- What has the Algarve got to offer?
What indeed!? Beautiful scenery, an excellent climate, comparatively cheap cost of living and friendly people is a good list to be going on with!
For a few examples, see our ‘location’ page.
- What IS the climate like?
Being so much further south than the UK for example, the temperature here (even in the mountains) is generally 5-10 degrees Centigrade higher. Or, put another way, you need on average, one or two layers of clothes less here than you would in Britain.
Similarly, it’s much dryer with far fewer rainy days . . . and even when the weather is overcast here it’s generally brighter and quite comfortable to be out of doors.
To see what’s it’s like here now and to compare to your current weather, see the BBC weather pages.
- So is it an ‘all year round round’ destination?
Well, probably not . . . at least, not judging by the very cold and wet February we’ve just expereinced! . . . and the fact that old Portuguese houses were not built for such weather. Nor do we have the guaranteed sun in the winter months that the Canary Islands or Madeira (or more exotic places like the Caribbean) have . . . but it is, on average, considerably warmer and dryer than in Northern Europe. When did you last wear a T-shirt outside in December or enjoy a paddle in the sea in January?
In the winter the weather can be variable. Whilst Feb 2006 saw hail and considerable rain and many dull, damp days, in November & January we had many long spells of clear blue skies and hot enough days to sit out for lunch and generally live outside during the daytime.
Algarve Springs and Autumns can be compared to the summers of Northern Europe . . . consistently warmer and dryer . . . and ideal for exploring the countryside.
- What about money, time zone and such essential things?
Portugal has the Euro which is easy to obtain and use. You typically get 1.4 to 1.45 Euro to the British Pound.
Portuguese banks seem to be friendly, helpful places . . . likewise the Correos which is what they call their Post Office. Usually in such places if you ask Fala Ingles? (Do you speak English?), they’ll say A little and proceed to give you all the assistance you need.
Portugal is in the same time zone as the UK . .. NOT an hour ahead like Spain, France, etc. If you look at a map of Europe, you’ll see that Portugal is actually at a similar Westerly position to Eire.
Any European national with a valid passport can enter Portugal and stay here. There’s some debate as to exactly how long one can stay without getting extra documentation and what permits etc. are needed. Many immigrants from Northern Europe seem to stay here indefinitely on just their original passports!
- Is it cheap?
We’re finding that many food, household and day-to-day things cost in Euros what we used to pay in Pounds – i.e. it’s 40% cheaper! Obviously there’s exceptions and this doesn’t work if you carry on buying all the UK or other imported brands, but by buying local versions . . . and certainly when eating out . . . we’ve found that the promise of living more cheaply is holding true. For example, the two of us today had an excellent 3 course lunch for under €20 – total! This was the tourist menu which are often, as on this occasional, superb value.
For those thinking of moving here, the warmer clime also means FAR lower heating bills.
- What’s the food like?
Obviously that’s a matter of taste, but we’re well pleased with both the quality and value of food when we eat out. As in most places there’s a range of cafe’s and restaurants and you pays your money and takes your choice. The Portuguese do a good line in pork or lamb chops and some excellent fish and seafood dishes – one of their specialties is a cataplana – a sort of fish stew served in a large lidded copper vessel.
For vegetarians who don’t eat fish, options are often limited but omelettes and salads are usually available and vegetarian restaurants are beginning to get established here. We’ll endeavour to list one’s we’ve identified on our Iberian links page, though few have web sites.
For those self catering, most towns still have a daily fruit and veg market (weekday mornings) in their market halls and we’d certainly recommend the greengrocers in Monchique. Most places of more than a few houses also have a supermercado (yes, you’ve guessed it – supermarket) which vary from very small and thus limited to places you can get most things . . . or at least most things Portuguese.
If you feel you need imported food or a wider selection or large volumes cheaper, you’ll have to go to one of the international hyper-markets. All large towns will have either a Modelo, Lidl, Intermarche or E.Leclercs. As with big chains anywhere, some things are good value and high quality . . . some isn’t. Intermarche (e.g. Lagoa) is the best, we find, for cheeses . . a wonderful selection including many sheep’s and goats cheeses.
NB Except in one or two places along the south coast tourist resorts, you will NOT find multi-national burger or pizza bars. This we regard as a positive thing, since it encourages us to try the local cafes and cuisine . . . which is usually great.
