Charting a couple's move from London to Portugal, tales, adventures and moving advice


Archive for the ‘travel’

An Algarve Summer in Pictures – Part 1 4

Posted on October 29, 2013 by Ben Algarve

(Ben) This summer, my brother in law has spent a few months in the Algarve. He’s recently caught the photography bug, and has been turning out plenty of beautiful pictures that put our washed-out iPhone efforts to shame.

He’s also kindly agreed to let me share a selection of the photographs here. So today, I’m pleased to present an Algarve summer in photographic form. There will be more to come in a subsequent post.

Cabanas Beach, East Algarve

Cabanas Beach, East Algarve

Oranges in the orchard

Oranges in the orchard

A Tavira Terrapin

A Tavira Terrapin

The wild West coast

The Wild West coast

Alcoutim river beach

Alcoutim river beach

Castro Marim medieval fair

Castro Marim medieval fair

Octopus jerky at Castro Marim Medieval Fair

Octopus jerky at Castro Marim Medieval Fair

Praia da Luz in the peak of summer

Praia da Luz in the peak of summer

Fiesa Sand Sculptures

Fiesa Sand Sculptures

Strange red bug

Strange red bug

Canon at Sagres

Canon at Sagres

Castro Marim Castle

Castro Marim Castle

All images (C) Robert Herring 2013. All rights reserved.

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Cruising to Madeira 4

Posted on October 15, 2013 by Ben Algarve

(Ben) Every time I post on this blog nowadays I seem to begin with an apology for the length of time between my updates. I guess it’s no bad thing that I’ve got plenty of work to do, with employment being so hard to come by here in Portugal, but I do wish I had a little more blogging time.

Still, while the work keeps coming, I have to keep doing it, so I’m glad I have at least found a quick gap in which to type up this quick update.

Hitting the high seas

Hitting the high seas

I guess it’s technically autumn now here in the Algarve, but you wouldn’t know it with temperatures still frequently in the high 20s. Even so, the evenings are getting a little cooler, and though I’m stubbornly remaining in shorts and flip-flops, my wife is now in jeans by sundown most days!

The tourists seem happy with the weather, and there are still plenty of them around, but we’ve had to accept the end of summer and get back to the grindstone.

However, we have booked ourselves a little holiday! Next month we head off on a cruise to Morocco, Madeira and the Canary Islands. A cruise is something we’ve always wanted to try, even though many of our friends have appeared baffled by our desire to do so!

This time we will see Madeira from the opposite direction

This time we will see Madeira from the opposite direction

We’ve looked into cruising before, but the thing that’s put us off has been that the majority of routes start in Barcelona, which for us involves a drive to Seville, followed by a flight, before we even get to board our ship.

Last week, I discovered a very inexpensive cruise beginning in Malaga, which is much easier as we can get there in the car in around four hours, the last hour of which is through stunning mountain scenery.

So we set off next month and will be calling at Barcelona, Casablanca, Madeira and Lanzarote. Ironically, it’s revisiting the Portuguese island of Madeira that we’re most excited about, but setting foot in Africa for the first time is also rather thrilling.

Somewhere to revisit in Madeira

Somewhere to revisit in Madeira

We’ve clearly taken quite a gamble with a November cruise. The weather will be hit and miss at best, so we’re glad we stocked up on high strength travel sickness pills when we were in the US earlier this year! But ultimately it’s all about having a break from the routine and finding out, once and for all, if cruises are something we enjoy. Given that I’ve always got awfully excited about simple ferry journeys, I think there will be enough to keep me entertained!

And if it’s all a disaster…well, at least then we’ll have some funny stories to tell on this blog when we get back.

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The Algarve’s Five Best Kept Secrets 7

Posted on September 09, 2013 by Ben Algarve

Anyone visiting the Algarve for their holidays won’t find it hard to locate wonderful beaches, beautiful scenery and fabulous, cheap restaurants. All you need is a guide book or a quick Google search of your chosen area and you are set to enjoy a great holiday.

FIESA - easy to find and enjoy

FIESA – easy to find and enjoy

But those who are staying longer, or moving permanently to the Algarve, have the option to discover some of its hidden treasures – places that don’t make the guide books or that have to be sought out based on local knowledge.

Here we go off the beaten track and share five of the Algarve’s best kept secrets, which we have discovered during our years of living here.


As the Algarve’s highest mountain, Foia isn’t exactly ‘hidden’ but surprisingly few people make the journey to the top. Those that do are rewarded (on clear days at least) with incredible views of a huge stretch of the coastline, with tiny towns and villages dotted around in picture postcard perfection.

Foia - pick a sunny day for a better view

Foia – pick a sunny day for a better view

You can scale Foia on foot with the hand of a local walking guide, though in the height of summer the intense heat means driving may be a more practical approach. Partway down the mountain is a tiny spring of clear water, where you are likely to find locals filling their empty bottles to take the pure, cold water away with them.

