Portuguese Daily Life: December 2017

Another two months have come and gone and as always it seems like there has been plenty going on. The biggest news is that on December 1 we moved to Portimão. Moving always requires plenty of logistics and paperwork but it went well and we are now settled into our new apartment. We have updated information on some of the things you need to know and links on our Emigrating to Portugal page for anyone interested in the process and there is more information on our new home later in this post.


Several seafood restaurants in an attractive Portimão enclave

Our normal routine includes a visit to the gym three times a week and two and a half hour Portuguese classes twice a week. We try to play a game of tennis each week as well as taking a day for “exploring”. When you add in groceries, laundry, banking and other day to day activities there isn’t a lot of extra time left over.


Bill and Melanie posing at “The End of the World” – Cabo de São Vicente.

Friends from Nova Scotia stopped in for a visit for a couple of days in November. We enjoyed their company and showing them around this corner of the Algarve. It gave us a chance to visit some of the places we enjoy and to show off some of the reasons why we enjoy living here.


Pathway down the cliffs at Fortaleza do Beliche, Sagres.


Only a Nova Scotian would find the water warm in November!

For one of our exploratory trips we headed east again and visited Armação de Pêra, and drove through Albufeira to Villamoura. The small town of Armação de Pêra is based mainly on tourism so it was very quiet when we pulled in around noon. There were a couple dozen people enjoying the remnants of summer on the beach and a few more having lunch at some of the restaurants along the pretty streets. We had a terrific Indian meal and were the only customers.


Attractive roundabout centre in Armação de Pêra


Praia Grande de Pêra


Mural dedicated to poet Antônio  Pereira in his hometown of Armação de Pêra

Driving through Albufeira confirmed for us that it wasn’t what we were looking for in a town to settle in. While undeniably attractive, many of the streets were lined with bars and tourist restaurants and it seemed a bit too commercialized for our liking. A friend of ours lives in Villamoura so we decided to have a look. We were surprised when we arrived to find palm-lined streets, bicycle paths and everything seemed very manicured. It is an unincorporated town and is basically a resort built around golf clubs, marinas, services and hotels. It all seemed very pleasant (but expensive) and while we could definitely enjoy the bicycle paths, birding areas and well maintained trails, it was lacking much of the Portuguese flavour we enjoy. The beach front bar where we stopped for a coffee was quite idyllic however and the ambiance of the late afternoon sun and smooth jazz music was most enjoyable.


On the road to Aljezur


Sweet potatoes (batata-doce) are one of the major crops in the area


Flaming sausages were just one of the menu choices at the food hall

The town of Aljezur hosts an annual Sweet Potato Festival. This small town lies just inland from some of the surfing beaches along the west Vincentine coast and is known for its sweet potato production. Attended by several thousand visitors each year this is a popular festival showcasing the varied uses of the tuber along with other regional specialties such as honey, liqueurs, handcrafts and music. It was a fun afternoon and we tried some wild boar paired with sweet potato fries – excellent!


Wild boar, sweet potatoes and vinho tinto


Museu de Portimão celebrates sardine fishing and canning

An afternoon spent with our Portuguese class at the Portimão Museum was very enjoyable. It happens to be very close to our new home so this was also a great chance to start to get to know our new neighbourhood. It is located on the Zona de Riberinha which is a very pleasant pedestrian and bicycle boardwalk along the shores of the River Arade. We can see that this will become a regular walking route for us.


Zona Ribeirinha de Portimão

The museum itself was very well laid out and informative. Housed in an old sardine factory it tells the history of Portimao, the surrounding areas and the sardine canning process in detail. The tour was all in Portuguese and we even managed to understand most of what the guide told us.


This was the actual processing room where the sardines were brought into the factory


Listening carefully – our Portuguese professor on the right


Boilers and ovens where the sardines were cooked

We made our move to Portimão on the first of December. We loved Lagos and in many ways hated to leave, but we found an excellent opportunity that we had to take advantage of. Long term rentals are very hard to come by in the Algarve so when we had the chance to get a bright and comfy two bedroom two bath condo at a price (€700 per month) within our budget we knew we had to act quickly.


Our building overlooking the River Arade

In addition to the physical part of the move there are many aspects of paperwork that we now need to look after as a result of moving. Like anywhere in the world we have to change our address for things like the bank, car insurance, toll cards, health insurance etc. As well we have to visit SEF in person along with the Financial Office to get our documents changed with our new address.


There is a lot of the Algarve in this shot – one of Portimão’s smaller streets


View from our building’s rooftop patio and the ruins of the São Francisco Convent


Neighbouring Ferragudo from Portimão

Of course we have to get used to driving (and finding places to park) in our new city. With a population of around 55,000 Portimao is larger than Lagos, has many more permanent residents and is known as a shopping hub in this end of the Algarve. So there are busy streets, larger access roads and more roundabouts to get used to. For the most part it is fun – but not trying to find a parking place at the Aqua Mall on a holiday afternoon!


