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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Weather in Portugal – Winter and Spring 2

Posted on March 05, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

It’s been a while since I talked about the weather in Portugal, so today I’m going to talk about winter and spring here in the Algarve.

Winter and spring tend to merge together somewhat in Portugal, and these seasons have become rather unpredictable in recent years.

The winter of 2009 was so wet that our entire house went moldy – a fact that long-term readers of our blog will know plenty about, as will those who have read our book (details below).

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

The last couple of winters have been dry and fairly warm. In fact, during Christmas 2010, the weather in Portugal was such that I sunburned my nose on Boxing Day! But clear, warm days make for sharp, cold nights.

Sometimes to weather in Portugal is like this

Sometimes the weather in Portugal is like this

Last year, the time between November and February was so dry that people started to mention the word “drought.” Then April, a month that often sees us beginning to visit the beach regularly, brought weeks of wind and rain.

I’m not going to go all technical and start talking about climate change. These observations are aimed at those who are considering a move to Portugal. Sometimes, those who haven’t lived here through a few winters are blinded by marketing literature that boasts of “over 300 days of annual sunshine.” And while this information is perfectly true, it doesn’t give the full picture. Not at all.

There are some key points to consider here. Firstly, many properties are poorly insulated and built so they stay cool in summer, rather than warm in winter. Secondly, central heating is absent in all but the most luxurious of properties, and anyone who tells you that reverse cycle air-conditioning is a realistic substitute is talking nonsense.

So, when you look online at the winter weather in Faro from a centrally heated property in a “colder” country and see lots of days that say “16C, Sunny,” you can put the envy on hold. While, admittedly, we are feeling the occasional bit of sun on our faces, we are, in fact, spending most of the time running up extortionate electricity bills trying to stay warm indoors.

But sometimes the weather in Portugal is like this

But sometimes the weather in Portugal is like this

Even tourists get a false impression of the weather here at this time of year, with many enjoying drinks and snacks outside during the warmest part of the day on pleasant suntrap terraces. If you live here and have to work, you don’t often get the chance to do this.

Now, all of this probably sounds like a big moan, and I guess, to a point, it is – because no one back in the UK ever seems to believe that people who live in the Algarve find themselves willing on the start of summer just as much as they did before they moved. The point of this post is to provide a strong warning that winter can be just as cold, crappy and disheartening in Portugal as it is anywhere else.

On the bright side however, it is sunny rather a lot, and once summer arrives, you can guarantee it will stay put. I would never want to return to those UK years where you get to September and have to accept that you’re simply not getting a summer this year. You can avoid that by moving to the Algarve, but you can’t avoid feeling cold in the winter. Unless, perhaps, you move to Madeira…

PS. The above details our experiences of weather in the Algarve. Far more varied and extreme weather can be found elsewhere in the country – just pointing that out before anyone else feels compelled to!

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Real Life in Portugal 11

Posted on May 01, 2012 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

A glance at the date of my last post tells me it’s been over a fortnight since I last blogged.

The last couple of weeks have been hectic and not a tremendous amount of fun. They began with nine days in London, where the balance between work and play was tipped firmly in the direction of work.

After this grueling trip, we returned to Portugal and had one Sunday to clean the apartment before diving into another week of twelve-hour days. It’s fair to say it didn’t exactly feel like “living the dream.”

Sea and Sunshine? Not lately!

Sea and Sunshine? Not lately!

On the bright side, this busy fortnight means we now have enough cash to pay our scary tax bill, complete with the extra 3.5% “extraordinary tax” imposed by the government as part of the bailout.

On the less bright side, within two hours of my body knowing I was going to tick off everything on my list, it rebelled and rewarded my hard work with a nasty dose of man-flu, from which I am still recovering.

Meanwhile, as the UK simultaneously enjoys both a drought and reportedly the wettest month in about 100 years, Portugal is getting some fairly crappy weather too. Coming into May we would usually have enjoyed some weeks of around 25C and consistent sunshine. This year we are frequently seeing temperatures in the mid-teens – frustratingly cooler than it was at Christmas and on some occasions lower even than the temperature in London.

Portugal Weather - Unusually Cool for May

Portugal Weather - Unusually Cool for May

Of course, there is little point in mentioning this to family and friends back in the UK – I’m sure regardless of what we say they are convinced we just sit by the pool sipping caipirinhas!

Anyway, I realise I have now moaned for seven paragraphs so I’ll snap out of it.

We should have some good times ahead with a three day weekend on the horizon and a week off planned for later in May when some family come to visit. We have rented a villa in Lagos together which will give us a change of pace and scenery. Although Lagos is just an hour away, the coastline there is very different. I look forward to exploring, relaxing and, most of all, being able to step away from our laptops for a while.

So, that’s my update for today, which should serve as yet another reminder to potential expats that life abroad can sometimes be awfully similar to life at home – and equally at the mercy of the weatherman.

AT THIS TIME IN MAY 2010…….now this is amusing….I was moaning about popping back to England and fighting off a “nasty bug we caught on the plane!” However, looking back at May 2010′s posts does seem to suggest that the weather was better. Step back in time with me by clicking here.

Moaning in 2010 too!

Moaning in 2010 too!

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The End of The Algarve Summer 1

Posted on October 26, 2011 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

The Algarve is far from a sunshine paradise right now.

