During my esteemed journalistic career, I have written a number of travel articles and now that my lovely wife and I reside in the Algarve, I was seriously considering coming up with an article or two about just how great the southern coast of Portugal is – aimed at the U.S. market. However, my lovely wife was dead set against the idea. She didn’t want the secret to get out. Too late!
In the past couple of years, Portugal, and particularly the Algarve, has been highly ranked on numerous lists of the best vacation destinations and best places to retire. As my regular reader already has sensed, Ol’Pat is not big on research (I’m retired.), but a quick Google scan found articles highly recommending the Algarve in The New York Times, US News and World Report, the Huffington Post and Forbes as well as on CNN and the net on such sites as International Living, Travel + Leisure and even The Crazy Tourist. Maybe it was never a secret, even though I will tell you that most of our American friends and family have never considered or even heard of the Algarve, until we told them we were moving here. Recently there was an article on “the International Living” web site entitled “Portugal, the Land North America Forgot.”
Of course our British friends have known about the Algarve for centuries and have been making tee times for decades, but now the numbers and nationalities, particularly United States travellers and especially retirees, has increased exponentially. British expats have contributed to making the Algarve attractive to other English speakers because so many Portuguese have adapted by learning to speak English. To be honest, while it would be appropriate to learn the native tongue, for some of us it is virtually impossible and frankly unnecessary. I know a number of young Portuguese adults who even speak with a decidedly American accent. Why? Because Portugal is a small country and they don’t dub English-language movies or TV, so they go with subtitles. Meaning the youngsters pick it up with a North-American general accent. “I’ll be back.”
The main reason that the retirement numbers are growing is rather obviously demographics. In the past decade the baby boomers have continued to come of retirement age in growing numbers. They have to go somewhere and Florida is traffic jammed with geezers. My lovely wife and I were actually born in 1945, one year before the official start of the baby boom, but that only means we’re at the head of a trend. I promise you, what ever we do or wherever we go, the boomers are right behind us making reservations for dinner at popular restaurants and beating us to parking places.
As a matter of fact, we lived in Panama, another top-rated retirement destination and now we know of at least five other couples, who have moved from Panama to Portugal within the last year. When we lived on the isthmus, we never met anyone who had relocated from Portugal. Why? There are a number of reasons.
Portugal, as we know since we’re already here, has a few characteristics that make it simply better than other locales. Not surprisingly, these reasons are prominently emphasised in all the “Top Ten” lists that are constantly circulating.
The top three reasons, that I’m not going tell anyone unless they ask, are the cost of living, the weather and safety.
The cost of living: When, we moved to Panama you could drive across the city in a taxi for under two bucks. A pack of cigarettes cost $1.25. I actually started smoking again because it was so affordable. All kidding aside, our apartment in a World Heritage site cost us under $100,000, but is now worth over $300,000.
That’s a good investment but also a trend that seems to be maybe happening in Portugal, Lisbon certainly. Panama City is now one of the 25 most expensive cities in the world. We expect more of our friends and acquaintances to move here when they realise it will cost less than a third of their wine budget to really stock up with quality and still have plenty left over to go out to eat.
The weather: There are numerous places in the world where the weather is pleasant and, of course, there’s Minnesota in winter. Naturally, folks from Scotland are going to love the bright sunshine even in the cooler months – it’s a given. An interesting note is that it gets much hotter here in the summer than it ever does in sub-tropical Panama, but that country does have a time they call “the rainy season,” which lasts for months. Portugal is also not very popular with snow skiers. The point that I don’t want to get around too extensively is that this 300 days of sun a year is in Europe, not some snake-infested rain forest or garbage-strewn desert island. We have plenty of culture, history and architecture to enjoy, photograph and include on our Facebook pages with blue skies in the background of every shot. I suggest you stop sharing immediately because after a while they’ll notice and want to become part of the crowd at the beach.
I am worried that if the weather gets any better, it will get bad. We do need some rain, if for no other reason than so we can refill our swimming pools.
Safety: I think this is an under-reported aspect of living in southern Portugal and I intend to do my part to keep it that way. Portugal has been rated as one of the most peaceful and safest countries in the world finishing third or fourth depending on the source. That’s good. However when baby boomers find out that Faro is way safer than Baltimore (okay, not a good example), Memphis or Des Moines or fill in the blank with your hometown, they might flock here. Okay, we lock our doors and try not to stumble down alleys after midnight, but compared to many (most) places, we’re rather unconcerned about hiring a personal bodyguard.
It has been recently reported in this very publication, that the tourist industry wants to promote the Algarve as a year-round destination. These people need to be discouraged. Besides the fact that I don’t understand why people want to come here when it’s so blasted hot that the sand burns your feet, if that’s fine with them, since they’re sunburned anyway, it’s fine with me. But as a resident who already figured it out, please at least leave us the glorious offseason. I like going to my favorite local pub and almost always finding an empty stool at the bar. My lovely wife and I have travelled on the A22 when we haven’t seen another car for miles, either direction. We thought maybe our radio station hadn’t received the announcement of the eminent meteor strike yet. When the roads aren’t packed, you can easily pass a caravan that is cruising along at a steady 35 mph. We don’t need more RVs on our narrow, but picturesque byways.
I’m not optimistic. They’re already coming in growing numbers and more hotels are being built to accommodate the elderly from France and Germany as well as the U.S.A. So please realise that those beautiful photos don’t only make your friends and relative jealous, they actually make them want to come for visit; and when that happens, they’ll want to become residents as well.
Meanwhile I’m going to enjoy the Algarve, while it’s still relatively unknown and a Sagres only costs a euro.
By Pat, the expat
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For the previous 10 years, Pat lived in Panama which used to be rated above Portugal as a top retirement destination (but not any more), where he wrote a column for a tourist publication.