No Solo Água (Praia da Rocha)

At the far end of Praia da Rocha in Portimão, near the fortress, is the No Solo Água beach club, as recently reviewed on our sister blog, Food and Wine Portugal. While the Algarve has a few beach clubs, most are expensive, with cover charges in place before you can even sit down. No Solo Água at Praia da Rocha, however, is something of a locals’ secret. You can turn up, grab a day bed or giant sofa, and access the private beach – all for free. All you have to do is buy drinks while you’re there. There is the option to buy food as well and everything we’ve tried from the menu so far has been very tasty.

No Solo Agua - delightful

No Solo Agua – delightful

As an aside, we have visited other No Solo Água establishments, such as the one at Vilamoura, but none even come close to living up to the one at Praia da Rocha.


Tucked away in the middle of nowhere near the Spanish border, Alcoutim is a small town with a tiny yet beautiful river beach. The water is clean and delightfully warm and offers the chance for visitors to float around for endless hours, disturbed only by the occasional sparkling fish jumping out of the water.

Alcoutim - a blissful hideaway

Alcoutim – a blissful hideaway

Even in the peak of summer, Alcoutim remains relatively quiet, in stark contrast to the Algarve’s coastal beaches. The little bar on site serves drinks and hot snacks, or you can take a picnic and each it on the sandy riverbank. Lifeguards are on duty and the shallow, still waters make this a lovely spot to visit if you have young children.

Tavira’s Secret Beach

Ilha da Tavira beach is a popular tourist destination all summer long and deservedly so. It is beautiful. However, Tavira also has another beach, accessed by following the signs to Forte de Rato through the Ria Formosa nature reserve. If this beach has a name, I’ve yet to discover it.

The secret beach at Forte de Rato

The secret beach at Forte de Rato

This delightful spot offers a way to escape the tourist hordes. There will be people there, but far fewer than on any of the other beaches in the area. Protected from the open sea by the curving coastland, this tidal inlet offers shallow, crystal clear water in which to frolic or simply float on a giant rubber ring. The ruined Forte de Rato, which you have to drive past to get to the beach, makes for a lovely diversion on the way.

Pego do Inferno

Accessed via the backroads leading out of Tavira and tricky to find, Pego do Inferno is one of our favourite spots. Anyone who has been kind enough to purchase our book, Moving to Portugal, will recognise the waterfall on the front cover when they visit Pego do Inferno.

Ravaged by the extensive wildfires that burned across the Algarve in 2012, Pego do Inferno has now reopened and begun to return to its former beauty, as vegetation and wildlife have returned. The waterfall and the pool at its base range in colour from perfectly clear to muddy brown/orange, depending on the time of year.

Pego do Inferno - worth trying to find

Pego do Inferno – worth trying to find

In mid-summer, the water is clear enough to see fish swimming around the pool in shoals, which scatter when locals plunge into the depths from the tattered rope swing or the top of the cliff from which the waterfall pours. I should add that both activities are extremely dangerous!

Later in the year, after the autumn rains have begun, the water becomes silted with mud from the surrounding hills, making swimming a rather unpleasant idea. It’s still a wonderfully quiet spot for a picnic, but is definitely far better when visited during the summer months.

So these are our favourite ‘secret’ Algarve destinations. I’m sure we will discover more as our explorations continue over the years ahead and I look forward to adding to the list.

What’s your favourite tucked away Algarve place? Let us know by leaving a comment in the box.

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Expats in Portugal: 5 Tips for Summer 6

Posted on July 22, 2013 by Ben Algarve

Expats in Portugal tend to have a love/hate relationship with the summer. While we look forward to the arrival of sunshine, atmosphere and things to do, we usually start to complain by mid-July when the roads get busy, restaurant service becomes shambolic, and timing a trip the supermarket badly can mean queuing like it’s Christmas Eve!

Crowded Praia da Dona Ana - Lagos

Crowded Praia da Dona Ana – Lagos

So, in honour of the fact that we’ve now arrived at the time when we all begin to complain, here are five lighthearted tips to help residents in the Algarve cope with the summer.


1.      Time trips to the supermarket carefully

The worst possible time to arrive at the supermarket is when everyone’s on their way home from the beach. Sunday afternoons can be pretty hateful too.

All you have to do is think outside the box. Go early, when the tourists are sleeping off their hangovers, for minimal queues and maximum choice. Late doesn’t work quite so well, as although there may not be many people there, there’s probably not much stock either. Right in the middle of a hot day can work too – if, of course, you don’t have to work!

Sunshine - it's here all summer

Sunshine – it’s here all summer

2.      Get out of the expat mindset

It’s hard to get used to the fact that the sun is guaranteed to shine every day in the summer, and break out of the expat mentality that makes you feel compelled to get outside so as not to “waste the weather.”

Four years on, we’re still struggling to break our conditioning, but we’re getting there. We just have to get our work done and trust that the sun will still be there tomorrow.


