If you are a resident reading the Algarve Resident, then you’re well aware of the fact that we live in one of the most desirable vacation destinations in the whole wide world. It doesn’t take noting that the Algarve finishes at the top of various lists of best golf destinations, best family vacations, best places to retire and, the latest, the favourite vacation location of the Irish, to know that we live in a vacation wonderland.
All we really have to do is go outside. Take a walk along the cliffs and scope out the sunny seaside scenery, play a round of golf in your shirtsleeves or sit al fresco at a café or bistro with a nice glass of Portuguese wine and you’ll know that it really doesn’t get much better. Watch cruise and vacation ads on TV and realise that we’re doing what they’re showing literally on a daily basis. Then watch a weather report on the BBC or CNN or notice some Facebook shots from home, wherever that is.
Personally, I enjoy watching the weather on the BBC, where the forecasters are challenged every day to put a positive spin on the current ice age moving across Scotland. The weather gal or guy apparently feels obligated to work the word “sunshine” into each prediction. My favourite is “scattered patches of sunshine”. If you stop to think for a moment, you will realise what surrounds these “patches”. Sometimes, the almost always cheerful weather people have to be honest and say things like, “early morning rain, followed by partial clearing, followed by gale force winds and severe downpours”. Notice they worked “partial” in but only briefly.
So yes, the 300 days a year of sunny skies are a main contributing factor as to why our current place of residence is so desirable to people in jolly ol’England or New England for that matter.
Take this February for an excellent example, which so far has been a bit warmer than usual. It’s definitely offseason, so there’s no traffic if you want to go out and enjoy viewing all the almond trees in full bloom or take your dog for an uncontested walk on a deserted bright beach. The only problem is that, as a long-term resident, you might be tempted to take your surroundings for granted. Especially if you’re retired, every day is a holiday. Every day feels like Saturday and some of us might be tempted to be complacent.
I suggest that low season is the ideal time for we lucky residents to go on mini-vacations to take full advantage of living in what many consider one of the top vacation locales anywhere.
First of all, thanks to the A22, you can take a day trip from one end of the Algarve to the other in less than two hours and that is always a fun thing to do. However, I believe that staying overnight for a day or two or three can really be an ideal way to enjoy all that the Algarve has to offer.
For example, I took my lovely wife to Tavira for her birthday last year. It’s only three exits down from our exit near Faro, but it is a different place, with its own unique charm and ambience. We stayed for two nights in a nice hotel overlooking the town and ate at a couple of very nice restaurants in the company of more French people than we had experienced anywhere else. We weren’t far, but we were away – not “away from it all” but some place different. We love a couple of the restaurants in next-door Santa Luzia, the octopus capital of Portugal.
So, if you live out west, I highly recommend a night or two in Tavira for a change of pace. Monte Gordo is another overlooked spot on the eastern end. Even though I couldn’t find any fat hills or mountains in this seaside town, there is a very pleasant beach and a surprising amount of nightlife. After all, you can only go to so many places on a particular night of your life.
Or vice versa. If you live on the eastern end, I suggest, instead of an afternoon visit, you spend an overnight in Lagos. My lovely wife, Fluffy and I appreciate staying in a dog-friendly hotel near Dona Ana Beach, voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (we do well on all the lists, don’t we?).
Just down the road is Ponta da Piedade, one of the most photographed and gorgeous collections of sea cliffs anywhere. I always enjoy watching the posts of new friends who have discovered this scenic point with a lighthouse and the photos they share, because I’ve shared the same pictures. Have you noticed the lighting (except at midday) here in the Algarve is ideal for taking photographs that are the envy of our friends and family who still live under the cloud cover of back home?
Take another night and stay in Sagres, even further out west and enjoy the beer by the same name. Big with the surfing crowd, Sagres is also within sight of the Cape of Saint Vincent, the southernmost point in Europe with spectacular windswept cliffs. I pity people who have not had a chance to stay over and catch a sunset at either or both Ponta da Piedade and Cabo de São Vincente.
Albufeira is not one of my favourite places, but it can be enjoyed for a mini-vacation in the offseason because you can find some deals on all those beachfront hotels. It’s one of the only places in the world where you can take a long escalator down to the beach and these days you won’t encounter a single thug in a thong.
Portimão is another big town with plenty of history, but I suggest a night or two across the river in Ferragudo. Carvoeiro is yet another delightful place that was recently sited for having a beautiful beach. And on it goes … and I encourage you to go.
The offseason is an ideal time to visit Vilamoura for a rewarding golf vacation away from whatever are your usual links. These days, you can actually get tee times and the pace of play is almost always faster that when those poor devils from the north decided to rent some clubs and try to remember how to hit the ball.
Notice I haven’t even ventured inland. It is my belief that Silves, Loulé and São Brás de Alportel are lovely places to reside but better suited for day trips, like the Loulé market on Saturday mornings. Then there’s Salir and Alte up in the hills (I don’t call them mountains.), which are pleasant alternatives especially since the waterfall works after it’s rained some.
The point is (and yes, I do have a point), there are plenty of options, each with their own special atmosphere and interesting qualities. Where do you go for holiday when you live in a mecca for holidaymakers? Just a few exits down on the highway and you’ll be in a different spot. Variety of choice may be what really makes the Algarve a truly wonderful place to live.
By Pat, the expat
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.