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


Portugal Shops – Shopping in Algarve 0

Posted on July 14, 2010 by Ben Algarve

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

Portugal Shops - Butchers

Portugal Shops – Butchers

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

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It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas 3

Posted on December 01, 2009 by movingtoportugal

We needn’t have worried that being in Portugal wouldn’t feel as ‘Christmassy’ as being in cold England. The Portugese seem to go in for Christmas in an even bigger way than the Brits, probably helped by the two bank holidays at the start of December on the 1st and 8th!

Christmas tree at Forum Shopping in FaroBeing a country populated by 98% Roman Catholics, the religious aspect is obviously more widely important than in the UK, illustrated by the huge range of nativity scenes available in shops and as part of town decorations. This said, the consumer-Christmas that we all know and love/hate (delete as applicable) is alive and well in Portugal as well.

Yesterday we set off to buy our tree – we were originally going to go to the Portugese equivalent of the UK Homebase or B&Q (Leroy Merlin,) but got caught in our first traffic jam in 4 weeks(!) on the outskirts of Faro. We happened to drive past the huge Forum shopping centre and the beautiful Christmas lights drew us in.

Shopping Centres are treated as a real day-out destination in Portugal. They are similar to centres in the UK, but probably a bit closer to the ones you would find in America. Generally though, a shopping centre is the same the world over – a load of shops on a few levels, with a big food-court at the top. In Portugal you usually find a large hypermarket at the bottom and a multiscreen cinema somewhere as well. 

The difference though, is the atmosphere. I associate shopping centres in the UK with chavvy kids and queues at Primark. Here, the atmosphere is relaxed, and there always seems to be a large outside area with pavement cafes and people drinking Uma Bica (an espresso) or Um Imperial (a small beer.) The opening hours are long – where we visited yesterday was open until midnight, and still buzzing with people when we left at 10.30pm.

There are a lot of families, some clearly on a day out with 3 or maybe even 4 generations of the family out together. Last, but not least, the food court, which,  although it has plenty of junk food outlets (including the first McDonalds we have encountered in Portugal so far,) there also seem to be some local and healthy options on offer – we had a bit of a nose at peoples plates and saw a lot of things we would like to try, rather than “shit-in-a-tray” that we would rather avoid!

As we sat under the lights of the very impressive tree, drinking some delicious coffee, which we still can’t believe is only about 60 cents per cup,Christmas lights at the Algarve Forum we really started to understand the point of this “shopping centre as a day out” thing. Do a bit of shopping, have a decent lunch, have a beer, watch a movie, have a coffee, bit more shopping, another beer or two, perhaps a snack, then grab everything needed from the supermarket and head home. Obviously, as a fairly typical man, the fact that “have a beer” can be included in the list makes a day of shopping seem a lot more attractive, though I couldn’t see this working particularly well in binge-drinking Britain!

As Christmas gets nearer, I’m sure the pace at these places will get a lot more frantic and will probably be as hellish in the few days before the big day as they are everywhere else in the world, but as far as last night was concerned, we actually had a really good time at a shopping centre, which isn’t something I thought I would ever say.

Otherwise, it all seems very similar to Christmas back in England, and with the current cold nights, it is suitably chilly to feel right. Even the Christmas songs playing in the supermarket are the same selection which my wife adores but that start to drive me to distraction by around 15th December! We are enjoying trying different festive foods, and all the Portugese versions of the things we have at home as well. My father-in-law is arriving in a few days with a few essentials we haven’t been able to get (i.e. bread sauce mix,) the tree is going up this week, and then we can start to look forward to our first Portugese Christmas. I can’t wait.

Seasons greetings to all!

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