Words and images by Leila Ahmedova
INNKEEPER & CHOREOGRAPHER
London to Colares, Portugal
Susanna knew it was her chance to escape city life when her uncle called to tell her he was selling his house located outside of the popular coastal community of Colares, Portugal. Originally born in Portugal, the daughter of a Portuguese mother and English father, her parents spent her early childhood living around Africa and in the UK. Most summers her parents would bring her to holiday back in Portugal. In her late teens Susanna moved to London for college and built a successful career as contemporary dancer. When her dancing career opportunities began to dry up, she started contemplating the next chapter and began dreaming of leaving the rat race behind and moving to the country. “I always wanted to have animals, most of all horses," Susanna confessed. So, when the call came from Portugal, Susanna asked her father (an accountant) to help her to arrange a mortgage. Her plan was to convert her uncle's home into a B&B so she would have an income to cover her bills. In less than a year, Susanna found herself leaving her culturally rich London existence and moving to a .7 acre little farm by the sea with a spacious white Portuguese style house. “It just happened too fast”, says Susanna, “I left it all at once, my friends, my career, my busy social life”. And this is how she turned a page in her life.
Today, Susanna runs Quinta Beira Mar B&B (translated as a Farm on the seaside), which Susanna runs by herself. She rents rooms and surfboards to vacationers from all over the world, and offers children's horseback riding classes. She shares the farm with her three beloved horses, Distinto, Heroi and Miragem, her two dogs Ronnie and Serra d´Estrela, a cat named Elsa, a goat named Dolly, 2 ducks, 2 roosters, and a bunch of rabbits and chickens. Animals are not food on Susanna's farm. They are family. All of them have names and personalities. Originally she thought she might raise animals for food, but she got too attached and now can't bare the thought of eating them.
It´s after 6pm, and we sit on the porch of Susanna´s house, eating pão com chorizo and drinking Super Bock (Portuguese beer). Finally the sunlight is soft and beautiful and the garden looks gorgeous. I regret taking photos earlier in the strong afternoon sun. A German couple staying in the B&B have invited Susanna and several others to a dinner they are preparing on the outdoor grill. It is a rare moment of relaxation in Susanna's new life as a B&B proprietor. "This does not happen often," Susanna says. “By the time everyone has been fed and they've stopped fighting (referring to a recent horse fight she had to break up) you are just so knackered, you can barely get to bed." (Click here to jump to her interview)
Why did you decide to leave London?
My performing career was coming to an end, I was getting a bit older and a bit tired, so I was doing more part-time work teaching. At that point I thought: right, at this point I really want to leave London now, because I always really wanted to live in a countryside and have horses, so now was the time to do it. I was actually looking in Southern England -in Devon- which is quite rural. And then my uncle called and said they were selling the house. I knew the property, you could have animals here, my cousin already had horses. I talked to Jerry (my husband at the time) and, as he could work from anywhere, he was up to it.
You said you always wanted to live in the country. Why?
I always wanted to have animals basically, and I grew up in a country. I grew up in Africa, and Surrey (UK) and here (Portugal), so I always loved it. Especially in Africa. You are always outside, you have all this space, and we often went to safari parks and saw all these animals. That was what I loved from an early age. I always loved animals, especially horses. So I always knew I wanted to have this, basically, what I have now.
Did you grow up growing your own food, keep animals, etc. or was it something you came to on your own?
Not so much in my immediate family. But in my mom´s family they always grew vegetables and had dogs and rabbits. I love the rabbits. We always had dogs and cats in the family. All my childhood I wanted to have a pony. Finally, when I was 12, my dad agreed to take me to riding lessons, and he and my sister joined in. So for the next 3 or 4 years all of us had weekly riding lessons.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move?
The packing! Once we made a decision, it all went so fast, I didn't have time to think about it. Leaving friends was hard and saying goodbye to people and things you used to do.
What challenges came later?
(Laughing). Adjusting to a different way and speed of life, and different culture, and the language as well. Despite being half Portuguese, essentially I was a stranger in a foreign land, I couldn’t speak the language initially. But people were friendly as a rule, and also I have family here, so that made it easier.
What has been the hardest part of your journey thus far?
Trying to manage everything. This is so big! Since Jerry left quite quickly (he walked out after about a year), I was kind of left to do this on my own. The business was growing and all these animals appeared (note: “appeared” is the right word, because Henry the rooster was left for Susanna in the trunk of her car by an uncle, on her birthday). And it was getting harder to manage it all. Being responsible for all of it all of a sudden, not only the house but also the animals, was a bit of a shock. It is a lot of work.
What do you miss the most about the city?
I miss my friends and being able to walk down the road and go to the pub or a restaurant or a theater, everything being close. I miss the dance world, I miss the dance shows and dance classes. That part of London scene I was very much part of and I just walked out of. I miss that bit.
What do you appreciate the most about the life you’ve created here in the country?
I love the quietness and nature. I love the animals, when there is time to relax and enjoy them, once everyone is fed and not fighting. I like being in the garden and growing vegetables. When you are on your own and it is quiet and you are just listening to the sound of birds. It is relaxing and peaceful.
Would you ever consider moving back to a city?
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
See family and friends. Go to certain shops, like Boots. Going to the pub and a curry house.
What advice do you have for people dreaming of leaving the city behind?
Go for it, do it! Set a goal, choose a place and research it and be prepared for the change, to accept that the things are different from where you come from. Sometimes better or worse or slower or faster. Things do not always happen the same way as you are used to them.
What is your favorite time of year here?
Autumn. Because it is not as busy, there are less people, and it is still beautiful weather. It is just calmer.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country?
People may think it is easy and boring, but there are lots of challenges and lots to do. People may think there is no culture, that is not true, there is lots of culture and intelligent life and creativity around.
What do you want people to know/understand about life in the small community?
In a small community it is harder to be anonymous. You are seen and recognized. You have to have respect for people in your community, communicate with them and not shut yourself up. The nice thing is that people know your name. You walk into the shop and they call you by name. There is a plus side to that. But you have to be more careful how you behave towards people because in the city you may never see them again, but here you see them every day. And they know where you live (laughing). And also, you have more support and help when you need it. People look out for you. My neighbors look out for me. If you need help you have someone to go to, even if you do not know them particularly well.
What are your plans/goals in the coming year?
Survive (laughing). I would like to maybe get things more under control, at the moment it is just a little too much. I'd love to have more free time for myself. If I can just reduce the work load a little, I would maybe have more time.
Does it get lonely?
Since I have lots of animals, it doesn't really. I think if I didn't it would. And I am lucky to have my mom´s family too. When you are very busy there is no time to feel lonely. You are just so knackered (exhausted) that you just do not want to speak to anyone anyway.