How it all started
Recently, I came across the #homesteadfavorites February photo challenge on Instagram, with a prompt for each day of the month. One was “How it all started”, and I realized that was a story worth sharing beyond a mere Instagram caption – especially because in the case of our journey culminating in the Casa Beatrix Farmstay, there are five such “beginnings”…
A Childhood Dream
My first recollection of a childhood dream was the desire to become a vet, but not only. I wanted to live on a farm, a big house on a big piece of land. It would accommodate my family: a husband who was a lawyer and a doctor, kids, and myself, a vet and a teacher. Without knowing enough to formulate specifics, this basic structure was intended to facilitate self-sufficiency.
Our land would be big enough to have two smaller houses, one for each set of in-laws, so they could be close by while still enjoying their own space.
This came out of nowhere in that my family is not outdoorsy, and as a whole is distinctly more comfortable in cities and going to museums or the opera than anything farm, animal or nature related.
A Failed Trip-wire (in the best possible way)
Almost twenty years later, I was driving back from a week in the mountains with a guy I liked a lot. We were “hanging out”, acting as a couple but everything was so new that nothing was official. I was also a bit of a commitment-phobe, so I was in no rush to have a conversation that would label us as something that made me want to run away.
At the time, I was working at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, a fancy job focused on engaging private companies in workplace health and the prevention of chronic diseases. The boy in the passenger seat of my Audi was a third-generation watchmaker from Belgium working as Head Watchmaker for luxury brand Chopard in New York City.
For no good reason, I decided to speed things along. I mentioned in casual conversation that my early retirement plan was to go live on a horse ranch – the updated version of my childhood dream.
Barely missing a beat, the reaction I got was not what I expected, but a very natural and confident “Cool. Could I have a vegetable garden on that ranch?” which torpedoed my expectations of a failed relationship and instead, set us up for a blossoming partnership.
A Perfect Birthday Present
Fast forward two years. I am now living in New York City and married to Francois – the watchmaker – and while we are loving the big city life, we are starting to think about what comes after the Big Apple.
One dark and rainy November evening, we went to dinner with a friend from college that I reconnected with while living in the city. As it was near my birthday, she came bearing a gift: the book “The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love” about a city girl who falls in love with a farmer and farming.
I didn’t just read that book, I devoured it. It spoke to me in ways I had not expected, making me realize first that such books about a city-to-farm-life-transitions existed, and second that they set my soul on fire. It was time to revisit that childhood dream.
Going Around the World
When Francois and I got married, we put off the idea of a honeymoon so that instead of a rush job limited by our days off, we could indulge in a longer trip later down the line. The idea came from me, as I had already taken a few breaks between jobs and turned such transitions into opportunities for adventure.
We planned slowly, letting our ideas take shape and evolve. In the end, we went all in (or all out, potayto-potahto!): We planned a one-year trip around the world, volunteering on farms to see if it was a lifestyle we enjoyed – and to learn about farming beyond what books and documentaries could teach us. (You can read our halfway recap here.)
It was an incredible experience. We fell in love again and again: with each other, with incredible places we discovered and people we met, and with various facets of farming. It gave us fodder for our dream life to take shape beyond the vague “let’s not live in a big city again, but closer to nature” we had started off with.
A Night of Wild Camping in Portugal
At the beginning of our trip, we stopped in Portugal for a few weeks to attend a friend’s wedding and discover a country that was on our shortlist of places to move to after our yearlong adventure. We loved it, and relocated here in May 2017.
While volunteering, we bought a car and spent all our days off visiting properties around the centre of the country. I think we must have visited forty or so places over the course of a few months. It was inspiring and frustrating. Were we being too picky? Should we stop waiting for the elusive perfect property and “settle” for a place that was good enough?
That’s when our car had an issue and Francois took it to a local mechanic. Bumping into this same mechanic a few days later at the supermarket, Francois randomly mentioned that we were looking to buy a place. Our two key criteria were for it to have water and a view. The guy knew a place and showed Francois who came back with barely restrained excitement.
I went to see it and was awed by its potential.
So, we did what any two rational individuals would do: We went back for a night of wild camping to get a better feel for the place. Waking up with as many stars in our eyes as the night sky had blown us away with the night prior, we decided to buy the place and turn it into the farm and ecotourism project of our dreams, Casa Beatrix.
And that is how it all began.