The streets of old Portimão are mainly for local residents – not tourists


Igreja do Colégio in the Praça de Republica

We love our new condo apartment and its location in a quiet part of the city overlooking the river. We are in a small building with a mixture of Portuguese and foreign residents. There are plenty of walking opportunities nearby and within 20 minutes (5 minutes by car) we can get to grocery stores, the riverside boardwalk, the football stadium, Praia da Rocha, cinemas, tennis courts, the Municipal theatre, restaurants and much more. As we settle in we’ll start exploring more.


Along the riverside boardwalk


Outside a well known restaurant of the same name – can’t wait to try it out

One thing we have quickly learned is that Portimão is a residential working class Portuguese city, unlike its next door neighbour Praia da Rocha (and many other Algarve towns) which is purpose-built to cater to foreign tourists. This provides a different experience as the main part of the city is designed for the convenience of residents as opposed to catering to the tourism industry. While it may not always be as glitzy as other towns, Portimao feels like a working-class town that is going about its business.


One of several small but beautiful beaches in Praia da Rocha


The popular Praia da Rocha and it’s namesake town

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As always we love to seek out interesting back streets

It has a wonderful municipal theatre, a good selection of restaurants at reasonable prices, great recreational facilities and a much to our delight it is home to the Portimonense soccer club which competes in the Primeira Liga (Portugal’s top flight professional division). Overall we are very pleased with our new home and feel that it s a good choice for us.

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Great birding from the boardwalks in nearby Alvore


Our first Premeira Liga match in Portimão

This will be our last post in 2017. Erik is coming to visit with us for the holidays and we plan to be very active, including a trip back to Sevilla which we enjoyed so much last year. We would like to wish everyone a great holiday season, whatever you may be doing, wherever you may be and all the best for the upcoming year.


Nativity scene in old Portimão

Obrigado pela sua atenção e Boas Festas!

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Lagos: A Historical Walking Tour

Over the past thee months we have become much better acquainted with our current home of Lagos, including the beaches, cafes, streets and markets. However, we have walked by churches, monuments and the old city walls on many occasions without always knowing the history and stories associated with them.


A controversial 1973 statue of Rei (King) Dom Sebastião in Praça Gil Eanes

Lagos is a maritime town, and has a long and colourful history, dating back over 2000 years. Its earliest settlers were Celtic, and was later settled by Carthaginians and Romans. With the fall of the Roman Empire, Lagos became home to Visigoths and Byzantines all attracted by its strategic harbour.


Rua Dr. Faria e Silva

The Moors arrived in the 8th Century and fortified the town with Lagos Castle. It remained under Moorish control until relatively late in the Reconquista (1429). Over the next several centuries, Lagos remained an important seaport which saw hundreds of explorers, merchants and slavers sailing in and out of its harbour.


Tile mosaic by artist “Xana” in the Mercado da Avenida

There are reminders of Lagos’ history throughout the town, so one sunny morning we decided to take the “Historic Walking Tour” which is promoted on local guidebooks and maps.


The colourful entrance to the Live Science Centre

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Igreja de São Sebastião

The walk begins at Praça (Square) Gil Eanes Square which is the main square in the middle of town between the harbour and the old town. You then climb the cobbled streets past the Mercado da Avenida and the Science Centre to some beautiful viewpoints near the 15th Century Igreja de São Sebastião.


The aquamarine harbour blends with the whitewashed walls


We love this little street – Rua da Barroca

Descending to the Avenidos dos Descobrimentos the walk then follows the ornate and narrow Rua da Barroca. The wall along this street was the original seawall before the new Avenida was constructed.


Glimpsed through the doors of a seafood restaurant


Not part of the official “tour” but fun nonetheless

You then enter Praça do Infante Dom Henrique which holds several important sites including the Mercado dos Escravos (Slave Market Museum), Igreja de Santa Maria (dating back to the 15th Century) and the 17th Century Military Depot.


Slave Market Museum


Infante Dom Henrique / Henry the Navigator statue in his namesake square

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Igreja de Santa Maria


The nave of Igreja de Santa Maria

Leaving the square you walk along the old city walls through the Jardim du Constituição and cross the avenida to Forte de Ponta de Bandeira. Built in the 17th Century this fort was used to defend the port, and includes a drawbridge. There are many wonderful viewpoints along the coast and of several beaches from this area.

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São Gonçalo Turrets and gateway to the old town


Forte de Ponta da Bandeira


The statue of São Gonçalo de Lagos looks across the harbour entrance to the sea

The last portion of the walk takes you impressively through the walls beneath the São Gonçalo Turrets which are classified as a National Monument. You will enjoy the narrow and colourful streets in this part of town before winding your way back to Gil Eanes Square.


Rua Miguel Bombarda


A particularly attractive intersection beneath the old walls


Entrance to the Museu Municipal Dr. José Formosinho

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Loving the colours and variety of the old streets

This will be our last post from Lagos as we are moving to nearby Portimão (more to come) but we will certainly spend a lot of time in Lagos which remains one of our favorite places anywhere. This walk filled in some of the historic gaps for us and we now have a much better appreciation for its cultural and natural charms.

