A new shock in the small print of legislation governing “Alojamento Local” (Local lodging houses) is reverberating through Monchique, and prompting more and more operators to “go underground”.
In simple terms, it seeks to force everyone who has entered into commercial activity – a stipulation of the AL ‘regime’ – and who is not on mains water to “sterilise” their supply with a chemical cocktail that includes “residual traces of chlorine”.
The authorities’ thinking is that this way people choosing AL in areas not serviced by mains water will not run the risk of picking up bacteria that could lodge in pipes and other equipment as it is pumped into properties from boreholes and water mines.
But locals who set up their businesses on the basis that Monchique is a natural paradise, refreshed by pure spring water, are in despair.
“My customers will hate this,” said one. “They do not come out here on holiday to drink the equivalent of municipal tap water. They look forward to getting back to nature and enjoying everything that goes with it.”
The situation is all the more absurd as it only covers paying guests.
Long-term property manager Dr Jean Ferran explained: “I am able to drink my water, as well as my family and anyone else staying with us. But as soon as guests become ‘paying customers’, the law says they must drink this ‘sterilised’ water.”
Ferran claims the legislation could see every tourist business in Monchique that isn’t on mains water eventually shut down.
“Restaurants, B&Bs, rented villas in Fóia, the list is extensive,” he told us. “I am quite sure very few of them will have installed these systems. The tests involved every year alone cost over €700.”
The problem will see more and more renters ‘going underground’, he warned, as the ‘hidden costs’ of AL make it uneconomical.
A few phone calls round the hills confirmed the prediction – with no-one prepared to give their names.
One AL operator told us the only way he could think of ‘complying’ is to install a system, and then turn it off.
“I could turn it back on when the authorities came calling,” he thought out loud. “How I wish I had never got into all this!”
Dr Ferran agreed that in 30 years of business he had never had to advise owners not to rent out their properties.
“But I am now,” he told us. “If someone asked me about AL and whether it was worth it, I would advise them not to touch it with the end of a bargepole.”
Monchique’s department of public works in charge of handing out AL licences was peremptory.
“People have to agree with Portuguese Law,” said a female architect who refused to give her name. “Not Russian, or Chinese, or German or English Law, but Portuguese Law.”
The architect also suggested the story was “nonsense” as most businesses were “complying” with the law.
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]