The architectural renaissance of Portimão

Advertiser’s Feature

Nicole’s is one of those stories where a harmless chat between friends leads to an impromptu trip that turns out to be a real-life turning point.

A quick visit to a little town in the Algarve, undertaken lightly and quite absentmindedly, resulted in a major shift in the life of Nicole. And I can’t help thinking, while I listen to her telling me about her life and how she came to discover Portimão on the world’s map, this doesn’t surprise me at all.

The “56-year-young” Nicole, as she likes to describe herself, seems one of those people who lives life fully, fearlessly and joyfully, and doesn’t hesitate to take a leap if the opportunity presents itself.

Born and bred in the Netherlands, but living in Belgium for 25 years with her husband Menno and their two daughters, Nicole didn’t have any particular link to Portimão. She had never visited the place until that fateful day when she accompanied her friend who needed to check out a property someone she knew needed to sell. The moment she set foot in Portimão, it was love at first sight that made Nicole pause and stay.

“In Portimão,” Nicole tells me, “I fell in love with the potential.” This wasn’t the typical touristy town, with that fake manicured feel and artificial composure. “Portimão felt real, alive and utterly Portuguese, and I just couldn’t help but fall in love with the potential this lovely Algarvian town has.”

She immediately recognised nothing was missing in Portimão, yet lots was still to be done.

Portimão presents an incredible cultural and ethnic scene. And I’m not referring only to the expats’ community, but to the original Portuguese ethnic mix of Angolans, Brazilians and Africans. A mix that gives a unique feel to the sense of community you find here. A town where people are hospitable, light-hearted, carefree, ruffled-haired and bare-footed, happy and free.

Nicole is the owner of Puzzletulip, a project development company she founded years ago, through which she purchased quite a number of moradias, the typical Portuguese townhouses on three floors that she’s now deep in the process of renovating.

To bring to life her vision, she has teamed up with a local architect studio, Studioarte, well known for their outstanding work in the Algarve and for their rehabilitation of the historic town centre.

Their philosophies are the same. Renovating means marrying the new and modern with the original features of a building, improving and requalifying without erasing a place and a culture in the process, shaping and making a space suitable for our modern lifestyle while preserving the architectural character and spirit.  

Studioarte and Puzzletulip intend to infuse new life in town and in the neighbourhood through innovative constructions to suit a relaxed and stylish lifestyle, in tune with the natural surroundings and the Portuguese atmosphere.

Portimão has luckily escaped the wild and intrusive construction craze of other Portuguese cities and seaside resorts. Its glorious neglect and decadence are what has captured Nicole’s and Studioarte architects’ attention, because it’s right there that the potential for an architectural renaissance of the city lies.

Beyond the flaking plaster of the façades, the doors in need of varnishing and the collapsing roofs, there are pearls awaiting the discerning eye: original tiled floors, wooden beams and so many other treasures of authentic Portuguese architecture.

It’s with the restorer’s eye and hand that the team is approaching this project which is about bringing renovation to the city buildings as much as inviting a new community to move in.

“We want to build the beating heart of Portimão,” Kenneth Laidlaw of Engel & Völkers Portimão tells me. “And to invite an international community of likeminded people to secure their little corner of paradise in this beautiful area. This visionary collaboration considers rehabilitation as a treatment. Because an important part of what gives a city character, and a sense of community, is its history. From architectural preservation, renovation and rehabilitation to integral heritage conservation: this is the masterplan.”

Portimão is no small village like those sleeping hamlets with a tiny church presiding over the main square and elderly men sitting on benches, bougainvillea flowers claiming their own space and colouring the backdrop. It’s not a cute postcard suspended out of time and reality.

There’s a distinctive vibe, an inexpressible feeling that this is a special place for new starts, second chances and for anyone who’s looking for authentic and meaningful living at a stone’s throw from a stunning coastline overlooking the ocean and a distinctively beautiful countryside.

Some of the properties renovated by Nicole and Studioarte are already on the market. If you want to know more about this project and the available properties, you can contact Engel & Völkers Portimão who are the appointed estate agents.

Written by Antonella Antonucci (Instagram: @__byantonella) for Engel & Völkers Portimão (portimao@engelvoelkers.com)