For some reason best known to itself, Benfeita – a relatively isolated village in the mountains of the Serra do Açor, Central Portugal – has become a magnet to ‘eco-immigrants’ from all over Europe and the rest of the world over the last decade. The community is of the default, unintentional variety. There’s nothing remotely ‘organised’ about it. We have no shared ideology, culture, dogma or rules. What unites us is the desire to live a substantially more sustainable and environmentally-friendly life as part of a real and largely autonomous community.
In October 2017, the entire community and the valleys in which we are living was decimated by the largest wildfire in Portugal’s history. It destroyed over 2,000 square kilometers of land in less than 24 hours. 22 people in these valleys lost their homes. 2 people lost their lives. The surrounding ecosystem, already degraded and impoverished by decades of rural depopulation, neglect and inappropriate monocultures of pine and eucalyptus trees, is a disaster zone.
This brought things home in a big way. It has galvanised us into more directed and concerted action, even while many are still trying to put their lives back together again. Several community initiatives have taken root. Replanting and regeneration work has begun. There is an education project for the area’s children (http://folhaverde.pt/).
Many of us share a vision of an ‘ecozone’ for these valleys. This vision, based on the unique topography and population dynamics of the area, is for the ecozone to become a recognised ‘living laboratory’ where sustainable and regenerative initiatives (individual and collective; environmental, technological and social) originating with and developed by the area’s diverse community, can be designed, evolved, trialled, studied, prototyped and disseminated within the surrounding bioregion and beyond. (We now have a community association focused on such initiatives. For more information, see https://arborbenfeita.org.)
Membership & Visitors
- Current members: 200
- Open to new members
- Open to visitors
As we already mentioned, Benfeita is NOT any sort of intentional community. Nothing is centralised or organised. The community has grown entirely organically. We have no community representatives or anyone like that to talk to so please DO NOT comment or email to ask about 'joining' or visiting. You will just receive an auto-response telling you to read this page again. If you want to find out more about the area, visit, or rent or buy somewhere here, then come here and find out for yourself! Just as you would if you wanted to live in any other town or village anywhere else. This is what all of us who now live here did.
Similarly, we can’t provide you with details of places to rent or buy because nobody collects or compiles them. Sometimes you'll find properties advertised on various nationwide sales or rental sites, but we can't tell you which because nobody monitors them. Everyone in this community came here in their own way and found their own way to stay here. So if you want to come here then you will need to do the same.
Several projects within the area host volunteers. There is no central organisation of volunteers within the community so you will need to apply to individual projects. If you email us, the auto-response will provide you with a link to a list of these, or alternatively you can search for "Benfeita" in any of the volunteering sites like WorkAway or Helpx, or apply to the affiliated projects listed on this site. It's possible to visit some of these projects as well.