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Tavira: A Visual Introduction

Near the far Eastern end of the Algarve is the beautifully unique town of Tavira. Exuding charm, history and character, glimpses of its Moorish history and role as a trading port can be found everywhere. Today, tourism is the major industry however you could easily become lost in time along the banks of the tranquil Gilão River, in its many (21+) churches or just admiring the unique architectural features of the colourful Portuguese houses on its narrow cobbled streets.




We have heard such good things about this town that we had to see for ourselves. So along with friends we drove the approximately 120 km from one end of the Algarve to the other.  It was a beautiful sunny October day (like most here this year) and as soon as we wriggled into a parking spot along the river we knew that we would enjoy this town.


Many small restaurants surround Praca Dr. Antonio Padinha

The streets and alleys of the old town were inviting and we explored a few before stopping for lunch in a small sunlit square. We had passed a mix of Indian, Portuguese and Italian restaurants offering inviting pratos do dia (plate of the day) and the smell of curry, grilled sardines and piri-piri chicken wafting through the air called to our empty stomachs.


These “tourist trains” are ubiquitous throughout the Algarve


The “Roman Bridge” is more likely Moorish in origin

Tavira’s origins date back to the Phoenicians who created a large urban settlement here in 800 BC. The Moorish occupation of Tavira began in the 8th Century and continued until 1242 during the Reconquista. Salt, dried fish and wine were important exports from the town as it became a major trading port. Like most of the Algarve, Tavira was decimated by the earthquake in 1755 when most of its buildings were destroyed or severely damaged.


Looking upriver from the Ponte Romana


Anne and Dick cooling off in the shade


A beautifully restored facade glows in the sunlight

An architectural feature unique to Faro and Tavira are the four-sided hipped roofs which show an Oriental influence. The scissor-shaped design allows for more airflow in the rooms making them cooler in the summer and warmer in winter. These can be seen in many of the photos from around the town.


Four-sided hipped roofs


Fishing boats on the riverside


There are live performances at this small Fado Museum


Newsstand in the Public Gardens along the river


There were few people around on this late October day


Little Egret fishing the tidal waters of the river


The beautiful Policia Maritima building


A colourful memorial


One of many churches below the walls of the old fortress

We were only in Tavira for lunch and a few hours of sightseeing but it was plenty to whet our appetite for more of this beautiful town. Like so many of the other towns and cities in the Algarve, Tavira offers much more than beaches, holiday rentals and golf courses (not that there is anything wrong with those).

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Hidden Treasures on the Back Roads

By now you know that we love poking around back roads, just out to see what lies around the next corner or over the next hill. A couple of weeks ago we decided to try the coastal roads from Raposeira to Burgau in the extreme eastern end of the Costa Vincentina and see if we could find some good beach walks. As usual, the area around our Lagos home delivered much more than we expected.


Typical village along the inland side of the coastal cliffs

Leaving the N125 at Raposeira, our first stop was Praia da Ingrina. This is a small, sheltered beach and there were about a dozen people enjoying the sunshine. There seemed to be more people at the restaurant than on the beach.


Praia da Ingrina


The water was very inviting

Following a recommendation from a friend we next headed to Praia da Zavial. This is a popular surfing beach and on this afternoon there was a long line of cars parked up to a kilometer from the shore so we moved along.


We haven’t figured out the meaning of all of these stickers, perhaps some hold a clue?

On a whim we decided to follow this sign and chance a rather rough looking road to Praia das Furnas. After about 2 kms we emerged from a small break in the cliffs to an awesome view. Across a flat stretch of gravel was a beautiful, clean golden sand beach about 1 km long. It seemed a perfect spot to stop for our picnic lunch and to relax for a while.


The car park at Praia das Furnas

Not realizing how warm it was going to be we hadn’t packed our bathing suits with us that day. So we were quite warm carrying our picnic across the sand to the water’s edge. As we reveled in the sunshine, turquoise water and golden sand it quickly became apparent that this was a clothing optional beach.

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The water was a lovely shade of turquoise over the golden sand

We have become used to the fact that nudity is more accepted in Europe than North America but this was our first experience with a beach that was primarily devoted to naturism. Swimming, fishing, surfing, wading and all other activities were carried out with apparent ease and no apparent self consciousness. We encountered families, people of all ages and a broad range of cultural backgrounds.


Keep an open mind

After a tasty and interesting picnic lunch on the sand we headed back along the road and soon reached the small town of Salema. The roads and streets of the village converged in one small square behind the beach and then wound their way back into the hills. We lucked into a parking spot, walked along the beach and stopped at a local cafe just back from the tourist cafes and restaurants. As an example of the great prices here, we paid just under €3 for a Sagres (beer), a glass of good vinho branco and a small bottle of agua com gas.


The smaller end of the beach at Salema


One of the more traditional streets in Salema


A refreshing (and well priced) pit stop

Even though it was a beautiful location in the cove, this village was a bit too touristy for us and there wasn’t a lot of local character. So we headed on behind the headlands until we spotted a break in the cliffs and followed a sign to the aptly named Praia da Boca do Rio (Beach at the River Mouth). The tide was quite high by this time so there wasn’t a lot of sand exposed but it was a picturesque spot with very few people.

