This Christmas we were off to Portugal and for almost three weeks.
It cost us less than 10 days at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico!
This was our first Christmas as empty nesters. Our older daughter spent the holidays with grandma and grandpa in Germany, while the younger one was with my sister and brother-in-law in California on the second leg of her gap-year trip.
I was picturing a miserable Christmas, just my husband and me staring at the tree, commiserating about the bleak Ontario winter weather, and watching Netflix all by ourselves.
My husband had used up his annual vacation, so going away for the holidays wasn’t an option… until he came home from work one day in late November and announced that he had to take three weeks off over Christmas and New Year’s because of accumulated overtime! It was like my prayers had been answered. We were able to turn around the misery of spending the holidays without family and instead enjoy the freedom that comes with being empty nesters. We were able to travel and skip Christmas!
The “where” wasn’t a question. We knew we wanted to visit Portugal and southern Spain, the area we’ve been considering as a part-time base for our (un-)retirement as digital nomads. We were able to use this unexpected travel opportunity as a scouting trip.
We flew out on Christmas Eve. Faro was our final destination, but we built in a four-day stopover in Lisbon. In addition to exploring the Portuguese capital, we took day trips to the Silver Coast and the surfing mecca of Nazaré, known for its gigantic waves, to the medieval village of Óbidos, to the fairy tale palace of Pena in Sintra, and to Cabo da Roca, Europe’s easternmost point.
We arrived in Faro on Dec. 29, where we picked up a rental car and headed straight over to Spain. My husband wanted to spend New Year’s Eve partying with the glitterati in Marbella.
Our first stop, though, was Jerez de la Frontera, to see the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Arts and taste some sherry at one of the local bodegas. From there it was on to the Costa del Sol, where we rode bikes along the promenade, sampled tapas and wine overlooking the marina, and cruised along the beaches in a boat. We explored other coastal towns and cities, whitewashed mountain villages, and world-famous gems such as Ronda and Granada.
In the Algarve, we had a different agenda. For this leg of the trip, the beaches, towns, and architecture served as a backdrop for our exploration of the real estate market and income-earning opportunities.
When I visited the region as a student almost 35 years ago (yes, I’m that old!), there wasn’t much here other than a couple of pretty hideous high-rise resorts overrun by mostly drunk Brits (along with, yes, granted, some of the world’s most spectacular beaches).
But, now, rumor (that is, Live and Invest Overseas’ annual Retire Overseas Index) has it that the Algarve is the number-one retirement destination in the world, thanks to its natural beauty, mild and sunny winters (really important to us), and great residency options. We figure that, with tourism in summer and retirees in winter (or year-round), surely there must be opportunity for a couple of middle-aged adventurers like us to generate some income.
So, instead of sightseeing, we used Carvoeiro as a base for meeting with real estate agents and tourism boards. In between meetings we made time to venture into the caves and grottos near Lagos, to stare out onto the vast Atlantic Ocean from the cliffs at Cabo São Vicente, to marvel at the azulejo tilework inside unassuming churches, to visit medieval castles and Moorish fortifications, and to enjoy freshly grilled sardines by the beach.
It was an amazing trip, even more so since it fell into our lap unexpectedly at a time when we really needed a getaway.
But the true Christmas miracle is that this almost three-week adventure cost us less than a 10-day all-inclusive trip to a resort in Mexico. We spent around CA$6,370 all in, including flights, accommodation for 18 nights, rental car, gas, meals, and entertainment/fun exploring what we think will be our new un-retirement base.
Meantime, a quick search on a consolidator’s site when we were planning our trip showed me that the cheapest 10-day all-inclusive package to the Mayan Riviera, Mexico, with a departure between Dec. 22 and Dec. 25 would have cost a whopping CA$6,638 for the two of us… more than CA$200 more than our European adventure.