3.      Go off the beaten track

There’s no getting around the fact that you may resent the thousands of people on “your” usually-near-deserted beach, but the tourists are the lifeblood of the Algarve economy.

Solitude - it's there if you know where to look!

Solitude – it’s there if you know where to look!

Instead, you must learn to go to places that the tourists haven’t discovered. We know a river beach that is never thronged, and also plenty of busy beaches where solitude can still be found after a 15 minute walk.

Best of all though, get to know some people with a house in the hills and ideally a pool. Then, spend your weekends there and save the beach for mid-September. We’re very lucky to have relatives in the country!


4.      Put water under the air conditioning

We always thought that putting a bowl of water in an air-conditioned room was an old wives’ tale. It’s not. If you spend a lot of time with the air conditioning on, the extra humidity from the water will prevent the worst of the peeling lips and sore throats.

Summer festivities

Summer festivities

5.      Remember you’re not on holiday

If you’ve retired then go ahead and enjoy yourself. If, like us, you still have a hefty Monday to Friday workload, you’ve still got to get it all done, and doing it with sunburn, heatstroke or a hangover is no fun at all.


So, sad though it is to accept, you must get your head down and get it done – and what better incentive is there to hammer through it than a beach at the end of the road – even if it is really bloody crowded!


Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

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Holidays in Portugal – Aldeia da Pedralva 2

Posted on May 21, 2013 by Ben Algarve

It’s sometimes hard to convince friends that just because we live in a holiday destination it doesn’t mean we are on holiday all the time (it’s Lou here, by the way). We still have to work, pay bills, go to the supermarket and complete all those household chores which are a part of daily life. So a couple of weeks ago we decided to take a break and go on an actual holiday in Portugal, to the idyllic Aldeia da Pedralva.

Holidays in Portugal - Aldeia da Pedralva

Holidays in Portugal – Aldeia da Pedralva

Aldeia da Pedralva is a tourist resort located approximately halfway between Vila do Bispo and Bordeira, on the Costa Vicentina area of Portugal’s west coast. Popular with surfers, the west coast is more wild and unspoiled than the beaches on Portugal’s south coast, so we were excited to be exploring a different part of Portugal than we are used to.

Aldeia da Pedralva has an interesting history. It was an almost entirely abandoned village when the owners first discovered it. They spent two years gradually purchasing the dilapidated houses and another two years renovating them. The sympathetic renovation work was designed to maintain a traditional Portuguese village feel, complete with winding cobbled streets, mismatched house sizes and white-painted walls. The atmosphere is one of tranquil relaxation – often the only sounds we could hear were the birds singing and the tinkling of the sheep bells as a small flock grazed on the village’s grassland.

Cobbled, winding streets

Cobbled, winding streets

The houses themselves are a delight. Each one is different and has its own character and charm. We stayed in a one-bedroom house with delightful views over the open, hilly countryside, which is dotted with trees and flowers as far as the eye can see. Our house was quaint and rustic, yet spotlessly clean and with all the facilities we needed for a weekend away. It had a small yet perfectly adequate kitchen and a good-sized living space, as well as a large bedroom with an extremely comfortable bed. The bathroom was particularly charming, with a stone-walled shower very much in keeping with the whole feel of the village.

Unique houses in a tranquil setting

Unique houses in a tranquil setting

Aldeia da Pedralva is designed as a base for active holidays, yet it also makes a wonderful, peaceful retreat for those looking to escape modern life. WiFi is only available in the reception area, which was at once refreshing and a little unnerving (I am a massive iPhone addict). There are no televisions or radios in the houses. The emphasis is on enjoying the wonders that nature has to offer, along with fresh, clean country air and good food.

Quaint touches abound

Quaint touches abound

There are two restaurants in the village, which I will review in detail on our sister blog Food and Wine Portugal, but suffice it to say here that the food in both was excellent and the service extremely friendly. Both are worth a visit on their own merits and we will definitely eat at them again next time we are in the area, even if we are not staying at the village. Breakfast was also included in our stay and consisted of a good continental spread, along with gallons of coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice (so fresh that it was actually squeezed in front of us).

The pretty blue house

The pretty blue house

We spent our weekend at Aldeia da Pedralva exploring some of the west coast, as it is an area with which we are largely unfamiliar. Driving through the winding hills, we visited a number of windswept beaches, splashing around in the huge Atlantic waves coming rolling in. The highlight had to be the beautiful Praia do Monte Clérigo, where we lazed about in the sun for several hours, treating ourselves to a drink and a cake from the (horrendously overpriced) local café.

The rugged west coast

The rugged west coast

Praia da Amoreira, a stunning and desolate beach accessed by driving down a mountain, also deserves a mention. The scenic drive makes a wonderful approach to the sands, while the beach is backed by flower-covered dunes which are host to a variety of wildlife.

Overall it was a delightful weekend. We came away feeling refreshed and reinvigorated, which is exactly how a holiday is supposed to leave you feeling. The combination of the local attractions and the village itself, with its hidden nooks and crannies for curling up with a book in the sun, makes the perfect break – it’s definitely somewhere we will be heading back to next time we take a mini holiday in Portugal to escape the stresses of modern life.

