Veerle Devos (aka Vos) is a Belgian journalist and writer based in Portugal.
For the past few years, she has been dividing her time between the bustling capital of Lisbon and the peaceful and lovely cork hills of the Ribatejo.
In the city, she takes curious visitors on a guided tour as a guide, in the countryside, she receives visitors for a rural safari or a walk-conversation in nature and a stay in one of the guesthouses.
You may know her as the author of the travel and photography book To Die For Portugal which many Portugal lovers count among their favorites.
1 - How do you get from Gent to Lisbon and then to the Ribatejo?
"When I moved to Lisbon in February 2012, I had lived in Brussels for 7 years (I am originally from Gent, where I studied too, a city I truly love, but it became too small for me at the moment I started to be a world traveler). A cosmopolitan small world capital with a vibrant cultural scene and a mesmerizing nightlife, and over 170 different nationalities: I absolutely loved to live in Brussels. I wrote a series of articles about Brussels’ various communities for magazine The Bulletin. The Portuguese were with 20.000 in Brussels, and I decided to research them a bit more and publish a book about them, since this had never been done: “Lusobelgae. A documentary on the Portuguese of Brussel.” Research brought me, a colleague historian and my photographer to Portugal, mainly to the Alentejo, where we did interviews with family members of those who had emigrated to Brussels. I had been in Portugal many times before for work and pleasure, but this research changed everything: Portugal suddenly very much felt like home. So once the decision made it was easy to move to Lisbon (not to the Alentejo, I was still very much a city girl back then): as a free mover I stuffed my old Saab 900, asked a friend to join me and after a very satisfying culinary trip (food in San Sebastian is delicious!) I arrived in Alfama, where I would live for 3 years in what my neighbors called “O Palácio” (and where many years later Madonna would enjoy a couple of jam sessions with musicians from Cabo Verde, but that’s another story)."
2 - Why this latest life change?
"I lived full time in Lisbon until Covid made an end to our freedom in march 2020. I moved to the Herdade of my new Portuguese partner, who is a farmer (cork, free grazing cows, crops, 650ha of green hills). I enjoyed the calm and peace and the absence of mouth-masks at the countryside. By the time everything went back to normal, I was hooked at my new life in nature. With my partner I had renovated a couple of small houses at the farm, and received the first friends and rural tourists. We took them to the hills in our Defender jeep for a rural safari: to enjoy nature, see the cows and wild animals, and have a picnic at the lake. We still do that today, and it’s usually very satisfying. Some people take their drone, or their dog, their camper or tent to sleep in the green hills. Others stay in one of the guesthouses. Some tourists want me to show them around in the region, which I enjoy doing (Évora is not far away), around the corner there are cute Alentejano villages with great rural restaurants, there is an enormous lake at the nearby Barragem de Montargil, there are nearby rivers excellent for kajaking, we can visit several nearby artisanal ceramic workshops, etc.
But of course I can’t miss the city so I spend 1-2 days a week in Lisbon, mostly for work (I still guide tourists around with Lisboneye during daytime, and I regularly moderate design talks at Design Studio Emmanuel Babled at nightime) and for pleasure (friends, cultural life, dining out). I feel I combine the best of both worlds."
3 - What inspires you in this region of Portugal to live your life there?
"The landscape of the Ribatejo is pretty much like the Alentejo: cork and olive trees, endless hills, wild flowers everywhere, foxes and eagles, farms. When I am in the countryside I walk a lot with our rescue dogs, it keeps me fit and often I get new ideas while walking. People staying in one of our guesthouses can book a “walk and talk” with me, which will then result in a text (just for themselves as an ego-document, or for a book to share with their family, or for any other creation they desire – check my biographical writing services at www.walkandtalkbio.com. But as said, you can also just rent one of the guesthouses and enjoy a rural safari or discover the region with me. Anything goes, everything relaxed and pleasant. I love to receive guests, and share the richness and beauty of rural life with them, just as I love to share the stories and hidden spots of Lisbon with my Lisboneye clients."
4 - And how is your book "To Die For Portugal" born?
