We sat at an outdoor table at a cafe in the square of the little fishing village of Ferragudo in Portugal’s Algarve in the late afternoon sunshine, sipping cold iced teas and watching the world around us.
Children laughed and played in the square, old men sat together on benches talking and putting the world to rights, and tourists browsed the little shops. The sun was hot, even in late September. In the background, fishing boats bobbed and clanked in the harbor as the tide turned.
“I could live here,” my husband Dave turned to me to say.
“So could I,” came my eager reply.
And then we both stopped talking and stared at each other in amazement.
In all our years together, we had had only one rule about travel—never go back to the same place twice on holiday. That little rule had translated to many fantastic adventures. We had been to Venice, South Africa, Hong Kong, the Caribbean, and Spain and had traveled around most of our home country, the U.K.
When a friend lent us his little fisherman’s cottage in the Algarve, we planned a week’s holiday, to rest from our busy jobs as police officers, to catch some late summer sun, and to unwind.
However, from the minute we arrived, we were hooked. The drive into the fishing village of Ferragudo is enthralling. White-washed houses sit perched on the hillside overlooking the river below, the water is so blue and sparkling, and the view is spectacular. Fishermen bring in their catches in little boats that are pulled up on the beach, so the bounty can be unloaded and taken over to the fishermen’s huts to be cleaned.
The village population is a mix of local people, expats, and holidaymakers and felt welcoming and comfortable to us from the start. So much for our rule of never returning to the same place twice. Over the next two years, we rented that little cottage seven times. Each time it felt more and more like we were coming home. We would count the weeks and days until we could return.
Our first visit was more than 13 years ago. Five years ago, we realized our we-could-live-here-one-day dream. We bought the house that is now our home almost nine years ago, three years after our first Algarve holiday, and the plan was always to move here permanently, as soon as Dave retired from the police department. It took a lot of planning, sacrifices, and not giving up on our crazy dream to make it all happen, but the photograph of our little village in the sunshine pinned above the computer back in the U.K. helped to keep us going.
After we bought our house, which has stunning views over Portimão, the river, and the distant mountain range of Monchique, we added a photo of the scene from our back balcony to our collection on the wall in the U.K. Every time we became disheartened or exhausted at work, we would think, “One day we’ll be there, walking on ‘our’ beach, strolling around ‘our’ village every day and enjoying that view.” It was a great incentive.
It’s not all a fairytale, though. Moving abroad permanently is a big step, and family and friends had strong reactions when we told them what we were planning to do. “Oh I could never do that, I’d miss everyone too much,” they’d say… or “I’d miss the U.K. too much!” they’d tell us. Others called us lucky or brave or mad to be doing what we were doing. “I wish I could do that, but I could never leave my job,” they’d say. “What if something goes wrong?” they’d ask.
We had all those thoughts ourselves, if we’re honest. We planned and researched as best we could from afar, but some things can only be dealt with as they happen. You have to be open to embracing the adventure as it unfolds.
Each holiday we returned, we made our house even more like home. And each return visit, we explored more of the Algarve, each beach and village in turn. There are so many small coves and bays, tiny local restaurants serving amazingly fresh and simple food, pretty little villages with winding streets and old crumbling buildings, plaza squares with children playing, spectacular cliffs… so much to see and to explore.
Something about the Algarve makes you want to sit on a bench and relax… or to pack a picnic and take off for the day, just wandering. It’s hard to hurry here. The pace of life is so gentle.
There are frustrations to be sure, but with the sun shining for more than 300 days of the year and a coffee shop on every corner where you can stop for a strong and heartening espresso and a warm and gooey pastel de nata pastry… somehow you just know everything is going to be fine.
So now here we are, living and working in the Algarve. Every morning we are greeted with our spectacular view. I sit on our terrace to enjoy it with a cup of tea after taking our little rescue dog for a long walk around the village and down to the beach.
Work for me now is going downstairs to my basement art studio and picking up my brushes to work on my latest commission or upcoming exhibition. Meantime, Dave packs up his camera gear to go out on a shoot. We have lunch in the garden in the sunshine most days and live a simple, quiet, and relatively uncomplicated life. Working back in the hectic and stressful U.K. is a distant memory now.