Find out more about the living in the beautiful Algarve in Portugal with an excerpt from ‘A New Life in the Algarve, Portugal – An anthology of life stories’ by Alyson Sheldrake.
It all started almost twenty years ago now. Although it’s hard to believe all that time has passed. In my head I’m still in my early thirties, proudly wearing a police uniform and chatting with friends. My husband, Dave, and I must have looked tired as our friends told us about a fabulous holiday they had enjoyed in the Algarve.
“Never mind,” they said, “you’re going away soon, aren’t you? You’ll be able to have a nice rest and recharge your batteries.”
“Actually, we’ve just returned from a trip to Spain. Do we look that bad?!”
I asked them to tell us more about where they had been.
“We have a friend that owns a little fisherman’s cottage in a tiny village in the Algarve. It’s beautiful and very peaceful. You’d love it.”
I was intrigued. Our friends were glowing with health and certainly seemed enthusiastic about a country we had never visited.
“I don’t suppose your friend would let us rent the cottage for a week, would they?” I cheekily asked.
“I don’t see why not; she only charges us £100 a week. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind you staying there. I’ll give her a call and ask her, and let you know.”
A week later, we had booked our flight to Faro airport, and we were clutching a key and a scruffy set of directions.
Our holiday motto had always been ‘never go back to the same place twice’, and we had enjoyed exploring a range of different countries and places since we had first met. Venice, Hong Kong, The Caribbean, and a memorable and wonderful honeymoon in Cape Town, South Africa, had all been highlights of our travels. We were interested to see how Portugal would measure up.
We set off in the hire car from the airport, heading west along the Algarve. There was a moment which is still set firmly in my mind as one of those ‘gasp’ moments when we rounded a corner into Ferragudo, which was to be our home for the week. The bay opened out in front of us, and we saw the village reflected in the glistening water of the Arade river. Painted boats were tied up, bobbing with the tide, the houses seemed to tumble down to the riverfront, and the majestic, whitewashed church sat proudly above them keeping watch. It was idyllic.
It was a good job there wasn’t a car behind us as we slowed down, took in the stunning view in front of us, and rather inarticulately and ridiculously both said “Wow!” at the same time.
Ferragudo still has that effect on me today. It is a pretty little traditional fishing village with winding cobbled streets, a harbour full of boats, a central square with little cafés and restaurants, and a beautiful long stretch of beach tucked around the corner from the lifeboat station.
Every time I drive to Ferragudo and the village comes into view, it still makes me say ‘Wow!’ inside, and gives me a sense of calm and peace that nowhere else has quite managed to achieve.
We were hooked from that moment on. The initial belief that this was going to be ‘just another holiday’ quickly turned into a magical week of exploring and discovery, as every day gave us new things to enjoy and experience, and every red circle on the map we drew led us to ten more places that we wanted to visit.
We discovered the west coast with its stunning coastline, dramatic cliffs, wide open skies and beautiful unspoilt beaches, hidden traditional villages, gentle friendly people, wonderful simple food, and a slower pace of life. We were smitten.
That was the start of our love affair with the Algarve. We returned to ‘our’ fisherman’s cottage seven times in the subsequent two-and-a-half years. It became the only place that we wanted to visit, as we started doing repair jobs on the cottage for the owners when we visited, and left small items behind in storage in the spare room. We travelled back there more often than the owners themselves, who had become friends, and laughed every time we rang them up to enquire if the cottage was being used at all that month!
Dave and I had been holidaying in our adopted holiday home for several years when suddenly the defining day arrived. We sat in the sunshine in the square at Ferragudo, looked around and both said to each other at the same time,
“I could live here.”
I think until that point it had probably been just a silently voiced ‘one day’ distant dream for both of us, however, once we had said it out loud and agreed with each other; suddenly it became one of those ‘well, why not?’ ideas that refused to disappear.
It wasn’t long before we were house-hunting and purchased a modern property on the edge of the village. We still had the slight problem of working back in the UK, but we spent every spare minute we could in our new home in Ferragudo. Finally, after five more years, Dave retired from the police, I handed in my notice (a scary moment!); we packed up the car and moved to live in the Algarve.
Our new life in the sun could begin.
We warn people when they come to stay at our house now to beware the Portuguese magic that bewitches you and attacks all your senses—you may never be the same again. When you wander down into the local village, sit and have a coffee and relax, as you watch the world go by with the warm sun on your face; or the first time you glimpse the blue shimmering sea from the top of the steps that lead down to the beach—those are the moments that get your heart racing and your mind wandering into the ‘what if we lived here?’ thoughts that can change forever your perspective on life.
So what makes Portugal so special? Certainly the weather is a big factor, and long summer days of uninterrupted sunshine help enormously, although we know it is not all sun—boy, can it rain here too. And if we are honest, sometimes those long hot summers can even be too hot, as we sit in the shade with the locals and reminisce about the cooler autumn days.
The weather is gorgeous here all year round really, with an average temperature well over thirty degrees in the summer, and over three hundred reported days of sun a year. It is an easy place to market and promote when it comes to the sunshine factor.
But it is so much more than the sun and the weather, as anyone spending any length of time here discovers.
