Well, we’re back in Albufeira after an absence of eight months and we couldn’t be happier, if only because the sun is shining, the days are warm and the dark, damp Welsh autumn already seems a million miles away (it’s actually around 1,600 miles by road/ferry).
Last year we fulfilled my dream of a lifetime and escaped the British winter from December through to the beginning of March to live in this beautiful region of Portugal. Within a month, we’d decided to do it again this year and paid a month’s deposit on the same Cerro Grande villa. Sadly, the arrangement fell through when the owner’s son decided he wanted to live in it, but our lettings agent Vincent quickly found us a second villa, this time with three bedrooms, three terraces and wonderful sea views. It’s slightly more expensive but it’s a much nicer property and even closer to our favourite Arte Bar (where we have wasted no time signing up for the Christmas dinner at a local Portuguese restaurant).
Wintering in the Algarve is perfect for outdoor types. When we arrived last December, the days were cooler than they are now, but still mostly fine and there was enough daylight to complete some decent-length hikes, especially if we stayed overnight at our destination. Christmas Day 2017 was perfect; with no traditional lunch to concern myself with, we walked along the coast to Armação de Pêra where we sat sipping wine on a beach restaurant terrace overlooking a sparkling turquoise sea. The day after Boxing Day, we packed our rucksacks and again headed west, this time reaching the pretty fishing village of Alvor by foot before hopping onto a bus to Lagos for our final night (there’s a lagoon between the two places, hence us not being able to walk the whole way).
We’re here for five months this winter so Harri has plenty of hikes planned, including a longer walk along both banks of the Guadiana, the river which defines the Portugal-Spain border in the Algarve (and some way into the Alentejo). We stayed in Vila Real de Santo António (Portugal) and Sanlúcar de Guadiana (Spain) as we geared up for walking the Via Algarviana in May 2015 and are looking forward to visiting both places again. We’re also planning to walk to Salir, our favourite inland village and a place we have considered living permanently (once we master Portuguese!).
Our first full day (Friday) was inevitably spent stocking up of the basics of life, i.e. toiletries, kitchen staples, food for the week, nibbles for our planned weekend of walking and plenty of beer and wine, including the cheap stuff for cooking (a one-litre carton of red/wine costs an incredible 69 cents at Lidl). We bought so much we needed two trolleys and a taxi home, but fortunately there’s usually a taxi or two hanging around outside the supermarkets.
Unfortunately, the weather on our first full evening was very reminiscent of a wet November night at home, with the rain so torrential that we abandoned our plans to walk into Old Town and instead popped upstairs to the Indian restaurant above Arte Bar which was closed the whole time we were here last year and was again just days from closing for the winter. The food was delicious so it’s a shame we won’t be eating there again.
Thank goodness the Algarve sun made its reappearance the following morning as we had plans … hiking plans! We’d tried to follow the established clifftop path from Albufeira to Praia da Galé previously ( in the opposite direction) but ended up not quite sticking to it. This time, Harri had done his research on Google Maps and he thought he had a better idea of the route. The sandstone cliffs along this whole stretch of coastline are eroding rapidly and it’s not usual to see signs of recent collapse and vegetation that is clinging on for its life. It may be dangerous – and we kept well away from the cliff edge – but it certainly makes for some stunning scenery.
It was wonderful to be walking along the beach, getting our feet wet in the waves and feeling the sun hot on our faces … and all this the day before Bonfire Night. We didn’t push the distance as we were too busy reacquainting ourselves with the sights and smells of the Algarve. We stopped briefly at Armação de Pêra for a beer before heading back through Pêra Marsh marsh alongside Salgados lagoon and then along quiet roads then country lanes to reach Pateo, one of our favourite areas in Albufeira.
We headed east on Sunday, repeating the order of that first weekend in Albufeira last December and reaching the pretty fishing village of Olhos de Agua before retracing our steps. The cliffs along this stretch of coast are impassable at times, although in other places the constant sea erosion has carved out a wide platform which is popular with walkers. You do have to watch where you’re putting your feet though as there are an awful lot of holes in the ground where the sea is eroding the cliffs from the bottom up.
Sadly, all this gallivanting has to be paid for somehow so the rest of the week Harri was at his desk working hard and I was also working … though maybe not for as long and hard as him. I’ve got freelance work at the moment so I’m aiming to work about 20 hours a week until Christmas. After that, it’ll be back to my own devices, which last winter meant an awful lot of trips to the supermarket (the perfect excuse for a long stroll in the sun!). I am going to finish the first draft of that novel too!
Oh, and I’m marathon training again, as I couldn’t resist signing up for the very first Newport marathon on April 29 2018 (just 166 days away as the website helpfully informs me). It’s going to be hard to train without the support of my running buddies back home, but the decent winter weather will more than compensate. I will never, ever forget our tortuous final training run for the London marathon in 2015 when the weather threw everything at us for the first half of our 21-mile run and then blow-dried us furiously throughout the second half! If anything, I’m worried it will be too hot by March when I’ll be doing my longest runs. It’s very hilly here too which isn’t ideal for my long runs – although keeping them slow shouldn’t be a problem!
Of course, there are downsides to everything in life and for me it’s being apart from my three adult daughters and lovely grand-daughters for so long. My youngest daughter visited last winter and my eldest is bringing my grand-daughters here in time for Albufeira’s fantastic free New Year Celebrations, including a huge fireworks display and a live beach concert. I’m hoping the others will come to stay too but they lead busy lives so I’m not sure it will happen. In my perfect world, I wish I could bring my family out here to live!