No more taking the bus in the rain

Don McGowan (41) is originally from Kilwinning in Scotland. He settled permanently in the Algarve with his partner Ellie and their son Rory in April 2015 and lives in Burgau. Don’s a busy guy: apart from full time app developer, web & graphic designer, he’s also the director of Explore Algarve, a semi-pro photographer, music creator and almost an author (his novel is half written).

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine August 2016

What inspired you to move to the Algarve?

Don: My partner Ellie has been coming to the Algarve with her family since she was a very small girl. Her grandfather bought a house in Burgau and her mum has been living there for 15 years, so the Algarve has always been an easy holiday for us.

In 2012 we made the decision to move here as Ellie had just finished many years of training as a doctor and had become slightly disillusioned with it. My work as a web and graphic designer meant that I could work from anywhere as long as I had my laptop and an internet connection. So it was an easy decision to make; why stay in grey, expensive London when we could start a new life in the beautiful Algarve?


When did you feel at home here?

Don: I loved Burgau the first time I came here, and that hasn’t changed. When we first came over, though, we decided to give Lagos a try and rented a lovely apartment near the marina. After a few months we knew that we were going to end up back in our little home village of Burgau. We stayed in Lagos for six months, but then moved. That was when I really felt Portugal was home for me. I love the relaxed life and the community feeling of the village.


Was it hard to get accustomed to the Portuguese lifestyle?

Don: Ha ha! Absolutely not. Having spent years living in London and Bristol, the Portuguese way of life was one of the most attractive things about living here (and the weather of course). I like working at my own pace and have a laid-back approach to most things. Living in the Algarve suits my philosophy perfectly. Now we have a little one to look after too, it’s even better: the Portuguese way of life is so brilliantly family-oriented and I love that. He’s going to grow up bilingual in a safe, outdoors environment; what more could we ask for?

How does your life differ now you live here?

Don: In so many ways. I feel very lucky to be able to work for myself and from home too. I don’t have to get the bus to work in the rain anymore. That’s a huge difference I guess! We are healthier and happier, spend much more time outside rather than being cooped up in the house all the time; although I’ve been working an awful lot recently to get our app built and launched. But now it’s summer, we can take more time out to enjoy our surroundings.


What is your favourite Algarve moment?

Don: Hands down, finding out that we were going to have a baby. We were in our little flat in Burgau when Ellie told me. I couldn’t have been happier. The second was when we finished up selling the house in Bristol and all moved back here last year as a family.


What annoys you here?

Don: If I’d answered this question before spending the last four weeks back in the UK, I would have said that the roads and driving & parking is pretty bad here. But now we’re back, I see that the UK is so much worse.

So I guess, as a business owner, it’d probably be that things move slowly. I know that’s a contradiction to my love of the Portuguese lifestyle, but in our business of technology, I’d like things to be a little more dynamic sometimes!

What do you miss most from the UK?

Don: Ellie and I chat about this sometimes and in all honesty, there isn’t anything I miss materialistically from Britain. I miss my family and friends, as we all do when we move abroad, but other than that … nothing at all. I can’t think of a single thing that is better in the UK. Oh wait, my internet connection disappears sometimes so: broadband. Broadband is better in Britain. But that’s a nit-picky little thing.


Which 5 words would best describe the Algarve for you?

Don: Relaxing, friendly, slow (in a good way, for the most!), warm and beautiful.


What’s your favourite spot?

Don: I think it would probably have to be Cabo de São Vicente. Much as I love the entire region of the Algarve, from Burgau beach up into the hills of Monchique and I recently visited Tavira for the first time which is stunning; Cape St. Vincent is always where I go when I want to relax or stop thinking about work. I can just stare out across the ocean and switch off. There’s something about the view from the cliffs that brings a sense of calm to me.

Picture below by Kyle Rodriguez

In what way does the Algarve inspire you?

Don: the idea for Explore Algarve came about from a small Algarvian frustration of mine: it can be very difficult to find current information about businesses here. Ellie and I were looking for the number of one of our local Indian restaurants to order a take out last year. It wasn’t easy. Eventually after many minutes of online searching we found two numbers, which were both wrong! We did eventually find it, but it took nearly ten minutes. I thought to myself ‘there must be an easier way to do this, there must be an app for this’. There wasn’t so I decided to make one.

I’m also passionate about photography and there are endless subjects in the Algarve which inspire me: I’m now on to my third external hard drive to store my photographs!


How’s your Portuguese coming along?

Don: In all honesty, I haven’t had any time to study in the last six months or so. I think my vocabulary is pretty decent and I can understand a lot more than I can speak, which goes for a lot of people I think. I can read the papers, but not a book.

I do always try to muddle through and ask for things in shops in Portuguese but the Algarvian people are so amazing with their languages that it mostly ends up in English. I’m about to begin an intensive course at the language school in Portimão, though, so perhaps it’d be best to revisit this question in a few months!

Do you have a secret tip for our readers?

Don: One of my favourite places is the Autódromo International Algarve. I love cars and the race track here often has amazing races or track days on. I’ve been lucky enough to grab the world exclusive, first ever shots of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May racing the McLaren P1, LaFerrari and Porsche 918. I managed to sell those to the UK media. I was also fortunate to be an accredited photographer at last year’s World Karting Championship where I walked the grid with Rubens Barrichello.

The track also boasts the yearly Algarve Classic Car Festival which is incredible, and many other things that don’t get enough publicity. I always check their Facebook page to see what’s coming up. Race days with paddock access are often as low as €5. I was one of only four people at a Ferrari f.f. corse day in March! It’s a hidden gem and well worth checking out.

All words and pictures courtesy of Don McGowan unless otherwise stated


See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine August 2016

Posted in Algarve expat stories.