‘Delightful’ Tavira

Immigrants or retirees?

In his book Algarve Visto Pelos Estrangeiros Séculos XII-XIX, António Ventura describes, in their own words, visits to the Algarve by 30 individuals – Arab, British, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish – over seven centuries, a period when the Algarve was remote and inaccessible, even from the rest of Portugal.

A common theme among the reports of these visitors was of a fine climate and productive horticulture. Many visited the Algarve in order to buy the fruit and nuts produced here. During that time, the Algarve succumbed to poverty and neglect as it was raided by Barbary corsairs, disadvantaged by the Inquisition and by British capitalists. These British merchants lived in the Algarve and exploited the local population.

These merchants were among the first foreigners to reside in the Algarve and were in today’s terms immigrants. Many of them married locally and set up their family homes in Faro. The retirees who live permanently in this region are, of course, also immigrants, while the term expatriate should be used to describe those who plan to return eventually to their country of origin.
Rose Macaulay’s wartime books about visitors to Portugal (They went to Portugal and They went to Portugal too) described the numerous British visitors to Portugal, of which Sir Francis Drake in 1587 and the Earl of Essex in 1596 were the only two mentioned who visited the Algarve and, in their cases, not peacefully.

In her third book, Fabled Shore (published in 1949), Macaulay described a journey along the eastern coast of Iberia between the French border and Cape St Vincent, devoting only 17 out of 225 pages to the Algarve. She found Vila Real de Santo António “dull”, Tavira “delightful”, Olhão “exotic”, Faro “not interesting”, while Loulé was “white and Arabic” and Albufeira “a picturesque and charming town”.

The region began to revive economically only with the arrival of the railway connection in the 1890s and the railway also brought the beginnings of tourism.

Since the opening of Faro Airport in 1965, coastal Algarve has changed enormously. The sunny climate has brought package tourists in their thousands first from Britain, then from France, Germany and elsewhere. The Lonely Planet guide to Portugal describes the Algarve as “loud, boisterous and full of foreigners … about as far from quintessential Portugal as you can get”.

The suburban estates of Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo attracted permanent foreign residents to their golf courses, which have since proliferated, and there are now 41 golf courses across the Algarve.

In more recent years, the Algarve has attracted not only beach tourists and golfers, but European immigrants are now choosing the region for permanent settlement.

On our immigration flight to Faro 20 years ago, in response to a fellow passenger who asked if we were going for one week or two, I admitted that we were going “forever”!

While at first it was mainly Britons who came to live here, people of other nationalities are now choosing the Algarve for their home. In 20 years, we have noticed an increasing number of Germans and Scandinavians, and more recently French and Italians have begun to settle here.

Attempting to find out why they are arriving, I composed a questionnaire and have had responses from British, Belgian, German, Dutch, French, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish nationals, mostly retirees.

It is clear that the climate in the Algarve is a major attraction for many people, in particular the relative warmth of the winters and the hours of sunshine in which to enjoy the beaches, the sea and the golf courses all year. For these retirees, remaining in Europe is extremely important, and so too the friendly and accepting nature of the Algarvians. Of those who have made a permanent move to the Algarve, their move has encouraged their friends also to retire to the region.

Some respondents had considered other countries for their retirement home: Australia, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Mauritius, Spain, Thailand or Florida in the USA. Others had lived in the Caribbean for over 40 years and wanted to return to Europe. Some have returned to the Algarve after an absence of 30 years and others never considered living elsewhere, the climate in the Algarve being their deciding factor.

About half of my respondents have learned Portuguese, some had been to a local language school and some to private classes, and many admitted to speaking Portuguese “badly”. One learned Portuguese in Brazil, writing “the language is not easy, with complex sounds (compared to Spanish)”.

Most of those who responded have neighbours who are Portuguese or a mixture of Portuguese and foreigners, particularly British, Irish and Scandinavian. The great majority of respondents have Portuguese friends, some through business, but the most common grounds for friendship are a love of history and travel, and participation in community events.

The Portuguese are friendly and tolerant and like to talk, “but they focus on their family and friends first. We invite regularly some of our Portuguese neighbours but they rarely invite us. The ones that do invite us are usually expat-Portuguese couples”. It seems, too, that Portuguese apartment owners are reluctant to participate in condominium meetings where decisions are made.
Respondents did not care for over-built resorts, ghettoes of wealthy expatriates, complicated government paperwork, too much tourism, numerous barking dogs and dangerous driving, especially on the EN125. Some will return to their native country in the future, with superior healthcare being the main reason for their planned return, and one commented that Algarvian hospitals are not of the standard that they are used to.

There is a Global Peace Index in which Portugal occupies fourth place (behind Iceland, New Zealand and Austria), higher than that of Switzerland and the United Kingdom, while France has the lowest ranking of Western European countries. Those coming from France remarked upon the poor government of President Hollande and their fear of the threat of Islamic terrorism in France.

As a consequence of the large numbers of immigrants in Europe with only a basic education and who look for welfare benefits, the perception of immigration in many European countries is negative. This negative perception has been exacerbated after the recent influx of Middle Easterners and Africans whose integration is expensive and difficult. Crime rates are very high among these immigrants and it seems, for example, that about 60% of the inmates of Swiss prisons are Muslims. Non-European immigration in Portugal remains low, and it is clear that safety and security are important factors to immigrant retirees.
The perception of the impact of retiree immigration in the Algarve is of a double-edged sword: the economy is boosted, but locals are disadvantaged by the increase in the cost of living.

Tourism brings work opportunities but also brings a high social cost. The Portuguese government grants tax advantages to new retirees and, as the average retiree brings cash into the economy, he has also helped to clear the surplus of real estate on the market after the financial crash of 2008.

Nowadays, of course, new retirees are fuelling the construction industry and the wealthier retired immigrants bring more transactions to local businesses.

It is surprising that the influx of richer foreigners, and the resulting rising prices, seem not yet to have provoked resentment among local people.

Concern was expressed that the increase in numbers of retirees moving to the Algarve would damage the local Portuguese traditions and way of life, and a number of respondents said they would consider in the future moving to Lisbon or another part of Portugal.

Twenty years ago, we retired to the Algarve because of its relative commercial underdevelopment, lower population density, stunning countryside and clean air. What has changed over the time we have been here? There is an increase in commercialism; there are more tourists, more foreign residents and denser traffic; and the Algarve begins to be affected by factors of climate change.

It appears that the Algarve is still attractive to retirees because of its climate, the friendly nature of the Algarvians and a relaxed tax regime. But it is also clear that many expatriates have chosen the Algarve because of an increased sense of security in Portugal and because of its European nature, which is strange in a country that has a distant Islamic heritage.

By Lynne Booker
|| features@algarveresident.com

Lynne Booker, along with her husband Peter, founded the Algarve History Association. lynnebooker@sapo.pt

The stunning countryside
Santa Luzia – the sea and the sunny Algarve
Faro, ‘Not interesting’
‘Exotic’ Olhão
‘Dull’ Vila Real de Santo António
‘Delightful’ Tavira