"To Die For Portugal is the result of my love for Portugal, which started when I was a journalist for a design, arts and architecture magazine. I was often invited to events all over the world, but to this country (Portugal) I had never been as a tourist, only for work. So little by little, just for fun, I started making friends, to appreciate the country and I wrote my first book about Portuguese immigrants in Brussels, because there are a lot of them in Saint Gilles and Ixelles. I did researches with an historian colleague and for the first time it was about the Portuguese community in Brussels. This research therefore led us to Portugal, in particular the Alentejo, and this is when I had the idea. I thought "this country that I now know well felt like home! I could move here for a better quality of life". And so I moved to Lisbon. I continued to express my love for the country by becoming a tourist guide. Later, with a Belgian friend, Yves Callewaert, the photographer of my book, I did To Die For Portugal, which was my way of traveling anywhere, because I've always done that, drifting, see where it would take me, meet people and learn about the culture of the country, the community… so I applied my way of traveling and learning through this book which aims share this kind of discoveries with an open mind, always ready for the encounter. It's fantastic, because we are always surprised! Of course it all comes with naivety too, but I was always prepared, you shouldn't do this without knowing enough about the culture.
I also have guest rooms. My latest project is to receive people in Herdade da Açorda, in the middle of the cork hills in the Ribatejo (near the border with Alentejo, the landscape is the same). Here I organize 'Walk&Talk' retreats for people who appreciate nature, silence and relaxation. I organize lunches and 'rural safaris' through the vast hills of the estate. I moved here about 3 years ago when covid hit and I love it here. Still, I can't live without the city, so every week I stay in Lisbon for a few days, an ideal combination for me!"
5 — What was the goal that gave wings to this project?
"The trigger came to me during a trip with friends from Gent, in Belgium. They came to visit me, so we went to visit the palace of Mafra, huge, with the very beautiful bookstore, and just for fun I dropped dead on the stairs of Mafra who led to the front door. My fiends took me a picture, and we did that in several places during this one week trip by posting it on Facebook. People found it very funny and started to follow us. Later, showing the photos to my photographer friend, he said to me "Vos, stop taking photos with amateur friends, I can do a project with with you!". It was when it all began..."
6 — What makes your book so special?
"It's a serious book about Portugal with a lot of historical, social and mental level on how to travel well. I think the funny photos remove the too serious side of the book. In serious literature bookstores it sells less, because the public is less open to discovering things like that. While in bookstores where there are several things, people buy more easily. The advantage of this book is to be a serious book that presents you with something lighter, funnier and easy to read. It's not just a guide, it also invites you to travel as I did, to go on the road, to be well informed, to know where you are, to know the history of the place, but also to be open to new surprises, to let yourself be guided by your preferences, the food, the architecture and to learn more by talking with people who live there; it's an invitation to travel in a more active way than many other guides. The difference is there."
7 — Do you have some plans for the future...?
"We are thinking of doing a second book on To Die For, on Lisbon this time. To see if we manage to do everything independently, because it requires a lot of money... pay for printing, research, or to work with a publishing house and find partners. Very quickly we understood that people like sharing our real stories about this place where I went and fell dead."
8 — And how do you define the Portuguese Lifestyle?
"Oh… compared to Belgium, the Portuguese are really down to earth, not easily impressed by the show off, they are honest to themselves. In general, they are very relaxed, comfortable... and that's a good quality. Especially compared with life in the rest of Europe. In Belgium, for example, everything goes very quickly, you have to work a lot, you have to earn a lot of money... in Portugal we are a little more comfortable. This is good news for our mental health. But there is also the negative side that I appreciate much less because of being so comfortable. An example from life: when I am at the CTT (post office) to send mail and I wait a long time, it goes very slowly, because people are talking to each other. The same happens for the internet, I'm waiting for a Vodafone connection, it's been 10 days since I signed the contract and still nothing. I'm a person with very little patience, you know, so I had to learn to be patient, society is like that, everyone accepts that or it seems that everyone accepts it, so I have to accept it too. I also have the impression that people here are much more connected, they communicate, they exchange, they take time to talk to each other. The Portuguese are always up for a conversation, it's very pleasant. There's always the chance of knowing someone new on the bus, with their own stories. This is for me the essence of being in a city. The connection between people from all over the world and all the stories that can be shared with you, you learn, you exchange, all of this really makes a city rich."
9— Finally, can you tell me which piece of Luz best defines the Portuguese soul?
"The candles. I find them great, because they were handmade according to an ancient tradition that still exists. I am aware that this product is the result of a whole process, but also of a whole Portuguese tradition and history, the more Portuguese you die I think, it's really the Portugal craftsmanship in one jewel. It's also very ecological, good for health, for the soul, with its natural smells, because there are many candles which are bad for health. And even when the candle is finished the little jar is very beautiful and still has that candle smell. It's a product of success in itself, very very well done, its history and its quality. The candle leads us to Portuguese craftsmanship, to Paula and her story, it's very personal. Only Paula could make such product, that's all her."