Filming on the Funcho

By Tracy Burton

The events of 2020 made many people rethink their lives – and livelihoods. For Cheryl and Graham Smith, lockdown in the Algarve meant they had time to explore on foot the meandering trails near the riverside holiday rental they own near São Bartolomeu de Messines.

In fact, Figs on the Funcho has come about in part because their daily walks around the Barragem do Funcho raised their awareness of the wonderful hiking opportunities which existed on their doorstep.

“We were walking all these beautiful trails around the property and thought, why are we running it as a holiday rental from the UK when we could actually be living here?” recalls Cheryl.

The past year has been a whirlwind of activity for the couple. Not only have they sold up in the UK, moved to the Algarve permanently and completely rethought their business model, but they are currently being filmed for a British television programme (the name of which they are not allowed to currently disclose).

With their business headed in a new direction, when Graham spotted a Facebook post inviting applicants for the popular series, the couple decided to apply.

The video interview wasn’t without its problems – “we had a bulldozer landscaping the garden and we kept losing the internet connection” – but fortunately, the producers recognised Cheryl and Graham’s enthusiasm and warmth, and wanted them on board. Filming started in June and is going well. As diehard fans of the series will know, participants must be prepared to share the good and the bad. The film crew is there for celebrations and successes, but filming also continues when everything goes wrong and people reach the end of their tether.

The Smiths are having an enjoyable experience so far. Cheryl has been filmed at Barranco do Vale, a local vineyard she’s involved in a September picnic event on the riverfront, and has twice been accompanied to local markets.

“The film crew spoke to our Portuguese guests about their experience here,” she adds. “We were fortunate because they absolutely raved about Figs on the Funcho and loved my homemade granola.” (So much, in fact, that Cheryl parcelled some up as a parting gift for the two women.)

With their popular painting holidays already wellestablished, the couple are now keen to put São Bartolomeu de Messines on the map as a hiking destination and will be offering holiday packages with hosted walks.

On this balmy mid-July evening, cameraman Simon was there to film a walking event attended by around 16 people. One of them was the Excelentissima Senhora Carla Isabel Loureiro Viegas Benedito, Presidente of the Freguesia de São Bartolomeu de Messines.

Excelentissima Senhora Carla was happy to share her local knowledge with everyone, pointing out fig, cork oak, carob and medronho trees, and the ‘House of Messines’ (a modern linear architectdesigned house which has attracted a lot of attention). At the commemorative plaque in front of the Ermita de Sant’Ana, Senhora Carla told people about the bloody battle that took place there on April 24 1834, between the Miguelists and the Constitutionalists.

She said the Via Algarviana long-distance trail had been good for Messines and she heartily supported Cheryl and Graham’s plans to attract more walkers to the area.

“The Barragem do Funchal is a lovely place for a walk, with lots of birds. We have beautiful places for people to get to know in this area,” she tells me.

Having explored the various trails around the barragem, Cheryl now plans to act as a guide for the walking holidays she is offering. “What’s particularly nice about this evening’s route is that there are parts in the shade because it’s lined with cork oak trees,” she says.

With the sun setting over the rolling hills, everyone gathered on the terrace to share a glass of wine, tuck into the delicious vegetarian buffet set out on vast Portuguese platters and enjoy good company.

Only when it was too dark to film did Simon finally put down his equipment and join the rest of us for food. By which time, I think we’d entirely forgotten we were being filmed!

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