Our Portugal Road-Trip Guide

Our Portugal Road-Trip Guide

Portugal, a gem on the western edge of the Iberian Peninsular may be the farthest west of its European neighbours although don’t let its distance fool you. This is a chocolate-box of goodies that, once you open will have you hooked. After 40 days and 40 nights exploring this Iberian beauty in March 2019, we have plenty to share of our adventures both inland and along its award winning coast.

Whether Portugal is new to you or may be just a little known, let us inspire you to consider travelling to this western treasure. Sit back and indulge yourself in thoughts of how Portugal could become your next expedition as we share our route highlights, discoveries and delights.

 

14 things we learned and discovered about Portugal 

1. Portugal’s countryside so often felt like the ‘green, green grass of home’. With rolling hills and a lusciousness that had a feel of UK, Portugal had an instant appeal. No parched lands; instead acres of green pastures that felt instantly comfortable.

2. Portugal has a strong affiliation with UK dating back to 1386 with the Treaty of Windsor. That alliance is still in place today and so the two countries remain intrinsically linked and there is evidence of this everywhere. From red pilar boxes and telephone kiosks to the warmest welcome from a gracious population.

3. Like every country Portugal has its motorway network, some of which are payable. Although for the whole of our 40 days we navigated our way around the country without touching one single motorway. 

4. On paper the Portuguese language may look similar to Spanish, yet the sounds are completely different. Although with a few basics we were understood. That said a lot of tourist Portuguese speak English, whilst the locals in towns do not, so be prepared. Check out our Getting by in Guide to languages, where you will learn essential phrases for Portuguese on Page 55.

5. Portugal has a rich cultural and historical diversity. With influences going back to the Romans and through to the bloody battles between the Moors and Christians, scars are etched into every town.

6. Portugal has the best coastline we have seen throughout Europe. If you want long stretches of iconic golden sands, that would feel at home in any Caribbean Holiday brochure, come to Portugal.

  1. Portugal has been shaped by seismic activity for thousands of years due to the close proximity of a number of major fault-lines, evidence of which you can see all around the coast. In particular, the earthquake of 1 November 1755, which destroyed Lisbon, impacted hugely on the Algarve coast thanks to the resulting tsunami. The more recent tremor of 1969 further moulded the coastline and the threat of earthquakes remains a constant threat to the Portugal landscape. So be mindful of this as you hike the coast.
  1. From a gastronomy viewpoint, Portugal will not disappoint. You must try Naters; a sweet pastry tart filled with cream-custard. They are a delicious if not a decadent treat. Then there’s the fish, which with a coastline as extensive as Portugal’s, you can guarantee taste and quality.  And do not forget the Douro Valley for its tawny and ruby alchemy – Port. This is elegance personified and is a Portuguese must.
  1. Portugal is a proud nation with values that give it an authentic and classic feel. Families are honoured, the earth is nurtured and respected and their heritage fiercely protected. Everywhere we travelled there was a depth and character to their towns, traditions and people. Sometimes those invisible yet intrinsic features of a country are what create the meaningful memories of a trip.
  1. Cork production is a major industry, especially in the Alentejos and Algarve regions. Roads are bordered by cork oak trees that stand naked; their bark stripped for this local commodity that, once processed is made into all nature of products from shoes, handbags and bottle stoppers. Check out Loulé for its cork selling shops which will have you mooching for hours.

11. Whilst Portugal’s flag may well be green and red, be in no doubt that yellow is more akin to Portugal’s natural hew – especially in spring. From the tiny yellow balls of the evocatively smelling Mimosa and the Ice flowers along the coast, to Lupins and Daisies – yellow covers every vista you see. 

12. I learnt that with so much time on the coast I became really dehydrated, despite drinking four pints of water a day. Being in the salt air, so consistently does make hair and skin dry out – so drink plenty of water.

13. Intermarché is well set up with washing machine facilities (€4-€8 for a wash and €2 per 20mins to dry). Some even have drinking water, waste and toilet cassette dumps too. Also if you travel in a campervan, then most of Lidl supermarkets have motorhome specific parking bays.

14. Camping is cheap in Portugal. For 40 nights we spent less than €100, which makes it by far the cheapest country we have stayed in. 95% of our overnight stops were either free because we camped wild or in cheap Aires. We had one night in a commercial campsite which cost us €25, although it did have every facility and activity you can imagine.