Beautiful countryside

Beautiful countryside

In the interests of full disclosure we were invited to spend the weekend at this resort. However, be assured that all views are our own and that our opinions cannot be bought!

If you enjoy reading the blog and want to hear more about how our life has changed since moving abroad, why not check out our book: 

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

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Travelling Around the Algarve 10

Posted on May 09, 2013 by Ben Algarve

(Ben) I must start today’s post with a humble apology. This blog’s been a little neglected of late, due to a combination of hosting guests, working to save up for our impending tax bill, and our decision to move house in the near future.

I’ll go into more detail on the latter in a future post, as I want to give the story behind our plans to move and details of the plans themselves the space they deserve. For now, however, I’ll just say that we are remaining in the Algarve but moving somewhere with a little more life and variety.

Now, I’ve got you guessing, I’ll proceed with today’s post, which is about travel within the Algarve. The tourist season is underway, and we find ourselves being asked lots of questions (both by our own guests and by random people we meet) about how best to travel around the Algarve region. I’m going to start by talking about trains.

Trains in the Algarve

The Algarve train line stretches for almost the entire length of the coast, beginning at the border with Spain at Vila Real de Santo Antonio and ending just shy of the far West in the city of Lagos.

Algarve Trains

Algarve Trains

For those visiting the East Algarve, where we currently live, the train is a great way of getting around. It’s cheap, and practically hugs the coast from Faro to the Spanish border. It’s not especially fast (Faro to Tavira takes 40 minutes), but it’s cheap, and, importantly for tourists, it’s possible to access beaches and resort towns by alighting at Olhao, Fuseta, Tavira, Conceicao or Monte Gordo.

West of Faro, the train’s not quite as good as the route map might suggest. Between Faro and Portimao, few of the stations are anywhere near the towns that they suggest they are. Albufeira station, for example, is several miles from civilization. Journeys on this section of the line seem long, with Faro to Lagos taking nearly two hours – twice as long as by road.

Still, I for one love a journey on the train, but if you intend to take a long trip, don’t do it in July and August. I travelled from Tavira to Lagos and back last summer for a meeting when the temperature was pushing 40 degrees, and it was torturously hot on board.

Buses in the Algarve

The Algarve has a surprisingly extensive bus network, and for some journeys (Faro to Albufeira being a good example), bus travel is a more sensible option than riding the rails.

Faro Buses

Faro Buses

However, it’s fair to say that travelling by local buses and locating the correct bus stops and timetables can be a challenge if you don’t understand Portuguese.

If you do fancy giving it a go, however, I can recommend a fabulous website, Algarve Bus Info. The site owner has clearly spent hours amalgamating all possible Algarve travel information into one place, and the information also covers train timetables and tips on journeys to Lisbon as well as Spain and beyond.

Car Hire in the Algarve

If you really want to experience the Algarve properly, it’s undoubtedly best to hire a car. Most of our guests don’t bother, but they’re lucky enough to have my wife to drive them around!

If you really don’t want to drive in Portugal, then it’s best to choose a resort such as Lagos, Tavira or Albufeira, where you can rely on an airport transfer at either end of the holiday and have sufficient amenities on hand that you need not travel away from the town.

But this, to me, is missing the point. You won’t find tucked-away, “secret” beaches without a car. You won’t be able to stop at tiny makeshift fruit stalls, and you won’t get to go off the beaten track and find the “real” Algarve.

Explore the inland Algarve with a hire car

Explore the inland Algarve with a hire car

Also, at least outside of peak tourist season, it’s often cheaper to hire a car for a week than it is to pay for two airport transfers.

So, my local’s recommendation is to take to the roads when you visit the Algarve – you’ll see so much more of this wonderful region.

If you’re looking for a hire car, we recommend Zest Car Rental. Alternatively, use to search a host of local companies all at once. Enjoy your trip!

Image credits: guymoll, Wikimedia Commons


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A Delightful Discovery 8

Posted on April 23, 2013 by Ben Algarve

We headed further west along the Algarve coast this weekend, for a minibreak in the lovely town of Lagos. Lagos is a fabulous town to explore, with cove beaches, a marina and a huge variety of shops, bars and restaurants.

Lagos Marina

Lagos Marina

While further along the coast, we took the opportunity to revisit one of our favourite Algarve beaches – Praia da Rocha, by the city of Portimão. This was the first place we ever stayed in Portugal and it has remained close to our hearts ever since. The huge expanse of golden sand is backed by stunning (and steadily crumbling) cliffs and the seascape is peppered with rock formations of all shapes and sizes, inhabited by noisy, squabbling seagulls. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know this is a place we speak of a lot!