There is a sense that the seasons, the land and traditional farming methods, and the church calendar still give this country its rhythm and pattern. People often say this is what England was like fifty years ago, and there is a feeling of timelessness about this part of the world as soon as you step away from the beach-front tourist areas.
It is not just the place though; it is also the local people. Throughout the region there are gentle, kind, welcoming Portuguese people, whose lives seem to march to a different pace of life; they make time to sit in the sun; greet their friends, and reflect an era long passed away in many other countries. They are polite, reserved, proud of their culture and heritage, and always willing to help you.
There is a different, gentler pace of life here, with the passing of time measured by the local church bells that ring every hour, followed by another church in the distance which chimes away three minutes later. Nobody seems to mind.
And when you are walking along a deserted beach in November watching the sunset, and feeling the sense of calm and peace that only the luxury of free time can give you, with the waves rhythmically and gently curling along the edge of the sand, then you know you have made the right choice and you are exactly where you need to be.
One of the other great things about living here in the Algarve is being able to sit outside in the sunshine and enjoy a leisurely meal in a pretty restaurant, savouring good quality, tasty food.
We really love finding local restaurants, enjoying simple traditional food, surrounded by Portuguese people, where we can still get change from thirty euros for a meal for two.
Prato do dia (which literally translates as ‘plate of the day’) is very common out here, especially at lunchtime, and if you know where to go, you can have a three-course meal, with a drink and a coffee afterwards for nine euros each. Often there are three or four main dishes to choose from, usually local meat, or fish, and sometimes there is a vegetarian option.
Another food that is very common here is the local favourite of Piri-piri chicken, accompanied by chips and a side salad, and washed down rather nicely with a small beer or two.
We had always joked we were ‘too young to retire’ and we both had made plans. I had the burning ambition to do two things—to paint and write—and Dave had held a camera in his hands since he was a young boy. We had dreams of transforming our hobbies into something more concrete and professional once we moved out here to live permanently. We did not know if our plans would be successful, but at the very worst, they would keep us busy and out of mischief, and give our days some purpose and opportunity.
We forged our new careers, although neither of us had ever worked for ourselves before, or had any idea what we were doing! We just knew what we loved, and we figured the rest out as we went along. Our first joint exhibition in the Holiday Inn hotel was a scary moment! They gave us a fabulous room to use and loads of support—but said that we couldn’t hang anything on the walls! We improvised, Dave created a set of table-top A-frame easels, and we were all set.
I will never forget our first morning opening up, wondering if anyone would come, if they would like our work, or buy anything. Within half-an-hour, we had both sold our first pieces, and we were away. We fashioned our own little ‘happy dance’ which we jigged around to after each sale. We usually waited until the customer had departed, although I think a few clients might have caught a snatch of our happy little jig!
Almost ten years later, I consider myself an established artist, having sold more than two hundred paintings, and completed over one hundred commissions for clients around the world. Dave is now a well-respected and busy photographer, always happiest getting his feet wet on a deserted beach with his camera and tripod at hand. I am lucky enough to sell paintings almost before they have dried on the easel, which sadly means I do not have the inventory or body of new work needed to host and run our own exhibitions anymore. I do miss the excitement of those pop-up events.
It still humbles me to know that people love my work. Dave even photographed a house one day with the rental agent present and spotted one of my paintings on the wall in the lounge. That was a rather surreal moment for him, as the agent said she loved the painting, and Dave was able to tell her that his wife had painted it!
My attempts to learn the language have met with differing degrees of success. After many years of struggling and suffering, I can now hold a basic conversation with local people and—mostly—understand what is being said to me. I can usually respond with something vaguely articulate, if not always grammatically correct. There are, however, odd words that I just seem to get stuck on, no matter how many times I hear them, or think I know what they mean. Take doente for example. Every time I hear this word, I immediately think it means ‘dead’. I learnt the hard way…
One of our local elderly neighbours walked past me one day. He always stops to chat, he is a dear old soul and after the usual niceties; he said to me,
“Minha esposa está doente.”
My daft brain translated that to mean, “my wife is dead”.
“Oh no, I am so sorry, that is terrible,” I replied in my best Portuguese. Before I could muster together the phrase for ‘I’m sorry for your loss’, or offer him my condolences, he spluttered,
“Pah! It is nothing!”
I must have looked as surprised and horrified as I felt, because he looked at me incredulously and said,
“It is nothing, just a cold. She will be fine again in a few days.”
Note to self: doente means sick—not dead.
Our life here in the Algarve has been more than we could have ever imagined. I look back on that day, now ten years ago, when I handed in my notice from work with some trepidation, and started the job of packing to move out here to live. Those first few months of settling into our new home, navigating the bureaucracy and differences, exploring and delighting in every new beach and village we discovered, and the wonderful friends we made, all helped us to feel happy and settled very quickly. We have since moved to live in the western Algarve, in a small town near the ocean, and we are blissfully happy here.
Our creative endeavours, beautiful home, relaxed way of life, and my daily walks beside the river with Kat the dog are all things that bring joy to my soul. I have never regretted our decision to move here, and every year I feel more content and delighted to call the Algarve our home.
I am truly grateful to be ‘living our dream’.