Click on the image below to see our floral gallery

 

 

Our interactive route map

Over 40 days, whilst we travelled around 800 miles, we really didn’t even scratch the surface of this fair land. Still it has made enough of an impression that we will return without argument or dispute. 

Below you will find our comprehensive Interactive Route Map that shows you the routes we took, our POI and the overnight stops that we called home. Click on the map to see the detail.

 

 

Getting the most from your trip to Portugal

There is so much gorgeousness we could share with you, that it’s difficult to know how best to present it. So after much deliberation, we have decided to structure it shaped around Portugal’s mainland regions – well the ones we visited! Each section has a Quick Reference Guide so you know what to expect (based on our experiences). 

As we haven’t seen the whole country, a guide like this is always a little bias and incomplete. Although our intention is to simply share our love for the places we explored, and hope it might inspire you to visit some of those off-the-beaten-track places that we loved so much. 

 

Portugal’s sunshine state – Algarve

Quick Reference Guide 

  • The central area of Algarve is great for golf courses, marinas and nightlife
  • Capital Faro, is the main airport servicing the region
  • West is best for dramatic coastal scenery
  • Alvor is where we found some of the best rock formations – go at low tide to walk amongst them
  • Algarve has one of the world’s Top 100 Beaches – Praia de Marinha
  • It has some of the best coastal hiking using way-marked walks
  • Is one of the most built up and touristy regions of Portugal
  • If you love water sports or want to visit the famous caves, it’s best to visit from May to September when the weather calms. Winter and early spring is great for dramatic waves and so is often too rough for boat trips
  • Cheap Aires for campervans are available throughout the region ranging from €4 – €9 many with electrical hook up 
  • Eating out is cheap and fish is particularly good along this southern coast. 

 

Whilst Portugal’s Algarve is one of the most ‘go to’ destinations, there are so many more delights along the coast and inland that will enrich your visit. For example the authentic and cultural joys of Loulé with its Saturday market and traditional way of life. Or try Silves with its ancient walled city and castle that is the largest of its kind in the region.

Paradoxically not all of Algarve’s draw is the golf courses and nightlife. Go west and you will be treated to an art form fit for a king. It has a coastline carved by the ferocity of Mother Nature; from Armacão – Lagos you will be awed by the sheer beauty of this coastal artistry. Known as the Rocky Algarve, the coves, caves only accessible by boat, and cliffs will have you kneeling in some sort of bizarre ritual of respect. Such is the beauty of the rock formations along this coast that they seriously compete with those we saw in New Zealand. 

So if you are a photographer, nature lover, geologist or hiker, the Rocky Algarve will have you speechless. Here, we have profiled five hikes that will take in some of the best scenes along this coastline – there are more although sadly a foot injury prevented any further exploration. 

Do check out Alvor, which is a stunning little seaside fishing town. It comes with a diversity that will entertain all manner of visitor. From its coastline extraordinaire to its white sandy beach and lagoon to the genuine fishing culture, Alvor will steal a little of your heart. The fishing community is key to this little town, away from the commercial hub. The community of fishermen’s huts that provide shelter from the sea’s wroth and the atmospheric estuary, offer a great composition for any artist at sunset. The cobbled streets of the old town are pretty much wall-to-wall restaurants  although out of season it is cute, if not a bit touristy. Check out A Tascado restaurant (R. Pedro Alvares Cabral 19).

Sagres is the furthest point southwest of mainland Europe and so a visit to its fortress and lighthouse is a must for this reason alone. For a mere €3 you can enter the grounds and loose yourself for an hour in the maritime history that goes back centuries. The limestone pavement reminds you of nature’s role in the region and the kamikaze fisherman that hang off the 100ft cliffs looking to catch their supper will colour your visit beautifully. 

Before you leave this seaside town, visit the São Vicente lighthouse, if only to take your first glance at the Wild West coastline that has wind and surf as it natural sculptures. Framed by the pink, yellow and purple Ice flowers, you will feel drawn to move north as the salt air massages your face with anticipation.  

Check out our gallery by clicking on the image below.

 

Wild West Coast

Whilst geographically not classed as one of Portugal’s regions, it seems important to have a section dedicated to this incredible stretch of land. It touches each of the country’s five mainland regions so seems worthy of specific mention.