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A dry river bed runs into the beach


A little added colour to the ruins at Praia da Boca do Rio


Typical landscape along these back roads


Praia da Boca do Rio from the hills above

By this time it was getting late in the afternoon but we had time for one more stop. We decided to investigate Forte de São Luís de Almádena. Some well preserved ruins of the fortress sit atop the headlands offering unimpeded views both to the East and West. It was clear why this location had been selected in 1632 by D. Luís de Sousa who was Governor General of the Kingdom of the Algarve. Interestingly as we later learned this fort was built to protect tuna fishing interests from the beach below where we had just left.


The first view of the fort


Imposing views from the remains of the ramparts

It was significantly damaged in the earthquake of 1755 and abandoned by at least 1849. There are some imposing remains of the fortress which provide a perfect backdrop to the imposing views along the coast and a fitting place to conclude our explorations for the day.


Just breathe and enjoy!

As always we thoroughly enjoyed our ramblings which each time reinforce our attraction for this corner of the Algarve.

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Glimpses of our Daily Life in Portugal: October 2017

The months of September and October have flown by. We are finding ourselves much busier than we have in a long time. We are getting out and around, discovering new (to us) areas, meeting new people and learning more about our new home.


Fried “little squid” were delicious


Sunset in our back yard

Our biggest news is that on October 17th we received our Temporary Residence Permits (Ótimo – Portuguese for Great!). Earlier posts have described the process and in our last post we explained why we didn’t get them in September. So with our Criminal Record Checks in hand we arrived at SEF (Immigration) in the morning and after a relatively easy process we are now residents of Portugal for the next year. In addition to our visas and criminal checks we had to provide proof of address, financial means, health insurance and our newly acquired fiscal numbers.


Lagos Court House where we obtained our criminal record checks


The train runs several times a day between Faro and Lagos

Much more detail on the whole process and costs incurred for obtaining the Residency Permits can be found on our timeline page. The cost for a one year permit was €159.70 each.

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Lagos has plenty of little courtyards and alleys


Boat landing at Burgau

Even after 2 months we continually marvel over the wonderful weather here. Until October 18th there was no rain and only minimal cloud since the day we arrived back in August. As great as that is however, rain is essential for the parched landscape and low reservoirs which could use many days of precipitation.


Lagos from across the street from home


The nearby landscape is very dry


Barragem Bravura provides water for many Western Algarve towns and is very low

The extended hot dry weather contributed to many new forest fires in the north of the country and they have had deadly and devastating effects. Our thoughts go out to the families who have lost loved ones and to the bombeiros who valiantly combat the fires.


Lagos Fire Station

Our day to day life starts out with coffee on our patio, watching the day come alive with the sun. Birds call out in the orchard and overhead, and the bells from the goats and nearby church provide pleasant background sounds.


Part of the local goat and sheep herd that passes our house every day

Apart from our boat trip from Sagres we haven’t been doing a lot of serious birding. We are however, getting to know the regular visitors in our orchard and around the trees in our yard. Every morning we have blackbirds, house sparrows, magpies, tits, egrets, gulls, collared doves and some occasional visitors like buzzards, chiffchaff and ravens. The flamboyant hoopoes are still with us and most days we spot a couple flying through the yard.



Now that we have a car we have begun exploring a little farther afield. We have tried to cover many of our day trips in our Exploring Portugal pages, and there are more to write up. Of course with a car come extra expenses. We were very pleased with insurance, as for just under €200 a year we have full comprehensive coverage. On the flip side of that gas is very expensive, running at around €1.40 a litre. Our little car has a tiny engine and manual transmission so it gives great mileage, just not much power on the hills.


Windmill in Budens


On the road to Aljezur


Picnic day at Arifanna

Checking out the local flea markets and the charity shops for those bargains that we can’t do without continues to be a fun pastime. We don’t buy a lot, but recently purchased a great mini barbeque and a large beach umbrella for €2 each.


Great cappuccinos at this little cafe in Lagos

We couldn’t resist going to the Hippie Market again on the last Sunday in September. As in our first visit it was a sensory delight and overflowing with great food, interesting people and a true smorgasbord of things for sale. Other than the great pakoras we didn’t buy anything this time around but had a lot of fun.


Exercise bikes to retro art and most everything in between can be found


The pakoras are excellent topped with sweet mango chutney

We really love our new apartment and have been having fun setting it up to work for us. We have bought a few things to make our life more comfortable and are preparing for the cooler and damper weather ahead. In addition to heaters and a dehumidifier, of course we needed a wine rack to store the wonderful wines that we get on sale every week at the supermarkets.


You can get a wide assortment of very nice wines at great prices

There is no shortage of activities in the area and we are beginning to figure out which ones will work for us. To care for our bodies we have joined the municipal facility Lagos en Forma. This is a modern facility operated by the Municipality of Lagos which opened 10 years ago. It has a modern and well equipped gym, three pools, an indoor court and many other amenities. At a cost of €31 per month it is great value.


“Lagos en Forma”. The municipal recreation facility.

