The Estate > History

Not much is known about the history of the land prior to 1950. It was probably used by the occupants of Casa do Outeiro for several centuries as pasture for sheep and goats. Because of the abundance of granite and schist outcrops it would not have been very suitable for arable use, but that does not mean they wouldn’t have tried! Marcial and Rosa Feiteira, the current caretakers, certainly lived in Casa do Outeiro before the McCartneys arrived to build the main house, and their children, including Joao, were born there.

In 1950 about 35 hectares of land were acquired by Robin and Fenella McCartney, who subsequently built Tapada do Falcão. Since then the house has been owned by two further families, both English, and detailed maps of the area, including military maps, refer to the main house as ‘Monte dos Ingles’ (House of the English).

Robin McCartney was an architect who worked in Britain until he retired to Portugal. Because of his profession the house was built to modern building standards of the time, including the provision of damp proof courses, for example, which are not typical in Portuguese houses of the day. The original design had many more small rooms than at present and the McCartneys used to alternate between the two main wings as the seasons changed. The property originally looked more like an English house in some respects. The stone bell bracket by the front door is engraved with the year 1956

The McCartneys were keen horse riders, and they built the stable block and sand school. Marcial and Rosa can recall them riding two abreast between the rosemary hedges! They also built the walled garden and smaller terracotta pool, which was adequate for their needs. When Robin died, Fenella felt lonely in the big house on her own, and had one end of the stable block converted to living accommodation for Marcial and Rosa, who until then had continued to live in Casa do Outeiro.

As well as building a fine house, Robin McCartney undertook extensive works to collect, channel and store water in an area which is extremely arid in summer and was without mains water at the time. This included some massive wells, surface collection areas, ditches and dykes, underwater cisterns and a system of buried 50 mm pipes enabling water to be pumped wherever it was needed. Much of this system is still in use today, albeit supplemented by mains water and modern artesian boreholes. He also undertook extensive tree planting around the estate.

The McCartneys passed away without heirs in the early 1980s and their executors sold the property to Jim and Mary Cairns in 1983. The Cairns’s totally renovated the house and cottage shortly afterwards and substantially changed the internal layout of the house, making fewer but larger rooms, and externally creating more typical Portuguese features including completely reshaping the roof. They had a large family and found the small pool within the confines of the walled garden insufficient for their needs, so they added the large pool. Initially they retained the house just for holidays, but eventually moved to Portugal in around 1990. By the time they returned to England in 1996 they had acquired an additional 20 hectares adjoining the original land. This comprised a one kilometre strip running from behind the large pool wall up to and including the current vineyard.

We bought the property in the summer of 1997 and had to make very few changes to the house, which was in very good condition. We did rather more to Casa do Outeiro, improving the kitchen, installing a wood burning stove in the old fireplace, lining the ceilings with bamboo, building a dry log store outside, renovating the old bread oven and laying a new stone patio. Other changes to the property involved constructing the all-weather tennis court, partly formalising the gardens by laying a lawn and installing automatic irrigation, and sinking some bore holes.

The biggest project of all was clearing the hill at the south-western end of the estate, preparing the land and planting the vineyard in 1999 and 2000. This required the construction of another two deep boreholes, a 100,000 litre water storage tank and a new road through the property, and the laying of an electricity cable and a water main underground.

A Portuguese company, Tapada do Falcão – Sociedade Vitivinicola, Lda, was formed in 1999 to operate the vineyard. In the same year we started letting out the house and cottage to people looking for self catering holidays in this beautiful and unspoilt corner of Europe.

Nigel and Rosy Atkinson