Quick Reference Guide

  • Approximately 500 miles in length from Cabo de Sao Vicente in the south to Caminha in the north
  • Home to the largest surf in Europe – Nazaré where the World Championship are held in October
  • There are few signs of mass tourism along the southern shores – just quaint fishing villages
  • Fishing has been a crucial way of life here; look out for ancient Islamic village at Amado Beach
  • Roads are lined with mimosa and eucalyptus trees
  • Wild camping is tolerated along much of the coast – just be mindful of the National Park restrictions in high season
  • Bird life and photography opportunities are enormous, especially rock nesting storks  
  • Getting around Lisbon can be tricky – head inland to Évora to avoid it and its toll bridges
  • Has the best and most diverse coastline we have ever experienced
  • Visit the unique town of Costa Nova and her candy stripped fishermen’s houses
  • Great area for cycling with its quiet roads and coastal boardwalk routes

In all our years of travel we have been blessed with some incredible coastal scenes from India’s Goan beauties to New Zealand’s belles… And yet nothing prepared us for the raw essence of Portugal’s western coastline. Battered by Atlantic winds and views out towards US, this route will stun you into silence. There are two major hikes from Sagres that show off the full extent of this coastline’s magnificence; The Heritage Way and The Fisherman’s Way. The latter particularly has become a bit of a pilgrimage by backpackers as they make their way towards Porto Covo in the north.

The biggest difference between the west and southern sibling is its quietness and the lack of tourism. I recognise that we visited out of season, yet this aside, there are no high-rise hotels or gated residential estates, south of Lisbon at least. Just Portuguese working towns who go about their business to the exclusion of visitors. Partly because so few come this far north as they choose to hug the southern coasts. Although we implore you to check out this area. 

Explore the coastline and learn how ancient and modern fisherman live their lives. The remains of an Islamic fishing village can be found at Amado Beach just south of Carrapateira and a more modern view of life on the ocean waves is hidden in an alcove just south of Almograve. Watching how the fishermen navigate the treacherous waters around this volcanic coast is mind-boggling. You cannot miss the evocative and visually appealing fishermen’s pontoons at Carrasqueira just ten minutes from Comporta. Their rustic wooden platforms that extend out into the lagoon is a masterpiece waiting for the amateur photographer, capturing the essence of their formidable mariners’ lives.  

And if you happen to be bird-lovers, then watching the kites and storks will be timing-wasting enough. Especially unique is to see the storks nesting precariously on pillars of rock on the coastal edges, seemingly blissfully unaware of the danger of their house of choice. It is here that the battle between life and death is played out as peregrine falcons attack the storks in search for their precious eggs as a breakfast treat. The best place for this theatre ensemble is at Sarbadão Lighthouse, just south of Almograve Beach, which is pinned on our map. 

Another great place to watch the storks’ antics is at Comporta, just south of Lisbon and the Sebútal peninsula. This small fishing community, amidst the salt flats, dunes and lagoon, seem to have adopted the storks as their emblem and fiercely protect the nesting pairs. Church towers, roof-light windows and pylons are acceptable residences for these magnificent birds and you can easily while away an hour watching their territorial antics. 

The Wild West characteristics alters so dramatically like the chapters of a thrilling novel. From the south with its craggy rock and inhospitable landscape looking like something from the moon to the miles of golden sandy beaches further north. Dunes, pine forests and eucalyptus dapple the landscape and you can be in awe at how the coastline changes its look more often than a Kylie Minogue concert. Try not to miss out the charming villages of Vila Nova da Milfontes, Porto Covo and Peniche. Further north towards Porto, you must see Costa Nova, which is iconic for its candy stripped fisherman’s houses that have centuries old tales of mariners’ lives. 

Click on the image below to see our gallery of this wild west coastline 

 

Alentejos

Quick reference Guide

  • Portugal’s largest region, spanning the whole width of the country
  • Roman hub Évora is its capital
  • Cork production capital of the country
  • Neolithic evidence strewn throughout the inner uplands around Évora

 

Alentejos encompasses both the joys of the coast and ancient history that combine to honour deeply held traditions and cultural heritage.  If you travel along the eastern edge where Portugal rubs shoulders with its neighbour Spain, you can imagine the intrigue that this is likely to offer. Battles for supremacy and territory, fortresses for protection and towns set to historical high alert. Whilst we didn’t see much of this eastern bord, we did have our first steps on Portuguese soil at Mértola. 

