As someone who frequently bemoaned the lack of individual shops in England when we lived there, Portugal is a bit of a treat when it comes to shopping.
We always used to say the only cities in England that offered anything better than the dull identikit high street were Cambridge, Brighton and York. A recent visit to Norwich would make me inclined to add that to the small list, but generally, shopping in the UK was a rather dull experience.
Here in the Algarve, browsing the shops is far more rewarding. There are all manner of small shops, some of which have clearly been in families for generations and seem to
be selling the same quirky mix of products they were probably selling decades ago.
True, a lot of these shops sell typical tourist tat, but in this hot weather you can’t have enough inflatable dolphins and wakeboards to play with. In amongst the tat there are some lovely craft shops, delis and wine shops, as well as plenty of privately owned boutiques and shoe shops.
Best of all though are the quirky shops, usually run by wrinkly eccentrics and selling some of the oddest mixtures of products you will ever see in one place.
There is a shop in our local village that my wife has named “the magical mystery shop.” As well as cigarettes, lottery tickets, wine and spirits (but strangely, not soft drinks or beer,) this shop sells the strangest mix of household and hardware items. On one recent trip my wife came back with a bottle of ginginha (Portuguese cherry liqueur,) a lightbulb and some tweezers – a strange mix.
On my last visit to this shop, tucked away up a corner I found a small bink bicycle, a pile of barbecues, a used outside floodlight, and an inkjet printer that appeared to date back to the late 80s. It is a strangely enchanting little place.
People wanting a more modern shopping experience in the Algarve can always visit the huge shopping centres which are just like American malls, but to shop exclusively there would deprive them of some of the quirky finds in the towns themselves, not to mention the fact that some of the best cheeses and chorizos you can find come from these little independent places.
The last shop that deserves a mention in this post has to be a small butchers that we found in Tavira. Along with the small selection of meat they also had, on sale, a large pile of toilet rolls. This combination of offerings did serve to make us a little uncertain of the meat on sale, it has to be said!
Image credit: Paul Keller