“We have a word in Portuguese,” a friend from Lisbon, Miguel, told me once, “that doesn’t exist in any other language.
“The word is saudade. It means a longing for, a missing or a yearning for something. It’s a noun, not a verb, and its meaning is born from the feeling of a young wife for her husband sailor long at sea.”
“Yes, and this is connected to another important word for us,” another friend, João, interjected. “Saudade is connected to fado.
“Fado is our traditional music, but it is also our destiny. It is not good, it is not bad. It is simply the way it is… the way your life is because of the choices you have made.”
“Yes,” Miguel explained. “Saudade is the fado of the woman who has chosen to marry a sailor. It comes with the territory.”
Most of the world looks at Portugal as the edge of Europe. The Portuguese look at the world map and see themselves right at the center, at the heart.
Portugal identifies itself with the sea. For the Portuguese, the sea is part of their territory, a continuation of their domain. For them, therefore, Portugal is quite expansive.
In recent history, Portugal has been mostly ignored and overlooked, but there was a time when this country had the world’s attention. It was the Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator, an architect of the Age of Exploration, who bid his men to “sail on, sail on.” Those orders compelled brave adventurers around the Cape of Good Hope to China and India and then across the Atlantic.
Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe with the same defined borders since 1249. The name “Portugal” first appears in 868, during the Reconquista.
Indeed, Lisbon is four centuries older than Rome and the second-oldest European capital, after Athens. The city was settled by the Phoenicians around 1200 B.C. They recognized the excellent transport possibilities offered by the River Tagus.
Portugal’s is one of the oldest continuously serving navies in history. Its origins trace to the 12th century. The alliance between England and Portugal, originally signed in 1373, is the oldest in the world still in force. Both countries have entered wars to defend the other.
Portugal did something else for England—it introduced the habit of drinking tea. The world owes its love of tea not to Britain, but to the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza, who married King Charles II of England and brought her tea customs with her to the British court.
Half of the New World once belonged to Portugal. In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas gave Portugal Brazil, Africa, and Asia. The Portuguese Empire was the first global empire in history, and its colonial period was one of the longest lived, lasting for almost six centuries from the taking of Ceuta in 1415 until Macau was handed over to the Chinese in 1999.
Somehow this great and grand country with such a long and illustrious history fell from off the world stage. These days, who thinks of Portugal?
We’re happy to say that, finally, we’re not the only ones shining a light on this captivating little nation.
At this week’s Live and Invest in Portugal Conference, our Portugal experts and expats have reminded us that, over the past few years, Portugal has become increasingly recognized…
It has been identified as having Europe’s best beach (at Carvoeiro, where we’ve based our Live and Invest in Portugal Conference this week)…
It has been singled out for offering some of the world’s best golf… hiking trails… surfing… universities… wines…
And, most recently, for its world’s-best residency and citizenship programs.
We like to point out that we were the first to name Portugal as the world’s best place to live or retire overseas. This country has taken first place in our annual Retire Overseas Index for the past four years running.
The weather is the best in Europe, with 220 sunny days per year in Lisbon… and 300 sunny days per year along the Algarve coast.
This is also the second-safest country in continental Europe and the fourth-safest in the world (after Iceland, New Zealand, and Austria), according to the Global Peace Index and the Institute for Economics and Peace. Being off the world’s radar for decades has its advantages.
The country is an ideal base for exploring all Europe. Its health care system is world-class… as is its education system.
Unless you’re considering making a move with school-aged children, that last point may not seem important. However, a well educated population means that the people you encounter in your everyday life are capable, competent, efficient, productive, respectful, and polite. Those things are all very true of the Portuguese people as a whole.
Plus, many of the Portuguese you encounter in your everyday life also speak English… thanks to that long alliance with Britain.
Portugal’s Algarve region is a unique bit of European geography at the southwestern corner of the Continent, at the longitude of Great Britain and the latitude of Delaware. It is protected from winter by the movement of the ocean in the Gulf Stream, and, as a result, it has the best climate in Europe, with more sunny days than any other country in this part of the world, and steady winds that mean the region is never unbearably hot and rarely humid.
Unlike many sunny paradises, the Algarve is not a little island in the middle of nowhere. It is attached to the Continent and reachable by car from Lisbon and points farther north. You can fly here from the U.S. East Coast in short hops, as few as six hours to Lisbon from Boston, for example, where many flights originate, thanks to the Portuguese diaspora. From Lisbon, it’s a three-hour drive or a quick flight to the Algarve coast.
Another reason the Algarve is such an appealing choice for Americans seeking adventure, reinvention, opportunity, or a new life abroad is thanks to the British. The monarchs of Portugal and England married each other from the 14th century on, creating the oldest alliance in Europe before Europe really existed.