Praia da Rocha - the rocks for which the beach was named

Praia da Rocha – the rocks for which the beach was named

The highlight of the weekend, early on Sunday afternoon, was a trip to the lovely, quiet beach of Alvor. It was here that, some six or seven years ago, a clifftop ramble led us to discover a tiny restaurant built right into the cliff, facing the neighbouring beach of Praia Dos Tres Irmãos. Accessed via a dingy-looking lift from the land-side, this restaurant and its little area of beach felt like a hidden gem when we first discovered it.

In February 2010, shortly after we moved to Portugal, we set off to find this secret beach once more. After some hours of searching we finally found it, only to be devastated when we saw the restaurant had been destroyed since our last visit. We could only assume that the winter storms or falling rocks had caused its destruction.

The Secret Restaurant

The Secret Restaurant

It was with utter delight, therefore, that we discovered on Sunday that the restaurant is up and running once more! It has the same, secret feel that it did when we first chanced upon it and we were happy to be among those few individuals splashing in the sea in front of it. We had eaten shortly before finding it, but now that we know it’s there again, it won’t be long before we return to its sun-drenched terrace tucked into the cliff, to feast on clams whilst looking out over the sparkling sea.

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Driving in Europe – Portugal 2

Posted on January 17, 2013 by Ben Algarve

Driving in Europe can be a scary experience for those not used to it. For a start, the cars are all on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Different countries have different rules, regulations and toll systems and some of them take quite a bit of working out. Here are a few helpful tips to make your driving experience in Portugal a little less stressful, so that you can enjoy your time here more.

Driving in Europe - Portugal's roads

Driving in Europe – Portugal’s roads

General advice

It seems as though half of the drivers in Portugal are patient and courteous, particularly in small towns. You can stop in a street to let someone into or out of the car and people will wait patiently behind you for a minute or so without beeping. The other half of the drivers here seem to be in a desperate hurry to get wherever they are going and will happily overtake at high speed on blind bends.

The EN125, which runs the length of the Algarve, has long been hailed as one of the most dangerous roads in Europe – it was once known as the ‘road of death.’ I have been overtaken dangerously on it on many occasions since living here, by cars, vans and even a coach. On the most notable occasion, a car overtook me directly into oncoming traffic, despite the fact that I was already driving at the speed limit. Both I and the oncoming car had to swerve hard to avoid a nasty collision. Keep your wits about you when using this road.

One thing that can seem unnerving when driving in Portugal is how closely cars will drive behind you. The concept of leaving a safe braking distance is not something that seems to be cherished here. Drivers will happily sit so closely behind you that they appear to be mere inches from your back bumper. It can be unsettling when a car does this and terrifying when an HGV does it, but it’s not intended to intimidate – it’s just the way things are done here.

Remember to drive on the right

Remember to drive on the right

Licences and insurance

You can drive in Portugal with a driving licence from an EU country. If you have a non-EU licence then you may need an international driving licence before you can legally drive here. If you are bringing your own car, make sure you have insurance that covers you to drive in Portugal (and any other countries you might drive through to get here). If you’re hiring a car, I would highly recommend purchasing as much insurance as is available through your hire car company. Both us and our guests have had mishaps in hire cars that would have been costly had we not purchased the additional insurance options available.

Be sure to carry your licence, vehicle registration documents, passport, insurance documents and any rental agreement in your car whenever you drive. Older style (green) UK licences are valid, but the AA recommends voluntarily upgrading to the newer photocard licence before you drive in Portugal, as these are more widely understood and accepted.

Driving in Portugal is a wonderful way to explore the country

Driving in Portugal is a wonderful way to explore the country

If you’ve moved to Portugal and are driving on a UK driving licence, you need to present yourself to the authorities and register your licence to your Portuguese address within 30 days of obtaining your Portuguese residency certificate. This is done at the IMTT, which is Portugal’s equivalent of the DVLA (well, sort of – the IMTT’s remit is actually wider than that of the DVLA). The IMTT’s website includes a list of its locations, so you can find the one nearest to you. (The site can be viewed in English, but is limited to three pages – if you want to see the rest of it you will need to view the Portuguese version.)

It is important to ensure that you visit the IMTT and fill out your paperwork within the required time. It is a requirement to do so under Portuguese law and you can be fined if you don’t do it. It also avoids the problem of you living at an address which is different from that on your UK licence, which is an offence in England. Once you have the completed form from the IMTT confirming your Portuguese address, keep it with your driving licence at all times.

It is possible for residents to exchange their UK licence for a Portuguese one should they wish. This is done at the IMTT as well.


Speed limits

Although there are obviously variations across Portugal, speed limits are generally 120 km/h on motorways, 90 km/h on main roads and 50 km/h in towns.


Drinking and driving

The permissible alcohol limit in Portugal is lower than in the UK, at 0.5 mg per ml (or 0.05%). This is so low that the best advice is simply not to drink at all if you will be driving. Penalties for drink driving can be harsh. Despite this, drink driving is still in evidence in many parts of the country, particularly on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. A national campaign is underway in order to try and stamp out this practice. 

