My Portuguese travels continued from Lisbon to the Algarve’s sunny south.
I chose to explore the eastern Algarve, near the Spanish border, rather than the heavily touristed stretch between Faro and Lagos to the west.
I’m told that tourism didn’t develop heavily down there because the coast to the east of Faro is made up of sandy barrier islands.
A lagoon sits between these long narrow islands and the open sea. And the sandy dunes of the islands prohibit building. Unable to build directly on the coast, the big hotels, resorts and retirement communities congregated further west, where the shoreline is made up of dramatic coves and cliffs.
That suited me just fine. I wanted a bit of downtime, of course. But as always on these trips, I was also scouting the region with one eye open as my potential next base after Malta. And I prefer to be in a place that isn’t totally overrun with tourists and expats.
If you read some of my earlier blogs about Spain, you’ll know that I also scouted the area around Conil de la Frontera and Cap Creus in previous years. And I laid out the criteria that I use for evaluating each new place as a potential residence in my Expat Checklist.
Well, when it comes to bases in the sun, so far the Algarve is definitely on top.
We rented an apartment in a little village called Luz de Tavira, just outside the old Roman riverside town of Tavira.
It was a peaceful place of fields and greenery, where the only noise each day was the local train chugging past, or a shepherd calling his flock of sheep.
The apartment was outstanding — easily one of the best vacation apartments I’ve rented. Everything was solidly built and well designed. The sofa was extremely comfortable, which often isn’t the case with short stay places. And all windows were equipped with those electric metal shutters that I love so much.
The owners were great too. They’re long term residents in the area, and they provided all sorts of recommendations for the best local places.
Luz de Tavira was the perfect place to be — just far enough out of town to be incredibly peaceful, but right around the corner from beaches and places to eat.
Speaking of food…
I was constantly impressed with both the quality and value of food in Portugal. I never had a bad meal the entire 3 weeks I was in the country. For €8 to €10 I could get a nice fresh grilled fish, some vegetables and potatoes, and a jug of wine. And it was always excellent.
In Malta, where I live, it seems like dinner for two with a bottle of wine never comes out to less than €80 or €100. And the quality is always mediocre at best.
The peaceful riverside cafes of Tavira were a wonderful place to take an afternoon coffee, or to sit for an evening meal:
And we found some amazing grilled fish lunches in nearby villages that left us wondering how the Maltese manage to eat such a bland fast food diet when surrounded by the bounty of the sea:
As you would expect with these barrier islands, the beaches were endless and practically empty. A short drive or bicycle ride to a nearby hamlet was the best spot to walk across a causeway to the Ilha de Tavira. Or we could take the slow tourist train if we felt too lazy to walk.
The entrance to Barril beach has a few restaurants and shops, housed in former tuna fisherman’s dwellings. But walk 10 or 15 minutes to the right and you’ll have the broad white sand pretty much to yourself.
If you fancy a stroll, the island is 14km long, and it’s all like this:
This area also hosts the only official naturist beach in the eastern Algarve, so you can swim and sun in the proper fashion.
In terms of cost of living, Portugal was much cheaper than other EU countries, and provides much higher value for your money.
It’s possible to get everything you need, even in a small town like Tavira. I found an incredible liquor and wine shop that stocked every spirt I could possibly want — and even a Canadian whiskey I’d never heard of back home. And the grocery stores had a much better selection than shops in Malta too.
The food was also the diametrical opposite of Malta’s. Restaurant meals were fresh, healthy and cheap, and the service was great.
The entire eastern Algarve region was full of the sort of peaceful, quiet natural areas that are perfect for hiking, cycling or walking. Unlike Malta, you won’t find piles of litter, or deafening noise, or hunters blasting every song bird in sight.
The eastern Algarve is a serious contender for my next European base.
It’s got just about everything you could possibly need. And more sunshine than you could shake a parasol at.
And what it lacks in museums and galleries can be made up for in Berlin. There are daily flights to my favourite city in Europe from Faro airport, just a 20 minute drive away.
Photos ©Tomoko Goto 2014