One thing about locally run restaurants is that they can rarely if ever be considered fast-food. To enjoy a meal in Portugal allow plenty of time for it. To keep you entertained whilst the main meal is being prepared the better restaurants provide a couver which often includes some excellent olives and even cheese. The usual offering is sardine pate and fresh bread . .. which at least takes the edge off the hunger. You pay for the items you eat of the couver.
- And the drink?
Portuguese wines are excellent. So good in fact that we’re writing a book reviewing them! There is a huge selection with vinho from the local co-operative not only cheap but full of flavour and highly enjoyable . . . with few if any after effects.
There’s also a fair selection of local beers all of good value. Our preference is for Sagres . . . as a lager style and Sagres Bohemia which is a dark beer that will probably satisfy even CAMRA drinkers!
As for spirits, that’s probably even a more a matter of personal taste, but the local specialty is Medronho . . . distilled from the fruit of the Medronho bush . . often know as the strawberry tree. This schnapps type drink is very variable: it CAN be smooth and tasty . . . it can also be like paint stripper!
Also available are spirits created from Fig, which I personally have vowed never to touch again, and Almond (Amdenoa). . . which is, to my palette, nectar. And don’t forget the Port!
- What about the water?
Tap water is generally drinkable. Many more outlying homes (such as ours) have water that’s piped directly from a spring up the nearest mountain. It’s rather like having mineral water on tap!
- How do I get to the Algarve?
There are numerous airlines that run cheap flights into Faro – the Algarve’s own modern and efficient airport. For example:
Easyjet – from Luton, etc.
Monarch – from Gatwick, etc.
Thomsonfly – from Coventry
If you’re travelling from outside the UK or Germany, you’ll probably need to fly into Lisbon (Lisboa) and get a transfer to Faro . . . or change in the UK.
To see what flights are available into Faro from your area: see the airport’s web site
- What about public transport in the Algarve?
Along the coast and up to Lisbon there is a choice of bus/coach and train for short and long distance travel:
Coach Info – from the main company here, EVA
There are rural bus services, though they tend to be few and far between . . . and there’s none within walking distance of Quinta Pintados.
All the towns of any size have taxis which we’re told are good value.
- And driving?
The A22 motorway runs all along the South coast from Spain. It’s a good road and usually quiet by the standards of UK motorways. Other main roads between towns are usually good, although they can get very windy and narrow in the hills. Some municipalities don’t seem to care about their roads, so in these areas (e.g. Aljezur on the West coast) even main roads can be rough and pit-holed.
To get really into the mountains or to visit most mountain dwellers you’ll need to go ‘off road’ down tracks used mainly for loggers trucks. You’ll thus find that most locals have . . . and need 4 wheel drive vehicles of one sort or another.
You’ll also see three wheelers and very small cars powered by motorbike engines . . . which apparently don’t need a licence to drive. These vehicles are incapable of going much above walking pace so can be a bit of a hazard! Particularly as, at the other extreme (in a typical Portuguese contradiction) are the cars and drivers who belong (or think they belong) on a race track!
Another hazard on the more remote roads are dogs. The Portuguese do not generally keep their dogs on leads and they’re often wandering around the roads. . . and seem to take great delight in jumping out in front of passing cars. We have a theory that they’re employed by a Road Safety campaign and get extra chewy bones each time they make a car slow down suddenly!
Having said all that, the roads here, particularly North of the A22 coastal motorway, are SO quiet and peaceful and driving is generally a really pleasure.
Oh, we DO drive on the right here!
There are numerous places to hire cars, both in the Algarve and on the ‘net before you travel . . . or look out for fly-drive deals. We’ve used Europcar a few times are felt we had good deals and very good service.
- What about the language?
In and around tourist areas, English is spoken in most places where you’re likely to need to be understood. In places off the main routes, the locals may well speak no English . . . but it’s amazing what can be achieved through sign language! As with any other ‘foreign country’ the more effort we make to learn and use Portuguese, the more we’ll be appreciated and our needs catered for.
Portuguese language structure is similar often to Spanish, but pronunciation can take some getting used to. (Sounds like Russian to me!)
However, to anyone with a smattering of Spanish, Italian or French it will come easily.
- Is there a health service and can anyone access it?
Portugal has a health service in a similar way to the UK. We’re told that if you have a European passport you can access it directly . . . although you may have to pay at the time then reclaim the amount. As to the standard of care, that depends who you ask and what your expectations are. As with most places, if you want quicker service you have to go private. there are many health insurance schemes available
If you’re living in Portugal and earning, then you’re meant to pay National Insurance contributions to pay for this and other services.
- What about dentists and opticians?
