Europe’s Best Bargain Coast
Arriving from the colonies to the point where explorers took off to discover them, we’re met by big numbers of Old World tourists. This is peak season in southern Europe, and Lisbon airport, when we passed through, was packed with holiday-makers, most from the British Isles.
Lisbon airport was crowded and also uber-modern, with technology that puts Newark, from whence we’d come, to shame. Passports are scanned and facial recognition shots are taken of every arriving traveler using equipment I’d not encountered before. After passing my passport through the auto-scanner, I stepped forward to the next point in the queue and stood waiting, waiting… until Lief pointed out that I needed to look up so the auto-camera could see me clearly. Still, no photo… until I removed my sunglasses. As soon as I showed my face fully, the camera snapped and the gate opened for me to continue on.
We connected with our 30-minute flight from Lisbon to Faro without incident. Portugal has gotten very efficient at shuttling sun-seekers to her coast.
The drive on the motorway from Faro west to Carvoeiro, our ultimate destination, is unimpressive. But, as soon as the coastline comes into view, you remember why you’ve come. Above is the view from the balcony of the hotel where we’re staying, and similar coastal snapshots are never far away. Here on Portugal’s Algarve, the seafood is fresh, the people are pleasant, the service is friendly, and the wine is affordable on every menu. What more could you ask of a summer holiday?
To keep ourselves from succumbing too soon to jet lag, Lief and I wandered down to our hotel’s beach after we’d checked into our room. It’s what I’d call a keyhole beach—not a lot of sand but what sandy bit there is is framed by coral cliffs. We climbed the stairs up inside the coral formations to watch five young boys playing soccer in the surf and a fellow hotel guest in full wet gear who dove in just offshore with a spear gun. In fewer than five minutes, the guy had speared two fish! We wanted to wait around for him to return to shore to ask if he intended to deliver his catch to the chef for the dinner menu, but the shade of the ocean-view hotel bar beckoned. We retreated to watch the afternoon fade from under cover.
We talk about places where you could live or retire overseas without having to learn a new language. Most everyone you’d encounter in Panama City or Puerto Vallarta, we say, for example, speaks English well enough that you could get by in those places without speaking Spanish if you wanted.
That’s not the case in the Algarve. Here it’s not that you can get by without speaking Portuguese; it’s that there’s no reason to try. Everyone you meet everywhere speaks English. There must be exceptions, but we’ve yet to encounter one. Staff in the gas station shop, in the corner grocery, in restaurants where we’ve eaten, and every staff member at our hotel… they all speak English well enough to tease and joke with us. I practiced my “bom dia” and “obrigado” before arriving, but even those standards are unnecessary here (though appreciated, I’m sure).
You have the British to thank for this. Their long presence in this part of the world means that everyone here speaks the language of the queen and that tea is served always with milk.
Checking in at the Tivoli Hotel, we met two other guests, readers, it turns out, in town for this week’s Live and Invest in Portugal Conference.
“We’ve been traveling for more than two years,” they told us, “first in Central and South America and the Caribbean and now in Europe.
“We’ve been reading your blog, Kathleen, all along the way, since before we left the States,” they explained, “and we’ve been to all the places you recommend, checking them systematically off our list. We’ve been looking around Portugal for two weeks already and are excited for your conference this week. We think Portugal is it for us.
“We liked Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic, but we realized we don’t really like islands in general. They’re limiting. We liked Granada, Nicaragua, too, but, again, it’s small… limited.
“Bottom line, we think we just prefer Europe!”
Hard to argue with that point of view here in the Algarve where the best of coastal Europe is a bona-fide bargain. Lief and I are off to see just how big a bargain this place can be. We’re touring apartments and houses for sale this afternoon. I’ll report back on our impressions tomorrow…
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