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

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Algarve – East v. West 14

Posted on July 29, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

As with any area of Portugal, the Algarve has its own particular flavours, sights and sounds, which combine to give it a wonderfully distinct regional makeup. Yet numerous differences exist within the Algarve region itself. If you are looking to move to the Algarve, or just come here for a holiday, this post should help you decide which area is right for you.

Algarve beaches - head west for stunning cliffs

Algarve beaches – head west for stunning cliffs

Beaches

The Algarve unquestionably has some stunning beaches. Those in the eastern Algarve (between Faro and the border with Spain) tend to be long, flat expanses of sand, which are perfect for lazy days soaking up the sun or lengthy beach walks. They include a number of delightful sand-spit beaches, which are accessed by crossing the tidal rivers and saltpans that make up the extensive Ria Formosa nature reserve. Crossings can be made by boat (for a small fee), by water taxi (for a slightly larger fee) or – in the case of Barril beach near Tavira – by a miniature train, which is particularly popular with small children.

The train at Barril - eastern quirks

The train at Barril – eastern quirks

West of Faro, the beaches tend to be backed by crumbling red and yellow cliffs, with tiny coves and eye-catching rock formations dotted about in the sea. They are arguably more scenic and are perfect for cliff-top rambles. On the Algarve’s western coast, from Cape St Vincent northward, the winds and giant Atlantic waves make for some great surfing spots.

For those who like to bathe in the sea, it’s worth noting that the sea water is significantly colder west of Faro than east. The warmest water in the Algarve is said to be in Monte Gordo, close to the Spanish border.

Stay east for a cheaper life

Stay east for a cheaper life

Cost

There is a notable price variation as you travel along the Algarve coast. The eastern Algarve is (very roughly) 20-30% cheaper than the central and western coast, for everything from accommodation to a glass of beer. We notice this price change every time we venture west and, though it doesn’t make much difference for the occasional day out, it soon adds up when we spend anything more than a day or two away from our eastern Algarve home.

Cuisine

The heavily seafood-influenced diet of the Algarve is available across the entire region, with specialities such as cataplana and arroz de marisco found in restaurants from one coast to the other. However, non-Portuguese food is far more readily available towards the west than it is in the east. We can get Chinese and Indian takeaways in our local area, but for decent Thai food or proper English fish and chips we have to head westward in order to be sure of both availability and quality.

Algarve cuisine - seafood is available from coast to coast

Algarve cuisine – seafood is available from coast to coast

Authenticity

The eastern Algarve is more authentically Portuguese than the central and west. Although we still get our fair share of tourists in the east, there is something more traditional about life here. It’s hard to define precisely how this is evidenced, as it’s really a range of small factors which combine to provide a more genuine experience of Portugal.

As an example – if you order food and drink in Portuguese in the eastern Algarve, the waiter will reply to you in Portuguese. Head west and the waiter will reply in English, no matter how good your attempt at speaking Portuguese might have been. In the central and western Algarve, particularly in places such as Vilamoura, the majority of restaurant boards will list their specialities in English first and Portuguese last (if at all). In the east, it’s the other way around.

Although these are subtle variations, the combined effect is that the eastern Algarve provides an experience of Portugal that just somehow feels much more genuinely Portuguese.

Eastern Algarve - more Portuguese

Eastern Algarve – more Portuguese

Weather

While the Algarve enjoys an alleged 300 days of sunshine per year, there are notable temperature differences as you travel along the coast. The sea is at its warmest off the far eastern coast by the town of Monte Gordo, where a sheltered bay means that the water is always more tempting than elsewhere. Lagos, towards the western end of the Algarve, tends to be windier and cooler than many of the other coastal towns. On the western coast, the winds sweeping off the Atlantic mean lower temperatures and beaches more suited to surfers than sunbathers.

Generally, we find that as we drive westward along the Algarve coast, we lose around 2-3 degrees of temperature the further we travel. Of course there will be times when it’s the other way round, but this is our general finding based on the years we’ve lived here.

East Algarve - there's no place like home

East Algarve – there’s no place like home

So these are some of the reasons we ended up living in the eastern Algarve. We enjoy visiting the west and Praia da Rocha, as the first place we ever stayed in Portugal, will always be close to our hearts, but at the end of a long day out we’re always happy to be heading home to the east.

Let us know which part of the Algarve you prefer by leaving a comment in the box below.