Nestled in the heart of the Natural Park, its lofty position high above the river is the epitome of this fortress style town. Its castle walls still in tact, its cathedral sat on the site of an ancient Mosque and its Roman bridge giving you just a few clues as it to its historical heritage. 

Further west unfolds more Roman secrets – who knew their armies travelled so far west to conquer, build and dominate. Évora is a classic example of this. Capital of Alentejos, Évora has amazing city walls, museums to satisfy the curious and the remains of a Roman temple. Its central square is charming as you settle for a coffee and a Nater and just around the corner the must visit Chapel of Bones.

Click on the image below to see our gallery

 

Central Region 

Quick Reference Guide

  • Home to the Surfing Capital of Europe, Nazaré
  • Costa da Roca is the furthest point west in mainland Europe closely followed by Peniche
  • Check out the amazing geology of the Peniche peninsula 
  • If the weather is calm, catch a boat for €25 to the island of La Berlenga
  • Watch the windsurfers on the sheltered waters of the lagoon at Figueira da Foz
  • Visit the most beautiful and authentic walled village of Obidos
  • Drive the inland Atlantic Ocean way and see the devastation of the 2018 forest fires
  • Visit the charming village of Costa Nova and her candy-stripped fishing houses
  • Pop across to Aveiro, which is known as Portugal’s Venice with its small canal network
  • Drive inland to Viseu, which is the centre of granite production and explore its ancient buildings and street art
  • Take the N2 route and enjoy its beauty

 

Perhaps you are or have visions of becoming a surfer dude – and if so then Nazaré has to be a destination stop for you  and your board. This home to the largest waves in Europe – scaling a humungous 30m. With its unique factors of on-shore winds and underwater topography, it creates perfect professional surfing conditions and is why the European Championship are held here every October. What a spectacle that must be. 

For geologists, once more this coastline will regale you with its tales of evolution as strata form the most incredible pieces of natural art out on the Peniche peninsula. Their composition seems so different to other craggy areas of the coast further south, leading to a thesis or two from the academics about the different seismic influences in this region over the epoc. 

For lovers of history and culture, a short trip to Obidos will certainly appeal. This picture postcard walled city is charm personified and whilst compact and bijou, scale its walls and you will see how size has no impact on this village’s delight. Cobbled streets, terracotta roofs and rustic buildings give a medieval feel to it, coming straight out  of a Dicken’s novel. We had too little time here although enough to entice  us to return. 

We absolutely adored the coastal route north where our final coastal destination was Costa Nova. Shaped along a narrow strip of sand dunes, with golden sands one side and a lagoon the other, this town proffers more maritime history. Over and above this, visually  this  place is one that Instagram must surely adore. With its candy-striped houses it felt like you had walked on the film-set of a Willy Wonky candy making factory. It was truly  magical to see how the fishermen lived centuries ago in their brightly painted houses. What a delight it was to cycle around this appeal and almost delicious town. Do check out the fish market where you will be amazing by the variety of marine life  you can purchase. Clams were our gift of the day – truly delicious.  

Viseu – whilst its superficial greyness and busyness didn’t do much for its reputation, when you enter its hub, it was quite lovely. The vernacular that takes you just 200m uphill is the first surprise – second is that it is free. The route scales you up to the hilltop, on which the museum and cathedral are based. The gardens and parks built within the bosom of the city are charming and the riverside is just cute. Whilst you might imagine the street art having a negative visual impact, I actually think it is quite an endearing feature to the town. 

Click on the image below to see our gallery

 

Northern Region

Quick Reference Guide 

  • Porto is the capital of this region
  • Home to the famous Douro River valley and its Port drink
  • Find a Quinta and do some Port tasting along the ancient river as it carves through 586 miles
  • Continue your N2 route through the most beautiful mountain ranges
  • Visit Lamego and the Nossa Senhora dos Remedios
  • Turn right before Peso da Régua and drive along the Douro Valley’s most beautiful route N222 to Pinhão
  • Catch the train from Pinhão to Pincho – one of Europe’s most beautiful train rides €7.80 pp
  • Take a boat ride from Pinhão up the Douro river €10 pp per hour

 

Whilst Porto may well be the biggest draw of northern Portugal, if cities are not your thing, then a quick calibration of your compass to the east will reward you plenty. You have the central draw of Lamego, which is certainly worth a visit, in our book. Its characterful and pristine old town are gorgeous and its fountain clad avenue that leads the eye and the feet towards the mammoth 686 steps up to the Church of our Lady of Remedies which will get your heart pumping.  

