The Sunday Times - Head Off Course

The Sunday Times - Head Off Course

12 April, 2016

Look beyond the sprawling golf resorts of the Algarve to Portugal’s wilder coasts, which offer more tranquil luxury with a low cost of living.

Fancy an authentic taste of Portugal without the midday G&Ts. the golf bores and the grey-socks-and-sandals brigade of the Algarve? While Lisbon vies with Berlin and Barcelona as Europe’s hippest cultural, culinary and clubbing capital, its coastline is upping the ante for those who want real Iberia within easy reach of the city — and reassuringly far from the clichéd Brit-abroad stereotypes.

Well-heeled coastal spots such as Cascais and Estoril, which have been drawing royalty and rich overseas buyers for more than a century, continue to attract an international crowd with their handsome historic properties and architecturally prestigious new developments.

Other areas, such as the Douro Valley, on Porto’s doorstep, and lesser-known coastal towns such as Santa Cruz, are entering the fray, too, as boutique developments bring residential luxury to areas of natural paradise.

“Many Britons are investing in these areas because there is a more international community and fewer overdeveloped resorts than in the Algarve. They like the mild climate, value for money and diverse cultural activities that this region offers,” says Tariq El-Asad, director of the property consultancy Tamea International, who is marketing three new beachfront developments near Lisbon.

Not everywhere in Portugal has weathered the economic storm so well, however. Many of the developments on the Silver Coast north of Lisbon, including Praia d’el Rey, Bom Sucesso and Royal Obidos, have fallen into financial difficulty.

Nevertheless, Portugal’s residential market has, overall, been showing a steady recovery since 2014, partly boosted by incentives such as the Non-Habitual Resident (NHR) tax scheme, which offers zero tax on pensions for 10 years for those who spend at least six months a year in the country.

There’s also the Golden Visa programme, which is enticing wealthy non-EU residents to invest at least €500,000 (£390,000) in property in return for Portuguese residency. Some new developments have been designed with Golden Visa buyers in mind, such as Martinhal Cascais Villas, where fully managed, “totally hands-off” two-bedroom villas start at €650,000 and offer a guaranteed 4% rental return.

Tourist numbers in the greater Lisbon area — which includes the likes of Cascais and Estoril — rose by 6.8% between 2014 and 2015. “This is driving demand for real estate, because many new hotels and developments are targeting the tourist short-rental market,” says Alexandra Cesario, a partner at the Portuguese property advisory service Kleya Premium Living.

Here’s where to find that cocktail of lifestyle and investment, and a coastal escape within easy reach of the captivating capital, which ranks as one of Europe’s cheapest for dining, drinking and cost of living.

GREATER LISBON

You don’t even need to leave Lisbon to find a coastal spot that provides an elegant respite from the metropolis. Lapa, a suburb just a couple of miles from the city centre, has held a magnetic attraction for Europe’s elite for 300 years.

“British expats have long loved Lapa, as it has always been home to the British embassy. The diplomatic community see it as the ideal address — they can nip east into town for work, and west to the beaches around nearby Cascais for play,” says Nicholas Leach, a founder of Athena Advisers, who is marketing a new development in Lapa that’s proving popular with those from the UK.

So far, three-quarters of inquiries for Conde 35, which features 12 contemporary apartments in a converted period building, have been from UK-based buyers. Prices range from €350,000 to €985,000, and some of the large, light-filled flats have private gardens and views of the River Tagus (020 7471 4500, athenaadvisers.com).

Wealthy Cascais, set on the “Portuguese Riviera” and one of the country’s richest municipalities, has long attracted Europe’s upper crust to its sandy beaches, winding old- town alleyways and historic villas, all within half an hour on the commuter train from central Lisbon.

“It’s basically the Surrey of Portugal, where the cream of Lisbon choose to live, along with a large foreign population,” says Charles Roberts. “It’s not like the Algarve, which is 100% dependent on tourism. It’s a residential area with top international schools and shopping centres, excellent beaches and golf courses, all 30 minutes from Lisbon airport.”