 

Image credits: Flickr, Wikimedia Commons

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Top Five Algarve Beaches 9

Posted on March 11, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

The climate in Portugal at this time of year is unpredictable – there was even a mini tornado in the local town of Cabanas last week that damaged boardwalk sunshades and sent tables flying. Last week’s rain and strong winds have left me yearning for the sunshine so that we can get back out to the beach and enjoy days of basking in the sun and splashing around in the sea. It got me thinking about my favourite beaches, so here are my top five beaches in the Algarve.

Praia da Rocha

Praia da Rocha - sunlight sparkling on the sea

Praia da Rocha – sunlight sparkling on the sea

Located by the city of Portimão, Praia da Rocha (‘beach of the rocks’) is a beach of contrasts. The beach itself is in two halves – Praia da Rocha is a huge flat expanse of man-made beach backed by a boardwalk with small cafes and restaurants. Around a large outcropping of cliff, is the adjoining Praia dos Três Castelos – a long stretch of rock-strewn coves. It’s all backed by some stunning, dramatic cliffs. The top of the cliffs are crowded with hotels, gift shops and bars, some nice, some not so nice. The ‘strip’ is hellish in summer, crowded with drunk tourists and men selling fake watches, cheap ornaments and worse. All of that is forgotten though the moment you step onto the white sand after walking down the (many) steps from the cliff top.

Praia da Rocha was the beach we stayed at during our very first trip to Portugal and was one of the reasons we moved here in the first place, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. The light sparkles on the sea there in a way that I have yet to see anywhere else.

Praia Dona Ana

Praia Dona Ana

Praia Dona Ana

Praia Dona Ana is near the town of Lagos. It’s a fairly small cove beach, accessed by a clamber down the cliff via a steep staircase. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The water is crystal clear, with deep blues and greens – perfect for swimming in. Small boats can be hired for cave trips along the coastline, which are well worth doing. I will always remember our 90 year old grandmother braving the steps down to the beach and then insisting on going on one of the cave trips, much to the astonishment of the boatman.

There is one restaurant on Praia Dona Ana and it’s well worth a visit. Prices are very reasonable and the food is really good – much better than you would expect from a beachfront restaurant. We always include a stop there when we visit this beach, although it can involve a bit of a wait during busy periods.

Exploring the caves at Praia Dona Ana

Exploring the caves at Praia Dona Ana

Praia Verde

Praia Verde (‘green beach’) is a lovely, flat beach of soft, white sand that seems to stretch on forever, backed by a dense, green forest (hence the name). It’s located a few kilometres east of the town of Tavira, about 10 km shy of the Spanish border. Praia Verde is a great beach to visit if you have young children, as when the tide goes out it leaves long, shallow tide pools behind that are perfect for splashing around in and offer greater safety than playing in the sea.

I haven’t tried the restaurant at the beach for anything other than drinks since it was renovated a couple of years ago. Before the renovation, it was a rather charming ramshackle place, serving good quality seafood at reasonable prices. It is now much larger and smarter and although I haven’t eaten there recently I suspect that its prices have gone up along with its size, if the drinks prices are anything to go by.

Praia da Cabanas

Praia da Cabanas is in the fishing village of Cabanas (meaning ‘huts’), in the eastern Algarve. It is accessed by a short boat ride (lasting about 60 seconds) across the river and then a walk along the boardwalk up and over the dunes. It’s a delightfully pretty beach, which boasts endless flat sands and usually a few kite surfers to watch idly while you laze in the sun. Although it attracts large numbers of tourists, it seems to absorb them better than most of the Algarve’s beaches, making it a haven for residents during the summer months.

Forte de Rato beach

Forte de Rato beach - perfect for boating

Forte de Rato beach – perfect for boating

This last one was a difficult choice. Although Ilha de Tavira is unquestionably one of the Algarve’s most beautiful beaches, with sparkling waters and sugar-soft sand, the beach near Forte do Rato in Tavira has to be my final choice. This is essentially a small, tidal river beach on the edge of the delightfully pretty town of Tavira. I’m not sure what it is actually called, as it’s not signposted and everyone I know who has been to it just calls it, “the beach near Forte do Rato.” If you want to find it, just follow the signs to Forte do Rato from Tavira.

The sand itself is nothing to shout about, but the water is where this beach really comes into its own. Shallow and clear, it is perfect for paddling, swimming, or (if you are as young at heart/just plain childish as we are) buying an inflatable boat in the nearby Gran Plaza shopping centre and rowing around in circles for hours on end. It has no facilities whatsoever, so be sure to take a supply of snacks and drinks when you visit.

