Let me first wish you a Happy New Year, or Bom Ano Novo, as we embark into the year number 2024, making and breaking resolutions, and wondering where the good ship planet Earth and its people are headed next.
Whatever shenanigans are planned, fated or are randomly going to fall into place, I wish you well and suggest we make this at least a cheerful and adventurous year, given most who are reading this are blessed with a head start, either living in or planning to move to this marvellous country.
I will today be looking forward by looking back on my first days here, by way of insight for those of you trying to choose where to live in Portugal in 2024, severely spoiled for choice as we are.
Some are trying to figure this out from afar. Others, who recently arrived and wisely chose the ‘first year basecamp’ approach, may well still be as confused as the day they arrived.
The struggle is real, and ‘paralysis by analysis’ can be a common ailment among the new home-seeking arrival. I feel your pain, dear seeker, as Mrs M and I struggled in much the same way, and even have a name for the condition, after years of flare-ups and relapses.
Where to live in Portugal, after the obvious visa-based and other bureaucratic queries, can be an overwhelming concern of migrants. A visa is a discrete step in the journey. Location, however, can remain an ongoing and nebulous matter, especially given Portugal’s plethora of picturesque places.
We moved to Portugal in 2017, first to Tomar, and then – innocently fearing the most horrific and lethal wildfires in years – on swiftly to São Martinho do Porto on the Silver Coast.
“Wow!” we thought, as we arrived in town. “We could live here!” I remember the moment very clearly to this day, even the street where we parked and the suddenly stunning view of the tranquil scallop-shaped beach. This was a fortunate response too as, within days, our campervan had broken down, causing our imprisonment in paradise. The RAC meanwhile (a UK breakdown service) tried to figure out how to mend a Japanese speciality vehicle in Portugal, whilst we took refuge in a rather nice hotel just minutes from the seafront.
São Martinho certainly began to feel like home (which it is now, though somewhat circuitously) as the days turned to weeks in our insurance-covered temporary accommodation. Work demands, however, ultimately pulled us elsewhere, to Lisbon, to Central Portugal, up North, and eventually back to our hallowed Silver Coast.
Our voyage around the Portuguese side of the Iberian Peninsula began a phenomenon repeated each time we arrived in a new place in our first few months, even years: ‘São Martinho do Porto Syndrome’ – a very frequent, and possibly fickle, infatuation with every charming new village, town or city that we encountered.
When looking for somewhere to live over here, spoilt for choice you certainly will be. And in the scheme of worldly challenges and ‘first world problems’, it’s a good and lucky one to have. That said, it is still a possible source of anxiety and frustration when you are keen to put down roots.
The cheery blue sky is (largely) ubiquitous here, but the many manifestations of Portuguese soul and sensibility under it will probably catch your eye and heart constantly as you scout and scour the country in search for your dream home and location.
“Don’t come to Portugal if you don’t want to fall in love,” says our ‘Man in The Minho’ António Barbosa, a warning with which I wholly agree. So, what can I offer you to narrow down the search and minimise your location-selecting stress, should you find yourself labouring with this uncertainty?
My first piece of advice to those with whom I regularly discuss this is to pause for a moment and dwell on the word ‘best’. There are many YouTube guides and blog pieces that claim to know the best place or places to live in Portugal, but first ponder what is best for YOU and YOUR family. It’s you who’ll be living there, not the influencer or blogger who has done such a good job in arousing your curiosity and desire.
Then, focus first on the ‘immutables’, a word I have learned from the wife and her world of astrology. Such objective factors that will narrow down your choice revolve around climate, environment and sociability, the things that are more rigid and defining rather than subjective or optional.
Given that this is ‘a cold country with a hot sun’, one key choice point or consideration is the weather, and the first of my big, clarifying questions for you is: “Do you (mainly) want to spend your time keeping warm or cooling down?” This is such a good question and will divide an eventual Algarve addict from a Minho mover. If being cold and damp to the bone will wear you down or ceaseless heat drives you nuts, make a choice that will reflect your general climate sensitivity.
Next question is: “Are you (mainly) a city or country person?” The suburban best-of-both-worlds is not so much a thing here as I suspect it is elsewhere, and I hear people sometimes saying they are “too remote”, having once yearned for isolation. Being more the town mouse than the country mouse may well give you a greater sense of connection when being a foreigner in a new land can bring a heightened sense of isolation.
Connected to this are other immutable and geographically-defining questions: “Do you want to be immersed in local Portuguese culture or hang out more with fellow foreigners?” and “Do you want to be by the sea or in the interior?”
I will return to these lifestyle and location-defining questions next week, and, for the time being, leave you with “vamos embora e boa sorte, amigo!” for the year ahead, wherever you are in your Portuguese journey.