Property prices have fallen 30% since their 2007 peak, “but they have now stabilised”, says Roberts, who has some of Cascais’s grandest homes on his books, including the nine- bedroom Vila Mar, on the upmarket Quinta da Marinha resort. On sale for €15m, the property has views of the Atlantic.

More affordable options include the latest offering from the developer who brought the five-star Pine Cliffs resort to the Algarve 25 years ago. “Cascais is one of the most picturesque locations on the Lisbon coast, with a rich cultural and historical offering,” says Carlos Leal, general manager of United Investments Portugal (UIP). “It is a coastal resort destination, but also a city and a first-home destination.”

Last month, UIP opened the Sheraton Cascais Resort, which includes a five-star hotel and residences with one to four bedrooms. First to go on sale are three- and four-bedroom properties starting at €995,000 (00 351 21 482 9100, sheratoncascais.com).

Neighbouring Estoril has a similar pedigree to Cascais. “Buyers come from all over the world. The crime rate is minimal, the weather and transport links are excellent. This is the cosmopolitan Riviera,” says Charles Richards, who is marketing Casa Estoril, a six-bedroom historical house near the beach, for €1.75m. It’s within walking distance of Cascais and a 10-minute drive from the “fairy-tale” town of Sintra.

ALCOCHETE

The mighty Vasco da Gama Bridge transports you 17km across the River Tagus from Lisbon to Alcochete, on the edge of the Tagus nature reserve. This is an area of huge horse- breeding estates, sandy riverside beaches and salt pans dotted with wintering birds — look out for migrating storks and flamingos.

“What people love most about Alcochete is that it’s a quiet, beautiful place but so close to Lisbon. They come here for horse-riding and sailing, and British people love it for the climate and sense of peace. It’s also ridiculously cheap compared with the UK. You can easily eat out for €10 a head,” says Cecile Goncalves, owner of the property development company Libertas, whose Praia do Sal project — due for completion in summer 2017 — sits on Moinhos Beach.

Known as an “ecological resort” (features include extremely energy-efficient Bosch appliances in the properties and an electric-car supply with every parking space), Praia do Sal has a huge saltwater infinity pool and a beach club for residents. The apartments have one to four bedrooms with large terraces and views across the Tagus river, and are priced from €177,000 to €600,000 (00 351 911 012466,tameainternational.com).

There’s more than just lifestyle appeal here: the Setubal province, which includes Alcochete, saw Portugal’s second highest annual house-price growth last year of 7.5%, according to INE, the country’s national statistics institute.

SANTA CRUZ

Drive 45 minutes north of Lisbon and you come to the small beachside town of Santa Cruz, still largely undeveloped and with a charming market that’s a good source of cheap, fresh fish and locally grown fruit and veg. Where once a farm stood, there is now the five-star boutique ecohotel Areias do Seixo, with a cluster of villas in its grounds designed by the Portuguese architect Vasco Vieira. A few hundred metres away, you have the golden dunes and crashing Atlantic waves of Seixo beach.

The villas — which start at €550,000 — are sold off-plan and then built within 12 months. Owners get use of the hotel’s services, with access to the rental programme.

“Most guests never leave the resort as it’s such a tranquil and beautiful setting. But Lisbon has so much to offer - you can party there and be back in your villa in 45 minutes," says George Sitwell, business development director of Crossover Capital, the project's developer, who says he was drawn to the area by, "American friends who missed he waves of the Big Sur - and then discovered that this part of the Atlantic is even better."

Most of the villas are owned by UK-based buyers, including Rodney Turtle, a 58-year-old marketing director, and his wife, Nora, a consultant psychiatrist from Barnes, southwest London. In 2006, they paid about £400,000 for their three-bedroom villa with a private pool, which they rent out through HomeAway (ownersdirect.co.uk).

“The area is much less spoilt than the Algarve and, though in many ways behind the times, it makes a refreshing change from our urban London existence,” Turtle says. “The local area is great for walks, fantastic for surfing and eating out is cheap. We also have various World Heritage Sites — including Sintra and Alcobaca — within striking distance.”

Read the original article here by Zoe Dare Hall, published 6 March 2016.