Driving in Europe - drinking and driving

Driving in Europe – know your limits


Portugal has a number of toll roads, which are in good condition and generally quiet and pleasant to cruise along. Most have two payment systems – cash/cards or an electronic transponder that fits on the inside of your windscreen. The transponder can help you to beat the queues at the tolls, as there is generally less traffic in that lane than in the cash lanes.

A number of toll roads operate an electronic toll system, so have no cash booths. To travel on these roads, you need to comply with the payment requirements of the company that manages the road. A good summary of these is available on the Visit Portugal website.

Toll charges can be quite expensive. It costs around €10 to drive from the western end of the Algarve to Spain and about €20 to drive from the Algarve to Lisbon. With petrol being expensive in Portugal, driving excursions can end up costing quite a lot with the tolls added in, but if you’ve tried the bumpy alternatives to the motorways for any long distance, I’m sure you’ll agree the cost of the tolls is well worth it.

I will refrain from joining in any debate regarding the implementation of tolls on the Algarve’s A22 motorway. There’s plenty online about it if you are interested!

Driving in Europe - vehicle requirements vary from country to country

Driving in Europe – vehicle requirements vary from country to country

Vehicle requirements

As well as the standard requirements of ensuring your vehicle is roadworthy and so forth, Portugal requires you to carry a number of items in your car. These include a high visibility jacket (which must be accessible without you having to leave the vehicle), a spare set of bulbs and a reflective warning triangle. It is compulsory to use your high visibility jacket and warning triangle in the event of an accident or breakdown.

Having a First Aid kit in the car is suggested, but not compulsory. It is also recommended that you carry a spare pair of glasses with you while driving. Having lost my sole pair of glasses in the sea while on holiday in Spain, I can attest to the sense of this advice!


Child safety

Children shorter than 1.50m and under 12 years old must travel in the back of the vehicle and use a restraint system appropriate to their age/size. Children under three years old can travel in the front seat if an appropriate restraint system is used. Please note that if the restraint system involves a rear-facing seat, the airbag must be switched off.


Driving age

You have to be 18 to drive in Portugal. Although in the UK you can legally drive from age 17, and you can drive in Portugal on a UK licence, you might have a hard time explaining that (in Portuguese) if you are pulled over for any reason. It may be best to wait until you are 18 before driving in Portugal on a UK licence.

Parking on roundabouts is not permitted

Parking on roundabouts is not permitted


You will often see Portuguese vehicles, including lorries and coaches, parked on roundabouts. I am unclear as to why this is. It is not legal and you should not do it!


Dealing with the police

If you are pulled over while driving for any reason, be polite and respectful when dealing with the authorities. If you are fined for anything, the payment must be made immediately, either in cash or using the portable credit card machine that most police cars carry. If you refuse to pay, the police can take your driving licence and registration document. They should give you a receipt for these and tell you where and when you can collect them. If you refuse to hand over your documents, the police have the power to confiscate your vehicle.



It is compulsory to use your headlights at night, when driving in tunnels, and in poor visibility during the day. Non-compliance with this may result in a fine.

Driving in Europe - know when to use your headlights or you could face a fine

Driving in Europe – know when to use your headlights or you could face a fine

Seat belts

It is compulsory for all passengers to wear seatbelts and it is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that they do. If you are pulled over and one or more passengers is not wearing a seatbelt, it is the driver who will pay the fine.

Although the above is correct at time of writing, please note that rules and regulations do change from time to time, so be sure you have the latest information to hand before driving in Europe. Safe travels 🙂


For more helpful hints and advice on all things Portuguese, why not check out our book: Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

Image credits: Pixabay, Fotopedia, Dennis Mojado

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Holiday Weekend in Portugal 4

Posted on August 28, 2012 by Ben Algarve

Those outside the UK may not be aware that this past weekend was a bank holiday. As my wife works for an English company, we observe UK bank holidays and not Portuguese ones. While this is a shame in that Portugal has far more than the UK, it meant we just got to enjoy a three-day weekend.

Our only objective was to have the kind of weekend that makes you feel sad when it’s over. We succeeded, and managed to fit plenty in, including the exploration of a couple of places we hadn’t been before.

After getting ahead and doing our grocery shopping in Spain on Friday night, we were ready for a day of exploration on Saturday. We set off in the car in the direction of Alcoutim, a small riverside town facing Spain over the border.

Alcoutim River Beach

Alcoutim River Beach

Our intended destination was the Praia Fluvial, a picturesque river beach we had seen in a tourist guide.

The drive itself was a great surprise, being on a modern road cut into the mountains and featuring some stunning views. Upon arrival at Alcoutim, we spotted some signs to an archeological site, so decided to go and find the monolith in question before heading for the river beach.

The signs led us up a treacherous mountain road and then onto a gravel path that got narrower and bumpier as we progressed. We eventually found the monolith.