For mental exercise, as well as to better integrate into our new home we have enrolled in a “Portuguese for Beginners” course at the Centro de Línguas Cultura e Comunicação in the nearby town of Portimão. It is a 50 hour course that runs until mid-January. We started on October 23rd and will provide an update on our progress in the next monthly post. We’re looking forward to it but are a little nervous as this is our first formal language training in many many years.


Relaxing with a coffee before class


Used for collecting stones, carrying wood and all sorts of other jobs

One Sunday we took in the Better Living in Portugal trade show in Portimão. It was organized by “Afpop” an expat support organization, and was intended to introduce expats (mostly) to services available in the Algarve. It was an informative and fun afternoon with everything from health and financial services, home improvement, funeral planning, language training, travel assistance and many food and wine producers on hand.


Better Living in Portugal (BLIP) exposition in Portimao

Amongst all of these activities and our day trips we spent 5 days in Valencia, Spain at the home of friends Kemi and Feda. Along with Dick & Anita we traveled 12 hours each way by bus and train. It was an excellent visit and we will have a separate post about that in the near future.


Plaza de Ayuntamiento, Valencia

Now that we have our Residency Permits in hand we can relax a bit and begin to establish more of a daily routine. We have little things like supermarket customer cards, our own doctor and gym memberships to make us feel like we are at home and we are starting to find favorite restaurants, walks and cafes. We can understand most of the labels at the grocery stores, menus at restaurants and how to operate the gas pumps. Once we can talk with people in Portuguese we will be even more comfortable.


Post Office in Pedralva


Anne and Kiki enjoying the sunshine, coffee and spectacular views at Arifanna

Every day we realize what a good choice Lagos, and Portugal was for us and we are grateful for having the opportunity to call it home for at least another year.

Até o mês que vem!

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Seabirds of Sagres

Warning. The following blog contains pictures that in no way resemble the magnitude of awesomeness described in the text or in reality.

The 8th Annual Sagres Birdwatching Festival took place from October 4 – 8 and was centered less than half an hour from Lagos. Coinciding with the annual raptor migration this is a well known event that draws serious birders and casual visitors from around the world.


The festival headquarters at the Beliche Fortress, just outside of Sagres


The fortress has a stunning clifftop location

Along with a small group of friends we decided to take advantage of the special festival prices and do a seabird watching tour operated by SeaXplorer Sagres. This is a well run and professional company that we would highly recommend if you are looking for a boat tour in this area.


Meeting point in Sagres


The fishing harbour of Baleeira


We spotted many gulls on these cliffs

The fishing harbour of Baleeira with its colourful boats bobbing on the waves, the smell of fish, the cries of the gulls and the surrounding cliffs is an appropriate departure point. As you round the breakwater beneath the towering cliffs you immediately feel the freshness of the Atlantic breeze. Very soon you pass the headland and have open sweeping views past Fortaleza de Sagres to Cabo de São Vicente.


The lighthouse on Cape Sagres and Cabo de Sao Vincente


Dolphins love to ride in the wake

As we left the coast we soon encountered fairly large flocks of Northern gannets and small pods of common dolphin. Some good spotting from the crew also found a half dozen Storm petrels and Wilson’s storm petrels. We were all excited to have three larger bottlenose dolphins frolic in our wake for a few minutes.


Northern gannets in flight

As enjoyable as this was, our knowledgeable guide was looking for more birds and we headed offshore to where we would be likely to encounter shearwaters. As we neared an area of stronger currents at about 10 nautical miles offshore we spotted a large group of seabirds circling in the distance. We were excited but unprepared for the spectacle we were about to witness.


Northern gannets (juvenile and adult)

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Crystal clear water allowed us to see the dolphins several feet below the boat

It soon became apparent that there was a lot of activity both on the surface and under the water. Literally hundreds of dolphins were feeding on schools of small fish which were visible from the boat. In the midst of the these schools, gannets were diving and Cory’s (as well as Great, Sooty and Manx) shearwaters were feeding from the surface and a few gulls and skuas were watching carefully to see if they could steal a lunch from the other birds. We put our cameras away and just enjoyed the extravaganza. Unfortunately, none of the pictures we had taken up to that point in any way captured the reality of this magnificent display. We hope you enjoy the pictures we did get!


On the lookout for sardines


Northern gannets

We have observed many whales, dolphins, porpoise and rays feeding in the Bay of Fundy, in the Caribbean and off the coasts of Newfoundland, Ecuador and Costa Rica but this was the most dramatic hunting display we have encountered anywhere. In every direction dolphins were feeding, jumping and racing under the boat while hundreds of seabirds either actively fed or waited for scraps. It was a feeding frenzy scene directly out of National Geographic and one of the closest examples to a bait ball you can view from a boat.

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Got lucky with this shot

After what seemed like half an hour, but was probably less, the activity gradually subsided. But even as we reluctantly headed back towards the distant coast there were still dozens of dolphins and birds lazily searching the surface for the remnants of the larger schools of fish.


