AH, TO WINTER IN SUNNY PORTUGAL
Portugal in winter is almost a best-kept secret, unless you are European (especially British.) The British have been coming to this country and to Spain in the colder winter months to enjoy the sunshine for years. If you are looking for a winter stay of a month or more with heat, humidity, hordes of fellow visitors, and
party atmosphere then this is probably not the place for you. Looking for warmer temperatures (think a pleasant Canadian fall day), history, culture, nature, then this is your ticket to a great winter getaway. Because of the influx of British, language is rarely a problem. Oh, and there are beaches too.
Depending on your needs for your extended stay, you have quite a few areas to choose from in this long, narrow country which borders the Atlantic on the west, and narrowly, the Mediterranean in the south. In this article, we will touch on four possible vacation spots: the Alentejo, the more well-known Algarve, Lisbon, and the Azores.
Alentejo is a largely quiet, pastoral area of country below the Tagus River, encompassing a 100 km. stretch of Atlantic beaches some swear are the best in Europe. It is an extremely quiet spot in the winter months. It is a bit isolated, being a couple hours distant from the airports at Lisbon or Faro, and with no public transport. To get about you must hire a rental car. Accommodations are not beachside (the beaches lie in a national park). But you do get to relax, enjoy the wondrous beauties of the countryside, and largely deserted Atlantic shores at this time of year. If you surf, you can be in no better place. It is also a must for those who enjoy hiking, bird watching and biking. The temperature ranges from the low to mid teens.
The Algarve region is in the southwestern part of Portugal with influences to be seen of its Moorish and Roman history. This is the go-to resort and holiday region of Portugal, both in summer and winter. In summer, it teems with holiday makers but quietens down a bit in winter. The temperature here might be slightly higher than in the Alentejo region.
You can fly into Faro, one of its main cities but most people head for towns such as Tavira, a quiet place with historic architecture and a fourteen-km. beach offshore: a sandspit, called Ilha de Tavira, reached by ferry. This is okay if you don’t have to be at the beach everyday as it is a jaunt. It’s a good area to chill out and live life slow for the winter.
Another quiet spot is Lagos, an old Moorish walled town, with lovely Atlantic beaches, a nightlife, and a variety of dining and drinking spots. Not far from town are the majestic cliffs and views from the Ponta de Piedade. This resort town is a great base for exploring the rest of the Algarve. Here you do not need to rent a car as there are opportunities for guided day trips and public transport. It is a quiet, safe area recommended for families, or if your family will be coming to visit during your stay. There are water parks and lots to do within easy distances.
A more “hip” spot is the town of Albufeira with a marina, 24-hour bars, restaurants galore and shopping delights. It’s busier – even in winter – than Tavira and some of the other towns in this region. The marina boasts diving opportunities, dolphin watching, and boat tours. And there is access to two great beach areas. It also has a convenient public transport system for day trips.
Need to be active and on the go most every day of your stay? With access to museums, nightlife, restaurants, stores and all the other offerings of a big city?
Lisbon may be the answer for you. It is a vibrant, modern European city. You may have to opt for less glamorous accommodations depending on your budget, but with all this at your doorstep, it may be the ideal choice for you. For a change of pace, you can still visit the quiet countryside or a beach on a day trip. Public transport in the form of buses and trains will get you there. A little longer trip? Head north to Porto for a week long river cruise through wine country in the valley of the Duoro River. Lisbon, of course, also has an airport which – if you want to take a mini-vacation off shore during your long stay – will take you to our fourth suggestion: the Azores.
The Azores are an archipelago of islands in the Atlantic about eight hundred or so miles off Portugal. Because of the Gulf Stream, the weather here tends to be the warmest of the four regions in winter. Each island is different so some advance homework is required. Your travel professional can help pair you with the best choice for your vacation needs. There’s lots to experience here from quiet restful days to active adventuring (hiking, biking, swimming,and so on). You do need to rent a car however if you plan to travel extensively from spot to spot on the island of your choice as public transport is virtually nil. The Azores is a wonderful place to really immerse yourself in the local culture. The vibe here is strictly non-tourist.As with any vacation – long stay or not – there are many factors to consider when matching your vacation objectives in mind to the many opportunities available in Portugal by the way of locations; hiding away for complete relaxation; the chance to mingle locally; engaging a whirlwind of non-stop activities or adventure; or your desired mix of all or some of these lifestyle choices. And then you must consider your length of stay and your budget. There are accommodation opportunities from villas, bed and breakfasts, resorts, apartment rentals, and even camper stays. Engaging the expertise of your expert travel advisor is a must; yours is a long-stay vacation leaving you less room for error in deciding between all these vacation variables. But one thing is certain: with a winter stay in Portugal on your horizon you are spoiled for choice.