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Kelly Cheek
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There'll be peace of mind
When we live in a world of our own

Our first trip to Portugal is already over, and even though we likely won’t be moving there for some time, due to Linda’s family commitments, the trip was helpful. We were able to eliminate a few places from our list of possibilities and elevate the standing of a couple of others.

We’ve confirmed one thing we’ve been suspecting for a little while. The recent popularity of the country with expats has driven up prices so that it’s not the super-cheap haven it was only a couple of years ago when we first started checking it out. While in most parts of the country, the cost of living is still lower than in the States, property prices and rents are higher than just two years ago. Especially is this true near city centers, the historical, and most desirable, parts of the towns.

We enjoyed Tavira and Lagos (la´gōsh), particularly their old-world charm, but decided that we couldn’t really see ourselves living there, for various reasons. However, two of the places we’ve visited, as I said, have risen on our list. I’ll start out here with the first one.

Silves (sil´vesh) is a wonderful old town, built on a hill around a twelfth-century castle. There are newer neighborhoods surrounding the original village – houses, townhomes and apartments with the white stucco and red tile roofs so common throughout Portugal. But we fell in love with the historical centro, or central part of town.

It’s a small town. According to Wikipedia, “The population of the entire municipality of Silves in 2011 was 37,126. The urbanized area of the city proper has approximately 11,000 inhabitants.” While they have petrol stations and a modern grocery store, Linda and I enjoyed wandering through the street market, purchasing fresh figs and other produce.

Other places we’ve visited in Portugal had a large tourist draw, and because of that, most people spoke at least some English. Many are fluent. Silves, though, isn’t your typical tourist destination. They do hold an annual Medieval Festival in the historic neighborhoods surrounding the castle, which attracts a number of visitors in the late summer, but it’s not a slick resort area. I mean the town has only one old hotel, so they don’t put up a lot of people like Lisbon or Lagos. And that’s a big part of what attracted us to it.

We want to experience and enjoy the native culture rather than just mingling with other expats. But that lack of tourist destination mentality meant that English isn’t spoken or understood there as much. A couple of the produce vendors spoke no English at all, so orders were placed by pointing at price signs they had posted and using a number of fingers to communicate how many.

Living in a place like that would force us to learn the language faster – faster being a relative term considering the complication of the language. In the meantime, though, we would struggle to understand and be understood. So that’s one point in the con column of our pros and cons list.

One endearing thing about Silves, and the surrounding area, is their population of storks. The white storks used to migrate from all over Europe to sub-Saharan Africa in the winter. In the last twenty or thirty, though, many storks have chosen to stay in Silves year-round. (We’re not the only ones who find it appealing!)


The population of storks in the area in 1995 was estimated to be about 1,000. In 2014, that estimate rose to 14,000. We saw them nesting on multiple roofs, chimneys and street lights, and even in one vast field where there were innumerable posts that looked to be spaced equidistant from each other, standing the same height, and were, apparently, for the sole purpose of providing a space for a stork nest.

I think we both could have spent more time in Silves, wandering the cobblestone streets, admiring the old-world architecture and the storks, and just generally soaking up the history. But Linda had lessons to teach that afternoon and we had to get to our next place of lodging so she could do that.

So we began our short drive down from the hills of Silves to the shoreline location of our other favorite.

Alvor was a very different town from Silves, yet we really liked it. Parts of it, I thought, had an almost southern California look to it, though it had plenty of the old world charm, too. And being an old fishing village, the nearby shoreline added points as well.

After the more intensive scouting we did in the first part of our visit, Alvor was meant to be a bit of vacation time at the end of the trip, though we did do a little scouting here, too. Being on the ocean, Alvor does have some tourism going on, but there aren’t any of those sprawling slick resorts there. Yet.

The town was founded in 436 BC. That’s right, BC! Yeah, I know, that was a little while ago. There’s no architecture from back then still standing, but a stone fortress was built there in the 1300s. It was destroyed in the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, but portions of the wall remain.

We stayed in a very small, very modern, very inconvenient apartment on the fourth floor of a building a few steps from the beach, yet we consider our time there one of the highlights of the trip. Our unit, unfortunately, didn’t face the ocean, but we did have a very nice view of the town.

Being there in the ‘off-season,’ neither the beach nor the town were crowded at all. In fact, it was often chilly and windy, which made our walks along the beach and the boardwalk reminiscent of our visit to Cape Cod on our October honeymoon. But it was beautiful. We took several walks out there and took lots of pictures.


Alvor has some very walkable areas. We weren’t near the centro area, but still, there were a number of useful places nearby. In the few days we were there, I twice walked to a grocery store that was just a few minutes away. In that same area, there were several restaurants, two of which we visited. (We were very pleased with both!)

Driving around the town, we looked for neighborhoods and houses that appealed to us, and that would serve our needs (including the two dogs). There were several, though the enclosed yards we saw were considerably smaller than the one we have now.

In fact, this seemed to be the case in every town we visited. Grassy lawns or gardens didn’t seem to be a priority. In many cases, especially in the older parts of the towns, the house was right on the street, often connected to other houses on either side, and separated from the cobblestone street only by a narrow cobblestone sidewalk.

During the whole trip, there wasn’t any of the food we had that we didn’t like. Depending on where we stayed, some of the food we prepared ourselves, with groceries purchased at the local market. Other times, we went to restaurants or cafes.

Fresh fish, especially there on the shore, almost always played a part in the menu. Portugal is especially known for its sardines, and we were anxious to try fresh grilled sardines. Alas, we were there at the very beginning of the season, and nobody had fresh sardines yet. I guess we’ll have to go back.

In all of our reading and research, one thing that really stood out about Portugal was its people. Helpful, friendly, welcoming, those were words that were used frequently in the articles and blogs we read, and we found them to be quite accurate. The Portuguese are a very warm and friendly people, and their smiles came easily.

In our search for a place to move, to spend our retirement years, the main thing we want is peace of mind. With all of its familiarity, the United States in recent years has also piled on political turmoil, violence and financial hardship. Realistically, we know that we can’t escape these things entirely. No place is perfect, but we do have certain priorities. Healthcare, as I’ve written about in the past, is a primary concern as we get older. We don’t want to go bankrupt if a major health issue arises. But besides that, we also want a place that can provide a friendly, welcoming environment.

And in this way, Portugal has definitely set itself up as a main contender!