These are NOT included within the health service, but are widely available in all larger towns. From what we’ve heard, they’re of a high standard . . . but you’ll have to pay for the service at the time . . . or have appropriate insurance.
I’ve had to make use of ‘Dentista’ in Monchique and would certainly recommend her – very caring, very skilled . . . and no more expensive than the UK charge ON the NHS!
- Is there any good shopping?
Depends what you mean by good shopping! if you want fashion shops and designer goods then you’ll need to go to Algarve Shopping in Gaia or to Portimao . . . although even here you’ll not find many international names.
The beauty of most Algarve towns is that they still have town centres with local, specialist, shops in which you can browse and perhaps find some good local crafts or bargains. One of the specialties of the area is products made from locally grown cork: it’s amazing what they can do with it!
- And buying a house?
The boring bits first: you need to have a Fiscal Number (NIC) before you can do any serious financial business in Portugal. Our lawyer sorted this out for us since it seems to be the main ID (Other than passport for non Portuguese) that’s asked for here.
It’s normal here to pay a deposit (say 10%) with a provisional contract which is binding . . . whilst the legal mechanics take their lengthy course. In our case, and this is apparently not at all unusual, we paid 50% and moved in! OK, the place wasn’t legally ours until 4 months later (when we could get started on serious renovation) but we were living there . . . only 2 months after we’d seen and liked the place.
Property in the Algarve (except perhaps some of the posher coastal locations) is considerably cheaper than in Spain . . . certainly if you’re willing to buy an old quinta (farmhouse) and able to do it up. Up in the mountains there are many such properties for sale (Se Vende) often with large chunks of land . . . indeed the authorities seem keen to keep land and buildings together and to have owners who actually live here: much of the forested areas is owned by folks in Lisboa who aren’t around to keep an eye on it . . . e.g. to reduce risk of fire.
- Forest Fires?
Over recent decades much of the Algarve (and indeed Portugal and across Europe) has seen widespread fires across the forested hillsides. For a few years the land looks scorched and barren, but it doesn’t take long for nature to reassert itself . . . particularly as much of this area is eucalyptus which sprouts again after fire . . . and grows rapidly.
New laws are coming into force to require land owners to clear land of fallen trees, dry undergrowth etc, where it could put property at risk or enable fires to spread.
The flip side of this is that burning wood as fuel is positively encouraged . . . and wood burning stoves are excellent for keeping homes warm in the short winters.
- Is renewable energy used?
Yes. There’s a large wind-farm being constructed on the Serra de Monchique and a number of suppliers of solar water and PV systems. Even the main store for electrical supplies, Rolear, has solar water systems available.
A wide range of eco heating and decorating products are available from Porta Verde – EM for example.
We’re told that tax credits are available for such systems.
- Talking of heat, what the ‘sun & beach’ life like?
Wonderful! It comes in two forms: the south coast including some large tourist developments and the west coast which is a national park and so free of development. Both are Atlantic coasts, so cooled by Atlantic winds which make them, to our mind, much more pleasant than the scorching Mediterranean beaches of Spain. The west coast is rugged and favoured by surfers, but both have miles and miles of beautiful beaches with fine sand. They’re clean, often having the European Blue Flag for cleanliness. Whilst the popular south coast beaches can get crowded in mid summer, out of season they’re picturesque . . . with plenty of restaurants nearby. The west coast is just great for getting away from it all.
With plenty of remote rocky coves there’s plenty of opportunity for naturist, particularly on the West coast. There are a number of accepted naturist beaches – see link.
- and Art?
Faro, Tavira, and more recently Lagoa seem to be the places in the Algarve which have more going on in terms of visual arts events. Monchique has a very tasteful gallery with a rotating exhibition programme of work by local artists, as well as touring exhibitions. Aljezur also has a gallery within the museum showing work by local talent – this summer they had art in the streets – mainly large canvasses hung outside from buildings to striking effect.
Apparently the Portuguese spend more on coffee and fags than on books and theatre. But
cinemas can be found in the larger towns like Portimao and Lagos. Most small towns have a civic centre which is used as a theatre, but Faro has a famous and recently refurbished theatre, well worth a visit (it’s at the top of the road past the launderette).
These notes represent our personal experiences. We can’t guarantee you’ll have similar ones. We feel we were ready for the Algarve and have been lead here. Likewise, we’re making a real effort to learn the local ways, accept the way things are here and not expect everything to be the same as it was in the UK . . . after all, the whole point of moving was for a change!