This Old World region on the Atlantic Ocean is the best place in the world to retire that nobody’s talking about.
This is a land of cobblestoned streets and whitewashed houses with lace-patterned chimneys, surrounded everywhere by fig, olive, almond, and carob trees. The Algarve also offers great weather, with 3,300 hours of sunshine per year, meaning more sunny days than almost anywhere else in Europe.
The Algarve’s 100 miles of Atlantic coastline is punctuated by jagged rock formations, lagoons, and extensive sandy beaches, many awarded coveted Blue Flags from the European Blue Flag Association. In addition, the region boasts 42 golf courses in less than 100 miles and is generally recognized as a top golfing destination in continental Europe and the world.
The Algarve has a longstanding reputation as a top summer destination among European sun-seekers and as a top winter retreat for those looking to escape Northern Europe’s coldest months. Health care is international-standard in this part of the world, and medical tourism is a growing industry.
Expats In The Algarve
Portugal’s Algarve is home to more than 100,000 resident foreign retirees. Algarve is a safe region, with very little crime and a laid-back lifestyle for expatriates. This destination caters equally to families and retirees, due to the wide variety of cultural, nature-based, sporting, gastronomic, and other activities.
Because it has Europe’s best beaches, Europe’s best golf courses, one of Europe’s friendliest folk, Portugal’s Algarve is the chosen retirement destination for more than 100,000 resident expatriates from around the world. You could join the many expats who gather for tennis at the Carvoeiro tennis club. Carvoeiro also has a well-stocked book exchange that allows expatriate residents and visitors alike to trade in books they have read for new titles. Many retired expatriates become involved in local community or charity work, there is no shortage of opportunities to contribute to society and make a real impact that will also help you integrate faster into local culture. Making friends is easy, both with the locals and the expatriates.
Thanks to Portugal’s strong historic and cultural links with England, English is spoken more widely in the country, in general and especially in the Algarve, than you might expect.
The central Algarve, between Faro and Lagos has become wildly popular in the last few years. However the eastern Algarve remains relatively unspoiled, and all the better for it. Prices are lower and the life here is more traditional and authentic. While not as lively as the central Algarve, it is ideal for anyone who enjoys the simple pleasures of good food, fantastic scenery and a relaxed pace of life. Artists and small business owners love it here and have been opening boutique businesses such as hotels, restaurants and craft stores. Prices have been increasing, but are still well behind what you would pay in the more developed regions to the west.
This fishing port is close to Faro, about 10 minutes by car or train, and has become a favorite haunt of creative types and bohemians. A small town of approximately 40,000, what was once a quiet fishing village is now the busiest fishing port in the Algarve.
Needless to say, the fresh fish is delicious and there are some excellent, traditional, Portuguese fish restaurants. As in Spain, people have a deep respect for the importance of lunch hours. Food is served between 1-3pm. Keep a close eye on your watch as you will almost certainly not be served outside these times. Head down to the Ria Formosa for a stunning view across the marshes while you enjoy your meal.
Olhao is a short boat ride away from the Islands of Culatra Armona and Farol. The islands have plenty of natural beauty with different birds wading along the shore as well as tide pools to explore. The water can be chilly, but is perfect for cooling off after time spent under the hot sun.
Olhao has a famous market which is only open on Saturdays. Located near to the harbor you will find fresh fruit and vegetables, local meats, cheeses and alcohol alongside the ever present seafood. It’s a great way to take in Portuguese life, as well as a way to eat cheap, local, produce which will help your waistline and your bank balance.
Tavira is an historic town which bridges both banks of the River Gilao. The town dates back to pre-Roman times, and architectural influences include Islamic and Phoenician alongside Roman, and traditional Portuguese. The whitewashed buildings from these different styles give the town a unique feel. Once you step away from the waterfront, where fishermen sell their catch and boats come and go, the feel of the town is slow and sleepy.
Tavira castle tower is provides a panoramic view across the town and is a great place to take photos. Speaking of photos the anchor graveyard on Barril Beach is a tribute to the regions fishing history and makes for unusual and slightly eerie photo opportunity.
Tavira has lots of churches to visit including the medieval Church of Carmo and the Church of Santiago, built on the site of an ancient mosque. The historic center was rebuilt after a huge earthquake in 1755 and the architecture here is different to a lot of the surrounding areas.
Evenings revolve around good food and good drink and there are some fine Cataplana restaurants serving up the Portuguese specialty seafood and rice dish which is cooked in a copper pan. The local wine is an excellent and very inexpensive accompaniment.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio
Vila Real de Santo Antonio is one of Portugal’s earliest examples of urban planning. Built after the same 1755 earthquake which decimated the central square in Tavira, Santo Antonio has long been strategically important to the Portuguese. This is because the river it is built on serves as the border with Spain. The two countries have not always had the best relationship and strong fortresses in Santo Antonio was deemed to be essential.
The town is especially popular with Portuguese tourists but has been largely overlooked by British and other European and American travelers. River cruises which sail up and down the Guadiana are a popular way of spending a few hours. You can find plenty of boats for hire with different package deals to best suit the experience you are looking for. Most journeys involve stops along the way at quiet villages where you can grab an ice cream or cold drink.
Perhaps the most striking building is the Farol de Vila Real de Santo Antonia, or the Santo Antonio lighthouse, built in 1923. It is still functioning today and visitors can climb the stairs (or take the lift) to the summit on a Wednesday afternoon. From there you will be treated to a spectacular view across the bay and sparkling sea.
Vila Real de Santo Antonia has some pristine blue flag beaches and. Praia Verde and Praia de Monte Gordo are the pick of them. The water here is much warmer than in other parts of Portugal, being close enough receive the warmer waters flowing from the Mediterranean. Both beaches have lifeguards throughout the summer months as well as other amenities like beach chairs and nearby restaurants and bathrooms.