Beautiful weather most of the time and no need to wait for a table in a restaurant or fight for towel space on the beach. Welcome to winter in the Algarve. Living in the south of Portugal when the tourists are gone is great for some, but can get a bit lonely for others. Deserted beaches, empty bars and unoccupied restaurants: boring or beautiful?
See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2015
The Algarve is a top tourist destination, especially in summer when the population in the coastal towns more than triples. In 2015, it was voted Europe’s Leading Beach Destination in what are the Oscars for tourism: the World Travel Awards. Logical, as this region boasts great beaches, even better fish and unspoilt nature. There are charming old fishermen villages and dramatic rugged cliffs to be found, just as 35 different golf courses, numerous water parks, beach bars and restaurants. The best: when the summer crowds are gone, all these things are left there for you to enjoy in peace.
Well, not all of them. Attraction parks such as Aquashow Park, Slide & Splash and Aqualand are already closed in October. Come November and watching the dolphins at Zoomarine isn’t possible anymore either. The beautiful nature is still there to admire, but in low season the ferries to the Ria Formosa islands run a couple of times a day, instead of every ten minutes. Beach bars are taken down and sun loungers are stored away until next June; instead of queues for the ice cream van, you’ll now have to drive to the supermarket to get a Cornetto. As the temperature drops, once bustling tourist resorts start to look more and more like ghost towns. What expat Arthur van Amerongen already stated in the September issue he’ll certainly say again in the next few months: “The Algarve is very boring.”
In the Algarve you need some kind of project to keep you busy; playing golf once a week isn’t enough!
Indeed, living in Portugal for the whole year isn’t for everyone. Tore Grønlien and his wife Harriet from Norway have been visiting the Algarve twice a year since 2003. The couple has been talking about moving here permanently, but in the end they’ve decided against it, partly because of the healthcare system and the absence of family and friends. However, another main reason was the quiet life most expats lead. Tore: “Here in the Algarve you need some kind of project to keep you busy and I think playing golf once a week isn’t enough. I see what happens to people who come from an active life and then move to the Algarve, with sun, praia and cheap wine. A lot of them get into trouble after six months of the leisurely lifestyle, especially if they’re thirsty…”
The couple always visits in spring and autumn, to swim, eat some seafood and catch some sunshine. “July and August is too hot for people from Scandinavia. Also, it’s too busy and noisy in the summer,” Tore explains. Then what about the virtually empty winter months? They seem perfect for persons who are used to the cold. But no: “The winter isn’t warm enough,” answers Tore. “Yes, I know, in Norway temperature can get below minus 40˚C, but our wooden houses are built to keep the heat in. Here in Portugal, the main goal of the houses is to keep the heath out in the summer. Harriet once stayed over for a whole winter. She called me halfway through and said: ‘Tore, this isn’t fun. I’m freezing my butt off!’”
The Dutch Hans and Esther won’t be staying in Portugal this whole year either. “We’ve decided to spend the winter months in a warmer, but what’s more important, a drier place: Cabo Verde. Although the Portuguese weather was a reason to change Holland for the Algarve four years ago, January and February can be very humid over here, which isn’t pleasant when you have rheumatism.” Cold damp houses are also one of the things Har Klunder and Joya Derrix from Production Algarve dislike about winter. “It isn’t the nicest season in the Algarve. Short, grey days and cardboard on the floor to keep the cold out. There’s no heating, a lot of humidity, and people wear their coats everywhere, even inside.”
Winter in the Algarve is probably way better than in the country you originally come from
Also, the slower pace of life and lack of activities play a role for them. “Outside the high season you really have to undertake action to make it fun. I suggested to my mother that if she’d ever considered spending her winters here, she should live in Quarteira. At least there something’s happening all year round,” says Joya. “It can be a bit boring and cold here sometimes,” Har agrees. “Still, there are also many days where the weather is good enough to sit on the beach. And winter in the Algarve is probably way better than in the country you originally come from!”
The mild climate is what draws most of the visitors to this region: on average, the Algarve boasts 300 days of sunshine a year. However, this means each year there are also 65 days when the sun doesn’t shine. “It doesn’t look very pretty here when it rains. The Algarve looks great with sunshine, but in winter some parts look scruffy and tired,” admits the English Paul Rouse from Inspirations Algarve, who has been living here for nine years together with his wife Kate, a wedding caterer. “Yet, the reason we moved here, was for the winters. The weather is milder, allowing you to still sit outside in December,” he explains.
According to Paul, winter in the Algarve is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. As there aren’t as many flights to Faro airport in the low season, not that many tourists visit. This lack of potential customers causes organised tourist activities to stop and restaurants to close for the season. Seeing as there isn’t much to do, not many people want to visit the Algarve in winter time. This shortage of demand leads again to less flights being offered, etc., etc. However, Paul himself doesn’t mind the quietness. “We live in the middle of nowhere, so we have a quiet life anyway. If I’d have it my way, I’d move out of here for four weeks in summer as the traffic gets insane. I won’t go anywhere near a popular beach in August. Also, in high season we tend to avoid our favourite restaurants; I don’t like queueing or waiting for 20 minutes just to get the menu.”
We prefer spending our time quietly, so we don’t find life here boring at all
And there are more people who absolutely love this emptiness. Take the English Lucia and Austin D’Souza, for example, who have been visiting the south of Portugal for a decade now. Usually they arrive in October and leave again in May. “Our main reason for coming to the Algarve is to escape the winter in the UK which can be quite severe. It gets very cold up to minus 7˚C with frost, snow and days when you just don’t see the sun.” Lucia and Austin aren’t bothered by the absence of attractions at all. “As we are not ‘tourists’, we do not want to use the beach or go to night clubs. We prefer spending our time quietly, so we don’t find life here boring. One of the things we love is gardening and in winter we can work for a longer time as it is much cooler. We also like swimming and enjoy the pool in Olhão, which we visit five days a week. Another plus is that the roads are not as crowded as in the summer. On the whole, we’d describe our winter stay here as very peaceful and relaxing.”
Pictures by Marijke Verschuren and Kyle Rodriguez
See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2015