Portugal’s Algarve Is Our Top Old World Retirement Choice

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The Best Place To Retire In Europe (Is Better Than Ever)

The Algarve has been an increasingly popular destination for foreign retirees since the end of the Second World War when a first wave of former British officers fell under its spell. Attracted by a sunny climate many had become used to from service in Asia and the Middle East, they also appreciated its low cost of living, which stretched their pensions and gratuities.

While the Algarve still offers some 3,000 hours of bright Mediterranean sunshine annually, it is no longer the poor man’s paradise it once was. Still, living here remains a bargain and cheaper than in neighboring Spain.

Furthermore, those who have retired to the Algarve more recently no longer have to endure the dreadful roads and almost nonexistent public services and lack of water, sewage, and electricity that pioneer retirees put up with all those years ago. Instead, they profit from the great tide of prosperity and modernization that has swept along Portugal’s southern Atlantic coast in recent decades.

New roads crisscross the landscape making it far easier than before to move around. Primitive hole-in-the-corner shops have been replaced by ubiquitous supermarkets. Television and telephones have become universal. Airlines from all over Europe now fly into Faro’s modern airport, though to reach the United States and Canada you must still go to Lisbon to pick up a trans-Atlantic flight. Meanwhile, as unchanging as the weather is the friendly welcome the local people show to foreigners who come to live among them.

As more overseas retirees discover the Algarve, patterns of residency are changing along the coast. Young families with children still crave a place near the sea and sand. But older folk are settling farther inland these days, where life is slower and less hectic but still offers a vista of the sea. So those of a certain age are seeking out houses in little villages in the foothills of the Monchique Mountains and around inland centers such as Silves, with its looming Moorish castle, the bustling market town of Loulé, São Bras de Alportel, and Castro Marim on the Spanish frontier.

Medical facilities are also expanding and improving throughout the Algarve. Portimão, Faro, and Lagos all now have major public hospitals. And a private hospital chain called the Hospital Particular has opened near Portimão.

Meanwhile a number of British and German doctors and dentists have opened private practices in the Algarve, although many Portuguese doctors speak excellent English.

For more affluent retirees, an unexpected bonus arrived this year when the Portuguese authorities imposed tolls on the previously free new highways they recently built. The result was a rapid switch of local traffic back to the already overcrowded free roads, leaving the highways emptier and safer than ever.

For older Algarve residents, swimming and tennis are year-round sources of recreation, while modern gyms are also starting to appear in the region. But the sport of choice, especially for retirees, remains golf. The Algarve is celebrated for its splendid golf courses. Probably the most famous is the Quinta do Lago, quite close to Faro airport and, like most Algarve courses, attached to a hotel of the same name and directly alongside the ocean.

Also well-known is the course at the Penina Hotel to the west of Portimão. Formally opened by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, Portugal’s austere but golf-loving dictator from 1932 to 1968, the hotel bar today proudly displays the club, tee, and ball used on that ceremonious occasion by the former dictator.

Paul Lewis

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