Now, perhaps there’s just no historical romance in my soul, but I must confess to being….underwhelmed by the fenced off bits of rock we drove all that way to. Perhaps my naming it the “shitolith” was a tad harsh, but it wasn’t exactly the highlight of my weekend.

The Shitolith

The Shitolith

The river beach, however, met all of our expectations. Small but relatively undiscovered, it was peaceful even on an August Saturday. We were surprised to see that it had been awarded a blue flag for clean water as we didn’t realise they applied to river beaches. The flag gave us extra reassurance when we took to the water, which was clear and surprisingly warm.

Praia Fluvial Alcoutim

Praia Fluvial Alcoutim

Saturday evening was spent at the medieval fair in Castro Marim. Having already visited the fair in Silves, we were interested to compare the two and surprised that all present agreed that the Castro Marim fair was far superior to the more well known event in Silves. The stalls seemed to offer far more authentic and unique items and the place just felt “more medieval,” however subjective that may sound! On the down side, if was frantically busy, so not the place for those who dislike crowds and/or waiting for food and drink.

Castro Marim Medieval Fair

Castro Marim Medieval Fair

Plans for a swim and a barbecue with relatives on Sunday were scuppered early in the morning by the discovery of a flat tire, probably picked up during our dirt-track journey to the shitolith. As it turned out, we had an unexpectedly enjoyable day, ending up with friends having a fish feast at a beachfront restaurant, followed by some time paddling on the beach and (unsuccessfully) flying a kite.

Unfortunate flat tire

Unfortunate flat tire

The weekend was rounded off nicely by an impromptu Monday trip to Praia da Rocha, one of our favourite beaches, and an enjoyable meal at Casa Algarvia in Cabanas.

We certainly made the best of our weekend and felt suitably melancholy about returning to work today. We could do with cheering up, so, if you’d like to help, please take a look at our new Moving to Portugal book on Amazon and consider buying a copy!

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

Until next week ☺

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Books about Portugal (and an Exciting Announcement!) 3

Posted on July 12, 2012 by Ben Algarve

I say it a lot, but if you’re planning a move to Portugal, it’s simply not possible to do too much research.

Before we moved, a small collection of books about Portugal helped to answer questions, inspire us and increase our excitement levels.

After three years here, we’re still finding more to read and our Portugal book collection continues to expand. For some time, I have been intending to produce a list of all of these books for those interested in starting a similar collection of their own. I’ve finally got round to it and have included links to all of the books on Amazon UK (in red). Enjoy, and please read right to the end for an exciting announcement!

Moving abroad / Moving to Portugal

Buying Property in Portugal by Gabrielle Collison is the first book I recommend to people planning a move, and not just because it includes a case study on my wife and I! The book was updated in 2011 and contains a ton of useful and (importantly) current information.

Buying Property in Portugal (second edition) – insider tips for buying, selling and renting

Buying Property in Portugal - a great book - and I am in it!

Buying Property in Portugal - a great book - and I am in it!

Live and Work in Portugal is another tome we referred to before we moved. Sadly, it hasn’t been updated in several years and, let’s face it, the world was a very different place economically in 2005. Still, it’s cheap and worth a read!

Live & Work in Portugal

Au Revoir Angleterre: Making a Go of Moving Abroad is essential reading for every potential expat. It addresses all of the typical rose-tinted dreams of wannabe-migrants and dishes up a valuable dose of reality. It’s not a book designed to put anybody off – more as a reality check.

Au Revoir Angleterre: Making a Go of Moving Abroad

Should I Stay or Should I Go delivers more of the same and, to be frank, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. In tight economic times moving abroad is a huge decision and one that may not be as easy to reverse as it was five years ago. Money spent on a reality check is money well spent.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?: The Truth About Moving Abroad and Whether It’s Right for Yo

Tales from a Travelling Mum by Alice Griffin isn’t, strictly speaking, a moving abroad book, but I include it here as it is invaluable reading for anyone travelling or moving with young children. Alongside her engaging narrative, Alice provides many useful tips for travelling with kids in a stress-free way and the book was much appreciated by friends of ours who brought their 8-month old son here to Portugal for his first holiday.

Tales from a Travelling Mum: Navigating Europe with a Babe-in-Arms

Speaking Portuguese

There are no end of Portuguese language-learning books, so I have concentrated here on those that have worked for us.

Teach Yourself Complete Portuguese was the first course we used, and having the CD in the car over a period of time was what taught us to deal competently with greetings, shops and restaurants. It’s been modernized and revamped since we used it too.

Complete Portuguese: Teach Yourself (Book/CD Pack)

Earworms Portuguese is a bit different, as it uses music to drum in basic words and phrases – well worth importing to an iPod for walks and runs.

Rapid Portuguese: v. 1: 200+ Essential Words and Phrases Anchored into Your Long Term Memory with Great Music (Earworms)

BBC Active Portuguese is our Portuguese tutor’s book of choice and follows a good, logical way of teaching the language, similar to how you may have learned languages at school.