Cory’s shearwater

As we neared the harbour we passed some inshore islands where a number of shags were drying their wings in the afternoon sun. We asked our guide if this had been a typical day on the water for this area and he replied that we had been very privileged to witness this display of nature’s beauty. It was much more than the usual activity. We fully agreed with him and two weeks later this remains vivid in our minds and is an experience we will always treasure.

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The end of a perfect morning

Muito obrigado Portugal!

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Praia do Castelejo: A Blue Flag Beach on the Costa Vincentina

In this short post we’ll introduce you to a few more areas in this corner of our Algarvian home. The Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vincentina stretches from Burgau in the Algarve all the way north along the Atlantic coast to Porto Covo in the Alentejo. It is a region of extensive cliffs, surfing beaches, numerous hiking opportunities and is regarded as one of the best preserved coastlines in Europe.


Typical hilltop views along this part of the coast

On a sunny September day we spent a very pleasant afternoon at the Blue Flag beach of Praia do Castelejo. The town of Vila do Bispo is about a 20 minute drive from home and is where you will find the road to Castelejo. Following the signs from the center of town you drive across the tops of the windswept hills where you will see a signpost for the road to the beach.


We knew we were on the right track


The sign for Castelejo is easy to miss

As you begin the winding descent down the mostly one lane road to the shore, glimpses of the Atlantic open up and you soon arrive at one of the two parking areas. From here it is a short walk to the beach. There is a restaurant here specializing in fresh seafood which we tried for lunch. A cold drink or coffee in one of the most picturesque spots you can imagine can’t help but bring on feelings of contentment and peace.


First glimpse of the beach


What a view!


No crowds on this day


Only surfers in the water

Dominated by immense black schist cliffs the backdrop is breathtaking. Best known by locals for fishing and surfing it is an excellent location for walking or just relaxing and watching the surf roll onto the golden sand. At low tide you can walk around the point to the adjoining Praia da Cordoama  which is equally beautiful.


The two beaches are joined at low tide

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Tide pools make for great exploration

This coast is exposed to winds directly off the Atlantic so it can be cooler than the southern beaches but it is proportionately less crowded as well. So bring along a windbreaker, your sense of adventure and just enjoy the magnificent setting – we certainly did!


A sheltered spot in the sun


Beginner’s surf lesson


Just relax and enjoy a sense of being!

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Serra de Monchique: At the Top of the Algarve

Located about 40 kilometers inland from our home in Lagos, Fóia is the highest point in the Algarve. It has an elevation of 902 m and is part of the Serra de Monchique range. We can see it from our back yard and seemed like an ideal place to begin our explorations of this part of the Algarve. This drive is about 100 kms return and you should allow plenty of time to fully enjoy the scenery and for stops along the way.


From the summit looking towards Lagos


Mount Foia as seen from our home in Atalaia

We chose to take the less traveled M532 north from Portimão to the village of Casais. Initially driving through orchards, vineyards and villages you soon enter the foothills of the Serra de Monchique.

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Along Route M532


Lowland area near Alcalar

Once you pass the village of Alcalar this is a picturesque and quiet drive with few vehicles and scattered quintas (farms) nestled among the rolling hills. Charred trees contrast with new growth, evidence of the damage of past forest fires.


In the foothills of the Serra Monchique

You soon meet the N267 which crosses from Alzejur in the west to Monchique, at the sleepy but scenic village of Casais. This winding stretch of road has many scenic vistas as it snakes its way past traditional villas and modest homes perched on the hillside.


Near the village of Casais


Cork farm as you enter Monchique

We chose not to stop in the historic town of Monchique this time, but will definitely return for a longer visit. After passing through Monchique there is a well-marked road to the left that is the start of a very scenic loop that takes you to the top of Fóia. Several hiking trails and small lanes invite you to slow down and walk along the terraced hillsides. Another reason to return.


A pleasant drive to the summit from Monchique

At the summit there are several telecommunications antennas, a military radar installation as well as a gift shop, restaurant and a craft gallery. It was a beautiful day when we were there with a light westerly breeze and bright sunshine. Perfect for a picnic.


Restaurant and gift shop


Craft gallery at the summit


A small sample of the local crafts on display


Panoramic view to the West Coast (Costa Vincentina)

The views to the south and west are spectacular and expansive, reaching to the Atlantic in both directions. As you start the drive down from the summit there is an attractive picnic area with a spring-fed fountain. The vendor selling snacks and drinks looks as if he is there every day.


A pleasant rest area just below the summit


As we are quickly discovering, the back roads of this part of the country hold many hidden treasures and offer an excellent opportunity for us to learn more about our new home.

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Portuguese Residents: Almost!

It has been just over a month since we arrived in Lagos and we have been busy. In addition to catching up with friends (and making some new ones) we now have our own accommodation, bank account, health insurance and car. We had hoped to have our Temporary Residence Permits but the stars didn’t quite align themselves for that to happen this month.


Our new home in the morning light. We rent the lower portion.


Our “new” wheels

Our scheduled appointment was on September 14 at the SEF (Immigration) office in Portimão. We arrived early and took our place in the queue. After a half hour wait we sat down in front of the Immigration Officer only to be told that the servers required to run the routine criminal record check were down and they didn’t know when they would be back online. SEF routinely runs a current check every time you visit to ensure that you haven’t been up to any illegal activity in Portugal.