Forte do Rato from above - plentiful shallow water to play in

Forte do Rato from above – plentiful shallow water to play in

This beach is backed by the Ria Formosa nature reserve, which is lovely for walking across and seeing the salt pans and wild flamingos (in the winter months) and also has the tumbledown Forte do Rato (‘fort of the mouse’ – also known as the Fort of Santo Antônio de Tavira and Forte da Ilha das Lebres) which is fun to explore and pretend you are fighting off marauders. Or maybe that’s just me :-)

This is not the most beautiful beach on the list, but nonetheless it’s one of our favourite places in the whole of the Algarve.

And a quick mention for…Alcoutim

Alcoutim - don't be put off by the green water!

Alcoutim – don’t be put off by the green water!

Although it didn’t make the final cut, I have to mention the river beach at Alcoutim, a small riverside town facing the Spanish border. The water is clear but with a greenish tinge, though there is a reassuring blue flag flapping merrily on the beach. The water is warm and still and although the beach itself is tiny, we found space to relax there even in mid-summer. It has a rather hippy-ish vibe, which makes a lovely change from the intense tourism of the Algarve’s coastal beaches during the summer months.

 

So while the climate in Portugal continues to frustrate us this year, these are my all-time top five favourite beaches in the Algarve. Do you have one to add to the list? If so, we would love to hear about it – please leave a comment below.

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A Year In Portugal (nearly) 4

Posted on October 25, 2010 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

It’s hard to believe that in just ten days time we will have been living in Portugal for a year. The time has flown past in a wonderful whirlwind of barbecues, wine and seemingly endless Easyjet flights to and from the UK for work trips.

A year on, I can genuinely say we have no regrets about making the move. It certainly hasn’t all been plain sailing, and although we have now experienced first-hand all the different seasons, we still have plenty of “firsts” to come…..our first tax returns and our first Portuguese car purchase being just two that make me shudder a little bit.

Recently though, we have started to realise how far we have come. Arriving back from working in London last week was the first time I didn’t experience a few unsettled days on our return to Portugal. Here is undoubtedly home now, and the homesick “what have we done?” moments that used to be quite frequent seem to be a thing of the past.

Salad on Altura beach in late October

Salad on Altura beach in late October

Some more family members have completed their move over here in the last couple of weeks as well, and knowing the answers to some of their questions as new arrivals makes us realise we have actually learned rather a lot, even though along the way it hasn’t always felt like we were learning that much!

The same applies to our Portuguese. We have been far more slack than we intended, but can now catch the jist of the odd news story on the radio and understand a tiny bit of conversations—again, progress we have made without really noticing we were making it.

So, all in all we have little to complain about at the moment. The weather has been perfect since our return from the UK. When summer finishes in the Algarve, what you get next is far more like another spring than an autumn, which makes this seasonally-affected blogger a very happy man :-)

Readers of Food and Wine Portugal will know that we decided last week to have a go at Weightwatchers, and I am proud to say that I have managed to lose 4 pounds of the weight gained by excessive consumption of clams, wine and custard tarts over the summer. A very positive result, although I have to confess that the sight of someone slurping a plate of fresh cockles, swimming in olive oil and butter, was almost heart breaking as we headed to the sands of Altura on Saturday with our packed lunch of salad (with a carefully calorie-counted portion of croutons.)

Even so, we intend to stick with it for a little while, if only to leave some room for some planned overindulgence as we approach our first big family Christmas in the Algarve. Rest assured though, that I didn’t move to the Algarve in order to ABSTAIN from eating cockles and clams!

That’s about it for now. Stay tuned over the next few days for the second in my series of articles exploring the costs of living here in Portugal-this time focussing on the work situation. Have a great week.

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Guest Post: Portugal – Definite Contender 0

Posted on July 12, 2010 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Algarve Banana Tree

Algarve Banana Tree

As promised last week, today we have a guest post from a good friend who visited us last week. Our guest plans to move abroad some day so her visit was as much a fact-finding trip as a holiday – weighing up whether or not Portugal is somewhere she may one day like to live.

As someone who has been thinking about leaving the UK for a while now, going to see friends who have made that big leap and moved to Portugal was a great place to start. Having people who can show you some of Portugal’s best hotspots was definitely rewarding. I did look at the week as a holiday but at the same time everything I did made me ask myself, could I do this all year round?

