Portugal’s Seven Provinces – Which One Will Suit You?
Whilst the Algarve is possibly the best known region in Portugal, there is much else to explore and to consider when deciding where to live.
Within these contrasting landscapes are central Portugal, which includes the ancient university city of Coimbra, and south of it, the adjacent region of Lisbon in the industrial hinterland. Further south and above the Algarve is Alentejo, the country’s most agricultural area – a sleepy landscape of cork groves, vineyards and pine forests with crumbling farmhouses that have yet to be discovered by adventurous retirees.
In addition to mainland Portugal, the country also includes two autonomous island territories in the Atlantic Ocean, the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores – vestiges of a sprawling global empire which once embraced nearly half of the new world including Brazil, large parts of Africa, mainland China, India and Indochina. Madeira is more likely to be of interest to retirees than the remote and wind-scoured Azores.
Of the country’s regions the Algarve is still by some distance the most popular choice for Britons. But it isn’t the only choice. If you are drawn to living in a major city, then the country’s stylish capital Lisbon and its historic northern neighbour Porto are among the most eligible candidates in Europe.
Lisbon is one of the great European capital cities, a place of tangible history where trams rattle through cobblestone streets past richly decorated buildings showcasing a living museum of architectural styles from the Moors to Art Nouveau, much of it influenced by centuries of global trading and colonisation. Often described as the ‘city of light’, Lisbon has a surprise around every corner: a hilly landscape of honeycombed alleys and paths one way, sweeping miradors over land and sea the other, and everywhere you look a palette of brilliantly coloured buildings.
Lisbon’s coast also offers some exquisite retirement spots in Cascais and Estoril, once home to aristocrats and WW2 double agents, but now elegant sanctuaries for those seeking a quiet life with sea views.
Porto, the country’s second city and UNESCO world heritage site, is, like Lisbon, a seductive synthesis of historic and contemporary attractions. The capital of the ‘Norte’ region, it is a thriving commercial and cultural hub with much to offer art lovers – and foodies, indeed, with seafood a particular speciality of Porto and its neighbouring coastal resorts.
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So to the Algarve, whose weather, scenery and lifestyle offer something for everyone but are particularly loved by northern European expats. It was described by a US newspaper as ‘the best place in the world to live or retire that nobody’s talking about’.
The article highlighted Silves and Lagoa, west of the Algarve’s capital Faro, as ‘particularly appealing’, but don’t ignore the gateway to the region itself, Faro, which, like most airport towns, is often overlooked by holidaymakers and home-buyers in a rush to the main resort areas.
It shouldn’t be. If you get past the shabby outskirts, Faro is as authentic as southern Portugal gets, with a well-preserved medieval quarter, a maze of narrow car-free lanes and alleys, lush parks and elegant plazas. It is also on the doorstep of protected natural parkland, easily accessible beaches and some of the most exclusive golf courses in the world. The lawns of the nearby exclusive Quinta do Lago golf resort border some of the most expensive real estate in Europe.
With a large student community at the University of the Algarve, there is a metropolitan buzz about Faro which is not found elsewhere in the region – with the possible exception of Albufeira, the main resort town of the Algarve and a magnet for tourists and revellers. In the opposite direction, towards the Spanish border, it contrasts with the elegant old town of Tavira, an increasingly popular choice for expats drawn by its classical architecture, including a famous seven-arch Roman bridge, and access to a beautiful island beach on the Ilha de Tavira.
The central Algarve between Faro and Sagres is the unquestioned centre of the Portuguese tourist industry, but the beaches are so plentiful that there is little difficulty in avoiding the crowds. Within a short drive of the homogeneous cluster of villas and gaudy bars along the coast, visitors will stumble across enchanting hill towns and the 300km Via Algarviana pilgrimage route, traversing the breadth of the region.
The western Algarve is another story – one more about nature and less about development – although its rugged nature and exposure to Atlantic winds may not be to every expat’s taste.
How important is the weather? Be aware of very different climates in the country’s regions. Porto is on the same latitude as New York, which is likely to mean colder winters and hot summers. The Algarve has more consistent conditions year round and is warmer and drier than in other areas.
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