Pig Farm in Portugal

Anyone who has visited that luxurious, laid-back resort The Byron at Byron
on Broken Head Road would have encountered the Parches.

John and Lyn have General-Managed the place since its inception some six years ago, bringing to it boundless warmth, friendliness and hospitality in the truest sense of
the word. Brought stylishness too – Lyn effortlessly elegant even in tennis attire, John with a lemon yellow jumper draped casually around his shoulders, just like European men.

And so it came as little surprise when I learned that he had spent formative younger years living abroad, specifically in London and Portugal. To London he went in the late ‘60s to study hotel management; to Portugal he headed, later on, to operate a restaurant.

John’s story flows out of him eloquently : he is a natural raconteur. We sit mid-afternoon in the gracious grounds of the resort, taking tea in my case and tomato juice in John’s. Aged a tender 21 years, he was sent to train at both the Hilton and Park Lane hotels then, the following year, to learn restaurant service to Grosvenor House and then there he was, fully qualified, and ready for life’s next stage. He had married two years previously and because his first wife had lived for a while in Portugal and it was easy to get visas they headed off there. ‘We were there when they landed on the moon’, John remembers, ‘drinking in a small cafe and eating sardines.’

An English accountant they met had built a small club on the beach at Faro, renting then sub-letting villas along the beachfront. Part of the complex included a restaurant and night club and because of his qualifications, John was put in charge of both. ‘The other guy was making a fortune,’ John tells me, ‘and my wife and I thought – we can do this!’

At a small fishing village called Albufera, population 1000, they came across an old pig farm on a hill a couple of kilometres out of town. The ocean glittered in the distance; there were olive, almond, fig and stone fruit trees all around. It was a ‘big old barn-style house with terracotta roofs – the walls were rock but it all held together somehow’, John recalls. What’s more, it had a For Rent sign in the window. They found out it had been hit by an earthquake, hence the cracked walls, and been empty for 20 years – no one wanted the place but John knew it had potential.

With the money they had received for their wedding the couple tied up the agreement and set to work. People they met helped paint the place; a builder was found; a serendipitous encounter with an American who was working as adviser to a lawyer led to an overdraft – ‘all in the space of a week!’ John tells me. They created arches and put up walls; the barn which used to house the ox cart became the bar; restaurant areas were sectioned off. All the old animal troughs were used to store potatoes and other vegetables and a local artist painted a mural.

They called it Al Corcovada, which loosely translates as The Hill, and it was up and running after a year. John did the cooking inside while a Portuguese chef manned the outdoors barbecue. When after three and a half years John was approached with an offer to sell it he accepted on the grounds he stay on as a partner. A year later his marriage was falling apart, so he sold his share and split, amicably, with his wife.

He came back to Australia, to become the country’s youngest General Manager of Travelodge, aged 27, and to meet the true love of his life, Lyn.

I ask John if the restaurant is still there, if he has ever gone back. He has googled it and
it is still there – he would indeed like one day to return. ‘But I’m 64 now, and it’s just memories,’ he tells me. Rich, deep memories.

About victoria

Author of the gastro-memoir 'Amore&Amaretti: A Tale of Love an Food in Tuscany', I am a Byron Shire-based food and travel writer, food columnist, cooking teacher, recipe editor and chef. Born in Canberra, ACT, I have a BA in languages although am only really passionate about the Italian one, in which I am fluent, having spent four years in Tuscany in my late twenties, and returning reasonably frequently ever since. Despite that, my partner of many years, a wonderful artist, clothes designer and aged carer, is half-Greek!
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