Once I got to my friends’ place, the fact that it looked like a holiday apartment was nothing new but seeing their photos and home comforts scattered around made me realise that they actually do live here now and this is life for them.

They were telling me all the things that they had been doing and all the places I could visit while I was there as we sat on the balcony until midnight. The enthusiasm in their voices made me realise that not only were they very happy to be here but also excited about sharing this new experience with me, which made me just as excited as they were.

On the first day, as I stepped out onto the balcony, the first thing that hit me wasn’t the heat, as you might expect, but the brightness. Not a cloud in the sky (which was a brilliant blue) and the glare from the white buildings around me made me think twice before opening the blinds without sunglasses again. I did think to myself in the first two days could I live with this heat and glare? But after those two days it was not a problem and as I write this blog back in London under a sky covered in cloud, there isn’t anything I miss more.

In one week we managed to visit five different beaches, all with their own individual pros. We swam in the sea and even that was a different experience at each beach, whether it was the

Approaching Isla de Tavira

Approaching Isla de Tavira

change in the water temperature or just the way the waves moved depending on the tide. The sand was different each time too and the journeys getting to the beaches were just as unique. We walked, we got onto boats and for one, we got a small train which took us across a nature reserve and stopped just at the sand. By the end of the trip it seemed like I’d been on several different holidays at once and this was one of my favourite things about Portugal.

Although my friends hardly had a bad word to say about leaving London, I did think to myself while I was here: would I miss this and would I miss that? As my friends said, friends and family are a given but you make new friends wherever you go and ones that matter will always want to come to visit, even from the UK. I have to admit that most of the people we met, whether English, Portuguese or Spanish, were so friendly and after a few years living in London this was a delight to me.

The choice in the supermarket is much more exciting abroad as there is so much you haven’t tried, while so much of things you already know and love are available too. On the last night we were there, we went for a Chinese and I thought to myself, Chinese in Portugal? But it was the nicest Chinese I’ve ever eaten and with a large choice of restaurants and bars, I was never going to miss the food from back home.

Algarve Summer Sky

Algarve Summer Sky

One night when we slightly over did it and needed a bit of a break the next day: we watched DVDs and TV and if it weren’t for the Portuguese sub-titles I would have thought I was resting in the comfort of my own home. The Portuguese subtitles, although easy to ignore, do help you pick up a lot of the language without even noticing and that is only another good thing!

All in all, I am still keen to leave the UK and at present, Portugal is a very high contender for the top spot of places to go. It definitely helps that if you already have good friends there that will make you feel welcome, it makes it easy for me to go back anytime I need to see more and experience as much as I can before making that big decision! Portugal for me was 10/10.

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Algarve in Summer 5

Posted on July 09, 2010 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

As we look forward to another hot and sunny weekend, I thought I would write a quick post about the Algarve in the summer.

Busy Beaches

Busy Beaches

We have never been here in July or August before, so the last couple of weeks have been something of an eye-opener.  Trips to anywhere west of Faro are off the menu until September, after our last trip to Praia De Rocha since the tourists descended en masse resulted us using the word “hellhole” without any hint of irony.

We are lucky to live at the quieter end of the Algarve where, although the holiday-makers are very much in evidence, the character of the area seems to survive, and the bulk of the boozy teenagers are kept contained in certain bars!

At the moment, this new summer vibe is pleasing, and the holiday mood rubs off on us in a good way (except for when there’s no room around the pool downstairs!)

It is also good that our ability to speak some Portuguese separates us out from the tourists, and we are quite enjoying showing off our language skills in the butchers and fishmongers!

Weather wise – no complaints here! We had been a little concerned it may be too hot for us, and it may well get hotter in the coming weeks, but so far we seem to be adjusting very well to temperatures in the low to mid 30s every single day. It is surprising how quickly you get used to it – to the extent that if it is 35C one day and drops to 31C the day after you almost wish it was slightly warmer.

The nights are not so straightforward, and we have had some where it hasn’t dropped below 25C in the night and is back to 32C by 9am. These nights, it can be tricky to remain asleep without keeping the air-conditioning on constantly, which isn’t good for the skin or the wallet! All in all though, we are loving this new climate and suspect that by the autumn we will be joining the Portuguese in their jackets and scarves and looking strangely at visitors wearing flip-flops when it’s “only” 23C!

The jury’s out as to whether we will continue to enjoy this complete change of pace and invasion of our new local area – either way you can be sure I will let you know.

Have a lovely weekend.

Photo Credit: Planax

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