SEF Regional Office in Portimao

So we left with a new appointment booked for October 17, a little disappointed but reassured that everything was in order. They suggested we go to the local Tribunal Judicial da Comarca (court house) and obtain a clearance from them as they are good for 90 days, and bring it with us for our October appointment just in case there were computer problems on that day.


Lagos harbour from the Old Town

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Anne and Anita enjoying the warm Atlantic

Our first month was a combination of relaxation and putting together all of the pieces for our meeting with SEF. In addition to the information and documents required it is necessary to have a Fiscal Number and a bone fide address in Portugal. For us this was the most challenging aspect as we don’t have a registered lease as we are renting from friends. Our previous post explains how to work through this process.


The former Lagos jail now houses an arts cooperative


View across the cell block

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This was the former outdoor activity area

Before we got our car we didn’t have the opportunity to begin exploring very far afield, but we had a lot of fun poking around Lagos itself, trying new restaurants and cafes and discovering new streets and alleyways.


Ruins are common in the areas surrounding town


Murals and street art are common in Lagos

Now that we have our own place, we do need a few practical and decorative items. We have always enjoyed local flea markets, yard sales and second hand shops and there are markets of almost every description here. It has been a lot of fun spending time at the hippie market, boot sales and charity shops as well as the more traditional markets.


One of many caravans at the hippie market

The last Sunday of every month is the not quite officially sanctioned “hippie market”. Located 15 minutes outside of Lagos, this is a treat for the senses and regardless of your background it is certain to bring back memories of the sixties and seventies. Combine the following ingredients: flea market, organic farmers market, alternative lifestyle showcase, converted caravans, street food, craft show and add in some Portuguese flavor and you will have the basis for this lively and colourful market experience. The following pictures should give you an idea of what to expect.





The monthly boot sale in Lagos is another popular event although on a more sedate level. Located within the town limits, this market features a few vendors selling from the trunks of their cars (boot) but mostly from portable stalls and tables. As with most sales of this type there are lots of used goods that you’re better off without but invariably you can find some hidden gems.


Monthly boot sale in Lagos

The Saturday morning farmer’s market is a traditional favorite. Located in two large buildings downtown, the market can be very busy and hard to navigate in the summer months, but when we visited last fall it was less crowded. The vendors are cheerful and anxious for you to try their produce.


Saturday morning farmer’s market

Another year round shopping experience that you should try is the daily (except Sunday) fresh fish and seafood market. Located on the main avenue there are about 30 vendors who sell every species imaginable that is available in the surrounding waters.


Daily fish market


Plenty of fresh choices

One afternoon we thoroughly enjoyed an excellent meal of fresh grilled sardines at Restaurant Escondidinho with local friends. We were there over lunch time and the owner scrambled from table to table with racks of sardines and other fish fresh off the charcoal grills in the back. It is an all you can eat affair and he keeps bringing them out until you signal for no more! We had sardines and horse mackerel as well as a wonderful tuna steak accompanied by fresh salad and potatoes. Washing it down with white wine cut with sparkling water is refreshing with the salty sardines. As a bonus – if you can eat 43 sardines your meal is free – none of us made it!


Excellent grilled fresh fish


Good food and good company

About 15 minutes away is the traditional fishing village of Burgau. We’re checking out the sports club there and took the opportunity to walk the narrow streets to the beach. It was a stunning afternoon and we enjoyed a cold drink overlooking the sparkling water.


Praia do Burgau


Boat landing at Burgau

After we got our car we started learning the roundabouts and directions. We drove a friend to the airport in Faro and to our SEF appointment in Portimão. We’ve done well and the only mistake so far has been ending up in the narrow maze of one way streets in the old town. Fortunately after 10 minutes of winding through this maze we popped out on one of the wider streets.


One of the many narrow one way streets of Old Town Lagos

As we now have a lot of the initial work done we have more time for local exploration by walking the road behind our villa, equipping our home (buying stuff) and learning elementary Portuguese from our friendly gardener Jose.


Street side of our villa looking inland towards Monchique


A great walking road behind our villa


Northern Wheatear

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Part of a small herd of goats and sheep in the fields next to our villa

We are looking forward to the coming months and will regularly provide updates on our integration into life here in the Algarve. Tchau!

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Returning to Portugal: We’re not Tourists This Time

On August 10, 2017 Lufthansa Flight 6952 touched down in Lisbon following a 2 hour flight from Frankfurt. Having missed their original connecting flight from Halifax, two Canadian travelers on board were a little weary but still very excited to see the pastel buildings of the city rising up the hills from the banks of the Tagus River.


We would have preferred not to see the Departures board in Frankfurt


Unmistakable Lisbon

We have flown into many cities over the past two years but this time felt very different. We weren’t coming for a short visit or as a jumping off point, we had actually committed to immigration with our new Residency Visas shining brightly in our passports. Something as simple as emerging into the Arrivals area and stepping onto the sidewalk felt like a whole new beginning.


