Afternoon tee on the Algarve

The Seventies brought democracy and golf resorts to Portugal - and then Middle England arrived. Tom Rowland reports
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The Independent Online

One of the more unexpected consequences of a globalized economy has been the propensity of the British to export our property boom to some select faraway places. The verdant golf developments of Portugal with their fairways lined with elegant villas, luxury hotels and sea views long ago became - in part at least - enclaves which will forever be England, populated by determined-looking Home Counties types, typically to be found striding across the greens sporting baseball caps and those short-sleeved shirts that come with a crocodile logo.

The extent of the colonisation is considerable. At the Boavista Resort, near Lagos on the Western Algarve, 90 per cent of buyers are British, according to the Cheshire-based development company, Jones Homes.

There are now in excess of two dozen similar complexes dotted along the coast of Southern Portugal and the successful formula seldom varies, key elements being an 18-hole golf course of international standard, a smart hotel, leisure complex and of course a range of two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments, townhouses and villas, preferably all with a golf course at the bottom of the garden.

The pioneer of all of this was a Portuguese entrepreneur Andre Jordan who, back in the Seventies, when Portugal was a fascist dictatorship run by the Salazarists, managed to acquire a piece of rundown farmland between the coast and a stagnant freshwater pool that was a short drive from Faro airport. It was called Quinta do Lago, Estate of the Lake. Jordon hired the American golf course designer William Mitchell and opened for business in 1974.

The timing was unfortunate because 30 years ago, on 25 April 1974, tanks rolled into Lisbon under the direction of the young officers of the Armed Forces Movement (AFM) and the government fell, to be replaced by a Marxist junta. All of that is ancient history now - Portugal is a full member of the EU and capitalism has triumphed, particularly down at the resort golfers around the world fondly refer to as "Quinta".

Today it would cost you in excess of £500,000 to buy a modest plot with no house on the periphery of Mr Jordan's scrubby farmland, now transformed into an international resort that has hosted the Portuguese Open no fewer than eight times.

The high prices have pushed the waves of British buyers along the coast to the other resorts following the winning formula. Broadly, the further you have to travel from Quinta do Lago, the less you have to pay for a villa or apartment on a golf development.

At least that used to be the case. After decades of delay last year a new motorway opened connecting the Western Algarve to Faro airport, cutting travelling times in half and virtually doubling the equity that contented British buyers who had purchased early had in their villas.

"Quinta do Lago is the most successful, expensive and prestigious development in the area, but Lagos in the west is still 50 per cent cheaper," says Nick Sadler, manager of Hamptons International in the Algarve. According to research carried out by Hamptons International, the average four-bedroom villa on a Portuguese golf development has increased in value by 50 per cent in the last two years. "A three-bed townhouse at Quinta do Lago will cost £500,000 and is rising while a comparable property in the west of the Algarve can be bought for between £275,000 to £325,000, and it is only an extra half an hour along the motorway," he says.

British developers also bought the Parque da Floresta Golf and Leisure Resort in the Western Algarve 10 years ago. Today it consists of a golf course plus 600 villas and apartments with linked villas fronting onto the course. Andy Burridge, sales and marketing director, describes the resort as being "at the top end of the middle market".

"The market is very good. We are starting to see institutional investment for the first time," he says. Like many developers, the company offers buyers guaranteed rental income in return for taking over homes for all but six weeks a year. Villa buyers will get a guaranteed income of €11,500 per year and the company will cover all of the costs other than the Portuguese tax bill. Prices for the Golf Village houses start at €379,000 with Golf Villas from €591,000.

The same pressures on prices have created the opportunity for successful golf and villa enterprises in other parts of Portugal. At Praia d'El Rey, near Lisbon, the golf course is spectacular but the mix of villa buyers rather more balanced. In general, 40 per cent of buyers are British and 40 per cent Portuguese, the other 20 per cent being a mix of Irish, Scandinavian and others.

The plan is for 1,300 units in total of which 730 are sold, and 600 built. Building commenced in 1996 and there is a five-star Marriott hotel on a cliff top. A villa here with golf on either side and a view over the cliffs out to sea can be purchased for €1m.

"Until now we have sold every piece of property before it is finished," said Charles Roberts, sales director at the 600-acre resort. "Lots of people know Portugal, have holidayed a lot in the Algarve and do not like what it has become. Here buyers get the advantages of a resort but still feel like they are in Portugal."

Simon and Victoria Hodgson from Guildford bought a plot at Praia D'El Rey three years ago and then spent two years overseeing the building of their four-bed villa.

"It was painless; the set up there made things quite easy," says Mr Hodgson. "The cost was half the amount you would pay for a decent standard building in Britain. Portugal is a really lovely country but we did not want to be in the rough and tumble of the Algarve."

The couple, who are in their early sixties and retired, say they now spend between eight and 10 weeks in their villa each year. Although the development is close to Lisbon, Mr Hodgson admits that they have yet to visit, as he prefers to spend precious holiday time out on the course working on getting his golf handicap down from 12. But being able to play golf in a short-sleeved shirt in February is enough of a reminder that their villa is very definitely not in Surrey.

Quinta do Lago, Campo de Golfe, 8135 Almancil, Portugal: 00 35 1289 3907 00/9

Boavista Resort, Jones Homes Portugal: 01625 588460;

Hamptons International: 00 35 1282 789 336;

Parque da Floresta: 01223 316820;

Praia D'El Rey, Worldclass Homes: 0800 731 4713