Talk Portuguese Book and CDs

501 Portuguese verbs is an essential once you get a little further down the line. It’s hard work and heavy going and more of a reference book than a course, but with a language with so many irregular verbs, it is a necessary purchase.

501 Portuguese Verbs (Barron’s 501 Portuguese Verbs)

Essential Portuguese Grammar is another must and probably the book we now refer to the most.

Essential Portuguese Grammar (Dover Books on Language)

Rosetta Stone - The Daddy of Language Learning

Rosetta Stone - The Daddy of Language Learning

Rosetta Stone is the big-daddy of language courses, and those with the money to afford it could do a lot worse – it does work and some family members have used it with good results. Note, however, that it teaches you Brazilian Portuguese – which is like learning American before moving to London.

Rosetta Stone Version 4 TOTALe: Portuguese (Brazil) Level 1, 2 & 3 (Mac/PC)

Travel and Inspiration

We are residents and not tourists, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need guidebooks, both to learn about our own area and for when we go exploring.

AA Keyguide Portugal is probably my favourite of all. We constantly refer back to it, primarily because it includes some fantastic car tours and walks which are great for getting a quick sense of a new area.

Portugal (AA Key Guide) (AA Key Guides Series)

The DK Top 10 Algarve book is another of my favourites, as much for the design and layout as for the information. We tend to get one of these whenever we visit somewhere new.

DK Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide: Algarve

DK’s Eyewitness Travel Guide to Portugal is also a great choice, and has just been updated (as of June 2012) – I will be ordering the new version myself soon.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Portugal: Hilltowns / Golf / History / Crafts / Architekture / Festivals / Restaurants / Hotels / Shopping / Beaches

The Rough Guide to Portugal is also frequently thumbed in our house, but it seems to me to be a little overdue for an update right now.

The Rough Guide to Portugal

Walking in the Algarve is a must for the active and was heavily used when my niece visited to train for the 3-Peaks challenge in the UK.

Walking in the Algarve: 40 Coastal and Mountain Walks (Cicerone International Walking)

Living in Portugal by Anne de Stoop is in a category all of its own and is my one Portugal-related “coffee table book.” It contains loads of history and some gorgeous photography. Before we moved here it may us feel extremely wistful!

Living in Portugal (Living in….. Series)

Living in Portugal - a beautiful coffee table book

Living in Portugal - a beautiful coffee table book

Food and Drink

I could write about foodie books all day long, so this section has been intentionally kept short to only include my favourites!

The Wine and Food Lovers Guide to Portugal is a beautiful book and contains information on vineyards, restaurants and speciality dishes in each area. This book was my constant companion when the days running up to our move date seemed to drag on forever.

The Wine and Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal

Piri Piri Starfish was a gift from my niece and is my favourite Portuguese cook book. As well as beautiful black and white photography it includes lots of inspiring writing about Portuguese food along with the recipes.

Piri Piri Starfish: Portugal Found

Lonely Planet’s World Food Portugal is fabulous and includes historical information, a Portuguese food glossary, details on regional specialties and a scattering of recipes. As far as I can work out, the book is now out of print, so I would suggest grabbing one of the handful of second hand copies stil available via Amazon.

Portugal (Lonely Planet World Food)

More Portugal Reading

The First Global Village is a really easy to read and engaging tome on Portuguese history – and that is coming from someone who usually sticks to the five page historical round-ups in the back of the guidebooks! Amazon has the book, but it is pricey – for those visiting Faro airport, they have it cheaper in the newsagents in departures!

First Global Village: How Portugal Changed the World

Night Train to Lisbon gets a mention here as it is one of few English language books set in Portugal. It is a soulful, poetic book that my wife enjoyed, as did several members of our book club – it didn’t really float my boat though, to be honest.

Night Train to Lisbon

A Small Death in Lisbon is a more engaging choice, in my opinion, and based on its “Gold Dagger” award for best crime novel I’m not alone. Perfect for providing a sense of atmosphere whilst on a sunlounger!

A Small Death in Lisbon

Nobody’s Son by Maria Serpa is less well known, but comes on recommendation from my wife. We were approached to review the book and she enjoyed the romantic tale centered around a child abandoned at birth on the Portuguese island of Pico, in the Azores. The book has a somewhat quirky translation but is well worth a read, even for those not usually attracted to romantic novels.

Nobody’s Son

Now you’ve got to the end of that, it’s time for my announcement:

Very soon, I will be able to add another book to this list. For the past 18 months, my wife and I have been working on a book telling the story of our move to Portugal.

The book is in two parts – the first is a narrative of our first two years in Portugal, told from my wife’s perspective. This is almost all new material that has not previously been featured here – so while long-term blog readers may recognise some events and situations, they should find plenty new to enjoy. The second section provides practical information on moving to Portugal – some has been adapted from the blog, but the majority is brand new.

Stay tuned for information on the book, which will be available through Amazon, directly from me, and via the Kindle store. If you haven’t already, subscribe to updates to be the first to know when it becomes available.

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