The Celts, Romans, and Moors knew a good thing when they saw it.
And so did we.
With abundant sunshine, stunning architecture, and affordable prices, Portugal is, indeed, a great place to be.
A few years before my husband’s retirement, we were living in Atlanta, but we didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives in Georgia. So, after extensive discussions over many glasses of wine, we decided that, when the time came, we’d be moving overseas.
We dreamed of Europe, but where in Europe?
We made a list of the specific criteria that were most important to us. We were looking for a place that…
- Welcomes foreigners…
- Offers top quality health care…
- Fits our retirement budget…
- Promotes a healthy lifestyle…
- Could serve as a travel base. We want to be able to explore all Europe…
Would Portugal fit the bill? Only one way to find out… so we booked a flight to Lisbon.
And then we fell in love. We knew immediately that this was the place for us.
However, while expats often settle in capital city Lisbon or along the country’s western or southern coasts—the Algarve is particularly popular—we chose Porto in the north.
Located along the Atlantic Ocean and nestled on the northern bank of the Douro River, Porto’s population of a quarter-million souls is approximately half that of the population in Lisbon. Though the metropolitan region is far larger, Porto feels more like a series of neighborhoods than a big city. For us, the vibe was perfect.
Porto’s history is centuries deep. With that history comes architectural treasures from the Palácio da Bolsa to the Sé Catedral. But there’s much more to this city than postcard photo ops.
One of our must-haves in our new home, in accordance with our commitment to improving our health and reducing our waistlines at this stage of life, was a ready source of fresh produce, meat, and fish.
Porto has us covered. Within a few minutes’ walk of our apartment are numerous mom-and-pop produce and butcher shops. And, despite being in the heart of the city, prices are affordable.
At the produce shop nearest where we’re living, charmingly called King of Fruit, carrots and lettuce are 89 euro cents per kilogram, oranges 99 cents, potatoes 49 cents. Broccoli is 1.99 euros a kilo, cauliflower 1.69 euros.
Produce is seasonal and local. We shop three times per week, picking up ingredients each time for the next few meals only. We’re spending about 380 euros per month, which is 36% less than our grocery bill in Atlanta.
Bottom line, we’re eating much healthier… and it’s costing us much less.
We have been amazed at the difference in the taste of the vegetables we buy here compared with what we were able to buy in the States. The broccoli is a rich, dark green and is delicious with just a bit of olive oil or butter. The cauliflower is bright white and steams beautifully without the strong taste that we’d become accustomed to. Oranges are sweet and juicy, and the bananas from Madeira have a distinctive flavor.
Visiting our local butcher (talho) we find the usual chicken, turkey, pork, and ham selections, along with Portuguese delicacies like tripe (beef stomach lining) and hog jowls. We haven’t been brave enough to try these yet; we’re working up the courage.
A whole chicken costs 1.59 euros per kilogram, and pork chops are 3.30 euros per kilo. We buy our eggs at the butcher shop, as well, thick-shelled with rich golden yolks, for 1.40 euros per dozen.
When we’re in the mood to wander around the city, we search out one of the street markets. Usually held on Saturdays, these markets offer handcrafted items from local artists, kitschy collectibles to decorate your home, vintage clothing, custom-blended spices and teas, and the ubiquitous fruits and vegetables.
Each Saturday the Mercado Porto Belo sets up near the University of Porto and Livraria Lello, the bookshop immortalized by J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The airy square is an ideal location, ringed by restaurants and shops.
During our most recent visit, we came away with tasty almonds for 6.50 euros for 500 grams. One vendor was selling kokedamas, Japanese moss balls, a unique way to add greenery to our apartment. On a previous visit we found a vendor with an impressive selection of lovingly restored antique typewriters.
When we want a moment to rest, we take a seat in the lounge chairs positioned outside in the sunshine… or we go to one of the nearby restaurants and sip espressos, 70 cents each.
Also on Saturdays, Centro Comercial Bombarda, a mall in Porto’s trendy art district, hosts O Berdinho Mercado Rural. Essentially an indoor farmers’ market, the vendors sell fresh baked goods, fruits and vegetables, every kind of mushroom you can imagine, as well as olives and olive oil, cheeses, soaps, and fragrances. The vendors are always friendly, and, as we visit often, they treat us like family.
Porto’s most famous is the Mercado do Bolhão. Located in a centuries-old Neoclassical building in the downtown area, it is best known as a produce and fish market, but it is also a great place to score quality Portuguese cheeses, sausages, olives, wine, and meat. Many of its vendors have sold at the market for decades. Because of the building’s age, the wrought-iron structure is being refurbished; meantime, the stalls have been moved to the LaVie Shopping Center nearby.
Browsing the fishmongers’ aisles you’ll discover fresh salmon, octopus, dourada (sea bream), among other delicacies of the seas. Availability varies day to day, and prices are in line more or less with what you’d find in grocery stores—whole salmon selling for 6 to 7 euros per kilogram, fresh shrimp in the 12 to 13 euros per kilo range, and tuna for 8 to 9 euros per kilo. The vendors are accustomed to customers with little (or no) Portuguese language skills and eager to help you.
Porto has a long history of sharing its treasures with newcomers. For us, part of the fun of living here has been seeking out this city’s markets, both the reoccurring ones and those that pop up less regularly.
After a successful scouting trip, we proudly carry home our plunder. Our unique treasures have furnished our home here and have provided the makings of many memorable and healthy meals.
It’s all part of our new life in one of the most vibrant corners of the Old World.