The Anglo-Portuguese friendship did not end with the death of Prince Henry and his brothers. British royals carried on marrying Portuguese princesses. Then, after World War II, the Anglo-American allies continued to operate from the Azores, a Portuguese territory. Over time, as a result, many British families settled in Portugal. By the 1950s, they had begun to populate the southern coast.
A decade or so later, the charms of the Algarve were discovered by the Beatles and their fans, who moved in to the fishing port town of Albufeira—the home of the most authentic fish and chips in the region.
Despite all this attention from British tourists and expats, the Algarve was thankfully never as overbuilt as the Costa Brava in Spain for a practical reason. The terrain is too hilly to allow mass-produced ticky-tacky little boxes to be plunked down, as they have been, over the decades, along stretches of the Spanish coast.
The most important relic of all the years of close association with the British is one key to American and Canadian happiness in the Algarve today. Nearly everyone here speaks English—both the local population and the big non-British foreign population. It is the lingua franca for the region.
All things considered, Portugal’s Algarve, home to more than 100,000 resident expats, is the best place to live or retire that nobody’s talking about. It is without doubt a best choice if you’re not cut out for life in the developing world or the tropics. This is a land of medieval towns, traditional fishing villages, open-air markets, cobblestoned streets, and whitewashed houses with lace-patterned chimneys surrounded by fig, olive, almond, and carob trees… all fringed by a 100-mile-long coastline that includes some of the best beaches in the world.
The Algarve offers a one-of-a-kind lifestyle that could be described at once as quintessential Old World and 21st-century resort, and that represents one of the Continent’s best values.
Specifically, here’s why Portugal’s Algarve qualifies as not only a top option for a new life in Europe, but, in fact, one of the world’s best places to spend time today:
- Great weather. This region enjoys one of the most stable climates in the world and 3,300 hours of sunshine per year, meaning more sunny days than almost anywhere else in Europe. As a result, the Algarve has a longstanding reputation as a top summer destination among European sunseekers and a top winter retreat for those looking to escape Northern Europe’s coldest months. The Algarve has no bad weather months, but it does have a winter. January and February can be cold enough that you’ll want a coat. The best months can be September and October, when the summer crowds have gone but the weather and sea temperature are still ideal.
- Safety. Portugal ranks as the fourth-safest country in the world. Violent crime is rare, and petty crime is limited to street crime during the busy tourist season. Also, this country has managed to keep itself separate from the immigration crisis that is playing out in other parts of Europe.
- Good infrastructure. Portugal and the Algarve have enjoyed important infrastructure investments in recent years, specifically to do with the country’s highway network and airports. As a result, this is an easy region to get around and also a great base for exploring all of Europe and North Africa.
- International-standard health care available for a very low cost. As a result, medical tourism is a growing industry in the region, in particular for cosmetic, hip replacement, and dental specialties.
- Golf. The region boasts 42 courses in less than 100 miles and is recognized as a top golfing destination in continental Europe and the world.
- Great beaches. The Algarve’s 100 miles of Atlantic coastline are punctuated by jagged rock formations, lagoons, and extensive sandy beaches, many awarded coveted Blue Flags from the European Blue Flag Association. The water off these shores is azure, and the cliff-top vistas are spectacular. Most beaches have lifeguards during the summer season. Note that restaurants and snack bars are sometimes open only seasonally.
- Affordable cost of living. The cost of living in Portugal is among the lowest in Western Europe, on average 30% lower than in any other country of the region. Prices are up since we began recommending this country for retirement. Still, this trip, outside the tourist zones and the hot spots, Lief and I continue to be delighted by bargain finds.
- For the reasons described above, English is widely spoken.Living here, you could get by without learning to speak Portuguese… though any effort to learn the local language is a show of respect and appreciated.
- Healthy living. The Portuguese are the biggest fish eaters per capita in Europe, and fresh fish of great variety is available in the ever-present daily markets. The abundance of sunshine in this part of the world means an abundance of fresh produce, too, also available in the local markets. Meantime, pollution rates are low, and streets, towns, and beaches are kept clean and litter-free.
- Retirement (and sometimes other) income is not taxed.Recent legislation allows resident foreign retirees to receive pension income in the country, tax-free. The law also provides for reduced taxation on wages, intellectual property, interest, dividends, and capital gains under certain circumstances.
- Severely undervalued property market. Real estate in Portugal is among the most affordable in Europe. Further, Portuguese real estate has one of the most favorable price-to-rent ratios (a measure of the profitability of owning a house) and price-to-income ratios (a measure of affordability) in the region. What that means is that housing is cheaper to buy and property investors can make more money from rentals than in many other European countries.