Buy from $94,000 in the “Oxford” of Portugal

You step from your dining room onto a large balcony. It’s warm outside—short sleeves only—and the sun is dipping behind forest-clad mountains. Cut-stone steps lead down to your cobbled courtyard and, from there, your split-level garden. Your orchard’s looking good: lemon, fig, olive, avocado and cherry trees, laden with fruit. Maybe now’s the time to fire up the outdoor bread oven or take a walk in the forest, which forms the boundary of your property.

On the hills, and in the leafy valleys and medieval villages of the Coimbra region of Portugal, you’ll find many old properties for sale. With an asking price of $294,600, the three-bedroom home I describe is actually one of the more expensive properties I came across.

It’s well-restored. You’ll find original roof beams exposed in the living room. (Though the large picture window is new.)

Some of these old houses are very old indeed. I came across another restored property, near the town of Arganil, which is thought to be around 800 years old. It’s a four-bedroom village home with an orchard, selling for $227,340. Fruit trees are a common touch here. The Portuguese are crazy about growing. You’ll find properties for sale with cabbage patches, chicken runs and the odd paddock for a horse. It’s possibly the perfect country for a spot of gentleman homesteading.

If you aren’t green-fingered, every town has a weekly market where fresh, low-cost produce is piled high. (You could live well in Portugal on $1,600 or less a month, if you owned your own place.)

Most foreign buyers prefer to pick up old homes, with some land, within a 30 minute-drive of the city of Coimbra. And there are plenty of those on the market. But head into the city and you’ll find decent apartments for sale from as little as $94,155 or so. Perfect “lock and leave” bases if you’re exploring Europe. Plus, with thousands of students in Coimbra, there is the opportunity to rent it out.

Two hours from Lisbon by train, Coimbra is Portugal’s version of Oxford. Students clad in black cloaks are a regular sight on the steep cobbled lanes running up to the grand university, which dominates the town.

You can spend the afternoon munching roasted goat and sipping good wine beside the sedately flowing Mondego River, if you own the two-bedroom apartment I came across in the Santa Cruz neighbourhood. It’s priced at $154,660. Coimbra is a walkable city, and 20 minutes or less takes you across the river to the Forum cinema where movies are in English. A nice after-dinner stroll. Or catch a fado show—Coimbra is a famous centre for this traditional, melancholic music.

The cheapest apartment I found was a 72-square-metre one-bedroom in Baixa for $90,100. Very close to the historic centre and the river, but in need of some sprucing up. For $106,240, you could pick up a two-bedroom near the Se Nova— the “new cathedral”. The newest bit was added in the 18th century. That gives you an idea of how Coimbra feels about tradition.

But, like I say, most foreigners here want the country pad. Here’s a good one: a two-story, two-bedroom farmhouse on an acre of land, about 40 minutes north of Coimbra. Set around a courtyard and enclosed by a stone wall, it commands views of the mountains in every direction. There’s a cast-iron log-burning stove and exposed beams inside. You’ll find vines, plum trees and palms in the garden. You’re less than a two-hour drive to Porto and just over two hours to Lisbon. The Serra de Estrela mountain range is on your doorstep—the highest peaks in Portugal. And the price is $180,200.

One of the most interesting things I came across wasn’t a property…

The university library is so old that you can visit a medieval dungeon in the basement, and a colony of bats is used to protect the leather-bound books from insects. When I visited, a very elderly lady was passionately playing a grand piano. She paid no attention to any of the hushed book-lovers nearby.


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