Summer ended with a humdinger of a wind and rainstorm on Sunday night. We were woken up throughout the night by beating rain and gales rattling the shutters. When we got up on Monday morning, the tops of some of our local palm trees had blown clean off, and when my wife stepped out onto the terrace to retrieve our soaking laundry, she ended up ankle-deep in water as debris had managed to block our drainage pipe.

Our home got off far more lightly than Faro airport, where some of the roof was damaged resulting in a number of injuries. Local news reports suggest it may be several months before the damage is fully repaired, but flights seem to now be returning to normal, after some were diverted to Lisbon and Seville earlier in the week.

Faro Airport - No longer looks quite like this

Faro Airport - No longer looks quite like this

To complete the rather depressing moment when we had to pull our warm clothes from the back of the wardrobes, we both came down with coughs and colds – in my case the third round of bugs I have had in a couple of months. Frequent trips back to the UK along with visitors bringing UK germs here with them has resulted in a very irritating run of illness that I will be pleased to see the end of!

With all this in mind, I don’t have an awful lot to tell since my last post, as all we have really done is struggled through our working days, watched TV, eaten a lot of hot curries and breathed plentiful Olbas oil. So for anyone reading this and considering a life in the Algarve, be warned that sometimes it really doesn’t differ all that much from life in the UK!

Image credit: orudge

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Talking About the Weather 5

Posted on August 22, 2011 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

It rained at the weekend. Now, for those of you who don’t live in the Algarve, that won’t seem particularly interesting, but for August in these parts, it’s actually quite unusual.

Given that a lot of people move to Portugal for the climate (and it certainly played a large part in our own decision), it is strange how much your attitude to the weather changes once you get used to it.

After a couple of years, I have finally managed to get out of my system the urgent need to get outside as soon as I see the sun is shining. It is important to do this if you live here, otherwise it’s impossible to get anything productive done between June and October!

When I was in the UK recently, a friend said to me “what’s the weather supposed to be like when you get back?” My reply? “Hot, I imagine.” The fact is, once summer starts, I don’t really even check the weather any more.

I´m reluctant to say that I now take the weather for granted, but I have got used to this different climate.

Which is why rain in August came as such a surprise, and, it has to be said, a wonderful surprise too. It was fun to have to grab our BBQ food and run for shelter when the storm blew through. A day of rain turned out to be an unexpected treat, like a day of hot sunshine would in March in the UK. See how back-to-front our lives have become?

Algarve Portugal Weather - Back to Normal

Algarve Portugal Weather - Back to Normal

The following day, the rain had removed most of the humidity from the air, resulting in a cooler day (though perhaps the word “cooler” should be kept in perspective, given that we now call anything under 25C “cool.”) The bigger treat was a cool evening last night, which meant we could step IN from the balcony to a warm apartment, rather than in from a HOT balcony to a cool, air conditioned apartment. I can think of no better proof of our acclimatization than the fact that that in itself felt unusual.

So, what’s it like outside today? It’s back to normal: hot and sunny, with no change predicted for the next couple of weeks, which is fine by us. It was, however, wonderful to get a sneak preview of the change in seasons, and enjoy a cosy Sunday indoors, complete with newspapers, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

In conclusion, we had a splendid weekend, BECAUSE it rained. Strange.

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Algarve Winter Weather 6

Posted on January 24, 2011 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

It seems I spoke a little too soon about the weather. Yesterday was probably the coldest day of the Algarve winter so far.

We have long given up hoping for any sympathy from our friends and family back in England with regards to the weather. However, people we have spoken to who have lived in both countries all agree that when it’s cold in Portugal it feels somehow different – deep in your bones! Anyway, for the record, at one point yesterday in the early evening it was colder here than in London, and with an accompanying biting wind.

The other very relevant factor is that in England, most people have central heating. Air conditioning, even when set to the highest and hottest setting (the use of which effectively gives EDP, the Portuguese electricity company, free reign on all spare money in your bank account) doesn’t take the chill out of the air completely. Multiple layers and duvets in the living room are the only solution!

Algarve Winter Weather Forecast

Algarve Winter Weather Forecast

People planning to move to the “hot” Algarve should be aware of this. Although it doesn’t last long, when it gets cold it does get seriously cold, and it is often accompanied by very high winds off the Atlantic. Last night we could hear the waves crashing in the distance, even though the sea is about a mile away.

Judging by the weather forecast, we are also now due nearly two weeks of heavy rain. That’ll teach me to be smug about the January sunshine. Algarve rain can be a pretty impressive, drenched within seconds of leaving the house kind of rain, so it looks like we have that to look forward to, but I must admit I prefer rain that doesn’t mess about to the slow grey drizzle which often characterises London at the start of the year.

I admit this weather does in some ways make us miss England, with its ready supply of open fires, country pubs, atora suet and steak and ale pies, but hopefully it won’t be TOO long until spring returns.

With the weather talk out of the way, there’s not a huge amount to report from the past week. After getting rid of our post-Christmas illnesses and clutter it was just pleasing to be back to work and routine (something I never expect to hear myself say.) We did discover a superb restaurant in Tavira at the weekend though: Brisa do Rio – read the review at Food and Wine Portugal.

Have a good week!

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