at least as clear as it is to us. Clear like a waterfall after a rainstorm in the mountains. With slightly murky hidden depths. Hints of exciting places further up the stream. And a tantalising scent of adventure…


Sunrise in Medinaceli

And yesterday, as Marley and I watched the sun rise over Monsanto that scent of adventure smelled remarkably like oranges. Portuguese oranges. The ones we picked the day before from a tree on a little piece of land we were thinking of buying.

We’d arrived in the Monsanto area on Thursday. Driving up from near Castelo Branco to meet a property agent and look at some land. Miguel had shown us three nice places, but we weren’t sure about the access roads to them. They’d all been pretty tight for our Iggy, and we didn’t think they would work for people coming to visit in motorhomes.

We still had more properties to look at in the area with other agents though, and one of the places Miguel had shown us might be worth a second look. In the meantime we’d had an amazing encounter while waiting for Miguel, and had bumped into an old friend who to our astonishment had a homestead just five kilometres away.

Viewings finished for the day we headed over to Jon’s to take up his invitation to park up for the night on their land. Jay helped knock in a few new fence posts; we munched sweet grapes straight from the vine; and dinner was picked fresh from the vegetable garden under the curious eyes of Beanie’s goats.

Everybody breathe in!

It was a fabulous surprise and after an inspiring evening we were raring to go see more properties with another agent on Friday. The coincidence of bumping into Jon had us feeling like we were on the right path. We really liked the area, the properties the day before had been beautiful, we just needed to tick another box or two and we would have what we needed for our project.

A few hours later and we found ourselves wandering around a beautiful hectare of overgrown land just east of Monsanto. There was a big old well, olive trees, fig trees, apples, pears, grapes, oranges and cork oaks. Fabulous stone walls, a good sized flat area and a beautiful view from the slight rise amid the oaks at the far end. The agent assured us we could carry out our agro-tourism project here. Mains water and electricity could be brought in if needed. It would be expensive but possible. 

Jay and I talked it over and very quickly agreed that we loved the place. The one thing that we still weren’t sure of was the access from the road onto the land. We’d visited in the agent’s van and would need to go back the next day in Iggy to check that we really could get in okay. We were pretty confident that the road to the property would be fine. But there were some boulders at the entrance that we thought might be a problem for motorhomes.

And, finally, we would need to check that all the information the friendly, lovable, agent was giving us was as accurate as he promised it was.

But hey! He’d invited us back to his house for a drink. His very own home grown wine and “fire water”. We’d eaten local bread and cheese from his sister’s shop together. Played with his dog. Admired his pool. It would all be great for sure. If only we could get the van through that pesky gate…

Driving round Monsanto in Iggy

And so we came to Saturday – yesterday – and Marley and I walking through olive groves as the sun rose over Monsanto. I could barely breathe with excitement. If all went well today then we would very soon be the proud new owners of that lovely little piece of Portugal. That beautiful central orange tree, and all it’s tasty oranges would be ours for the picking.

Wasting no time we had breakfast, packed up Iggy, and set off to test out the road to “our quinta”. I was particularly taken with a rock formation near the property and talked Jay’s ears off about it as we drove. I had a series of books planned that it fitted right in with. We could even name our quinta for them. Everything seemed to be falling smoothly into place as Iggy took each narrow turn with decent room to spare.

Right up until we reached the final bend and saw the gate in front of us. And the boulder we had wondered about the day before. Perfectly blocking any possibility of Iggy turning off the road and into the quinta.

Sunrise over Monsanto

Our hearts didn’t so much sink, as crumble sadly around the edges. We climbed out of Iggy and I kicked the offending lump of bedrock. But unfortunately it was made of stronger stuff than our hearts, and didn’t crumble at all. Not even in the slightest.

We took a last wander past the orange tree as we pondered the possibilities of pounding the rock away. And as we did so Jay’s phone rang. A contact we had spoken to the previous day was getting back to us about the location of “our” property. And it was not good news.

The area had been designated as some kind of protected land. I couldn’t quite understand the Portuguese terms, but the meaning was clear enough. Some kind of ecological preserve. There was no possibility of being allowed our agro-tourism project here. Restrictions on campervans were very tight. No overnight park ups at all. Even on private land. The agent had given us completely the wrong information the day before. The land was of no use at all.

The overgrown entrance to the quinta

We called Marley from her sniffing under the olive trees and slumped our way back to Iggy. Half mournful, half thankful for our lucky escape, and wondering which way to turn now. We had more properties lined up with other agents on Monday and Tuesday. We had known this was a possibility. We had known we had to do our own research. It was, sadly, all too common and not at all unexpected.

And then I turned to Jay and said the soon to be immortal words,

“Spain’s fifteen miles that-a-way. We could always just head across the border and make a dash for Bulgaria?”

Jay grinned. His eyes twinkled. They twinkled a bit more. They positively shone and sparkled.

“Yeah.” He grinned so widely I thought the top of his head was going to fall off. “Let’s do it. Let’s go.”

Bulgaria Park Up

Bulgarian sunset on our last visit.

And that, dear friends and readers, as you can all so surely see, is why it is all Jay’s fault. Entirely and completely Jay’s fault.

Any sensible, caring and considerate man would have told his crazy partner a most emphatic 


They would most definitely not have jumped behind the steering wheel – there and then – and turned our Iggy home in the general direction of Bulgaria. 

They would absolutely, guaranteed, not have pulled in for an hour at the Spanish border while I checked the internet for Covid-19 border restrictions to see if it was actually even possible for us to get to Bulgaria.

And not in the wildest dreams of the world’s most demented scriptwriter would they have said,

“Well if we can’t get through the borders we can always turn back again can’t we? This is what it’s all about. This is the adventure. I want to go.”

And not in the deepest nightmares of said scriptwriter would I have said in return.

“It was always Bulgaria I wanted to go to anyway. I only went for Portugal because it seemed  the most sensible choice. 

Look how happy we both are? 

Yes. Let’s go.”

A last blast of old Portugal as we got ready to leave

And off we went. Together. Two grinning Cheshire Cats and a Greek mountain dog. Heading East. For Bulgaria.

Fi. x

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