Sunrise in Porto de Mos

As you know by now we loved our time in Portugal last year and have been eagerly anticipating our return since leaving in early January. We are going to be settling in Lagos for the immediate future and have accommodation here until April 2018. In addition to working through all of the paperwork and logistics to become residents, we will be exploring and looking for a long term base. Whether that is in the Algarve or not remains to be seen.


A different twist on the Algarve chimneys in Silves

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A freshly mown field captures the morning light

As we ended up on a later flight, we missed our afternoon bus to Lagos, so rather than take an evening one we decided to get caught up on our sleep and stayed the night at an airport hotel. A comfy bed, some time to gather our thoughts and a terrific breakfast buffet the next morning combined to make it a great choice.


A convenient choice within walking distance of the airport


Our bed may have been crowded but it sure was comfortable

The next morning we were rested and excited to catch a bus for Lagos. A big shout out to Dick and Anita at No Particular Place to Go for putting us up for three weeks, but also for sharing their experience and contacts with us. Also a big thank you to our friend Kiki who lugged us around when we arrived, and has been supportive in so many ways.


These four bags carried everything we’re bringing with us


In addition to Portuguese restaurants, small British pubs are common in Lagos


There is a good selection of Indian curry shops

Lagos in the height of the tourist season is quite different from when we left in the winter. At that time it was quiet and relaxed with little traffic, no lines at the grocery stores and only a few people on the streets. Now there are waits to enter the traffic circles, crowded aisles and queues at the supermarket checkouts, and a broad spectrum of languages and nationalities on the streets. For those of us who prefer a relaxed pace it seems crowded, but it is important for the local businesses.


Busy parking lot at Praia do Porto de Mos


Plenty of colourful umbrellas


The drawbridge connects downtown Lagos to the popular marina

Our first two weeks have not been typical in that we are not starting from scratch with the language, street directions and food choices. We have been here before but more than that this time we are here for the long haul. We can take time to learn enough of the language to have more than a fleeting encounter with people, experiment with local ingredients and recipes, and discover special picnic places along the shore and on the inland hillsides.


A tiny sample of the fresh seafood at the Lagos fish market


Black-winged stilt in the shallows of the Arade River, Silves

One of our personal goals is to complete the 450 km Rota Vicentina which runs from Santiago de Cacém to Cabo de São Vicente. The trails of this system traverse a broad range of regions and ecosystems across southwest Portugal and are calling out for slow exploration.


The spectacular Costa Vicentina

To do all of the things we want requires patience and we have already found ourselves more relaxed and focused than in quite some time. So for now we are starting with the requirements to obtain our Temporary Residency Permit which allows us one year in Portugal. This can be renewed in two year increments.


The late afternoon sun paints beautiful pastel colours at Sagres

The first step was to obtain our Número de identifição fiscal (NIF). These are available from the local finance office (finanças), however we chose to go through ACOQ, a local Tax and Business consultancy who we would recommend if you are looking for fiscal representation. A NIF is required to open a bank account, make major purchases and obtain the Residency Permit. With their assistance the process was quick and efficient. The total cost was €413 for both of us including the fees.


The staff at the Lagos freguesia were very helpful and friendly

With our fiscal numbers we were able to open a Portuguese bank account and obtain private health insurance at what we felt were very competitive rates. Be aware that you will need an address and rental contract for almost everything you do. This can take the form of a lease, rental agreement or in some circumstances you may also be able to obtain a signed proof of address from the local Junta de Freguesia (a local municipal government office). Immigration and Borders Services or Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) are very strict about this, as are all government services.


This will be our new street address


Amazing blue skies – every day

Our own situation is a good example as we plan to rent from the owners of a villa and will not have a formal lease. As such we needed to find two local citizens to attest to the fact that we will be living at the address and register the document with the local freguesia. Initially however the bank accepted an email confirmation of our address as did one of the major telecom companies. We have a cellular, internet and television package contract at a fraction of the cost we are accustomed to in Canada.


Taking a break from appointments for a light lunch in small square

With these initial steps completed we have a meeting with SEF scheduled for mid-September to apply for our Temporary Residence Permit. We are regularly updating all the steps on our new Emigrating to Portugal page which we hope will be a helpful resource for anyone considering a move to Portugal. Another particularly good site is the Gail at Large – Life in Portugal page by fellow Canadian Gail Aguiar which has extensive links to online resources.


There is an amazing variety of canned fish and shellfish here and the packaging is delightful

Prior to our SEF meeting we plan to move into our own place and we are actively looking for a car. When we haven’t been working through logistics, we have really enjoyed walking and birding, swimming both in the pool and at nearby Praia do Porto de Mós, exploring the well stocked supermarkets, drinking great wine and coffee, catching up with old friends and meeting new people.


A shortcut home with groceries


We have discovered the delights of fresh figs. These are the Black Mission variety.

Our plan for the blog in the future is to do a monthly “catch-up” type post where we talk about day to day life in Portugal. We will add new shorter specific posts to the Exploring Portugal pages as we explore the villages, countryside and special places of this beautiful and peaceful country.

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