And then you have the Alchemy of the North…. The Douro Valley. This depicts everything you can imagine about the partnership between man and nature working in harmony. With nature’s role taking the lead part in this staged masterpiece, you will be rewarded with fertile soils, carved terraces, curvaceous lands and a network of vineyards. Clinging to every inch of this landscape looking to capture the sun’s powerful rays, these vines are the very source of the tawny nectar that graces our table with cheese. Port, that magnificent and elegant tipple stakes its claim to the Douro valley and with the sparkling waters of the river, this must surely be some sort of Utopia. At the beating hub of the valley is Pinhão, a classical working town where the locals collaborate with each other and the land to produce not only history and a productive export, they also create a cultural experience for the visitor. Pinhão and its Douro is a must. Check how to make the best of our visit by clicking here. 

 

 

 

 

And finally…  Portugal’s answer to Route 66  – N2

The longest continuous road in Portugal, the National route N2 is a must if you enjoy getting off the beaten track. Whilst the newly built motorway infrastructure may well be favoured by those who need to travel far and fast, it will certainly not enrich your life like the N2. Covering around 450 miles, this road covers the full length of the country; north at Chaves to Faro in the south. Winding your way through valleys, forests, mountain ranges and river floors, this is a beautiful road to encounter, in part or as a whole. 

We drove two sections of the route; the first was south from Almodõvar in Alentejos to just north of Loulé. The second was north from Viseu to Chaves as we finally and with heavy hearts, exited Portugal back into the arms of Spain. 

We thoroughly enjoyed this exhilarating drive which is favoured by motorcycles and bicycles although can equally be relished by drivers too. Passing through such gems as Viseu and Lamego, it is just worth a cruise.

 

Some practicalities

Before we leave you with temptation running through your veins, let us leave you with some practicalities about your stay in Portugal. Whether coming by camper, plane or cruise liner, here are some tips that might be helpful. 

 

  • Fines are heavy if you enter a motorway by mistake without a vignette. Not all tolls are manned, so either set your navigation to avoid tolls or buy a vignette that will last for the duration of your stay. We decided against it as we didn’t feel the need to use them although your circumstances might require faster travelling. Check out this website for comprehensive guidance about Portugal’s Toll Routes.
  • Wild camping in Portugal is easy and profuse especially along the west coast where the volume of campers diminishes. We saw plenty of people parking in forbidden areas, which seemed to be tolerated out of season. I suspect the further into April you go, the trickier it becomes. Parking is not allowed in National Parks, so beware of the GNR’s presence and ensure no ‘camping behaviour’.
  • Portugal caters well for those on wheels as there are very cheap Aires along the coast and towns inland, which will cost you between €4 – €9 per night with services.
  • Most towns have speed restricting traffic lights. So as you approach they will turn red and then immediately green.
  • Drivers are sedate and respectful we found, making travelling through Portugal very pleasurable.
  • We were lucky with the weather when we visited, although if you visit during winter and early spring, be prepared for a variety of conditions. Layers is the name of the game. Being on the Atlantic, it is often windy.
  • Portugal is on Western European Time (WET) – so operates the same as UK time, and an hour behind its European cousins.
  • Portugal has a wide variety of Supermarkets from Lidl, sometimes Aldi, plenty of Intermarché (which was more expensive than Lidl) and a few Leclerc in larger towns/cities. Pingo Doce was a nice store that was generally cheaper and slightly better quality than Lidl.
  • Petrol and Diesel was more expensive than Spain – averaging around €1.39. The cheapest we saw was €1.23 at an Leclerc in Santagem and the most expensive was €1.45.
  • LPG was available throughout the country, although not at every garage. We had no problems with filling up our Gaslow tanks.
  • If you want fresh produce there are markets everywhere – some towns have their own market halls for everyday fruit and veg, whilst others have special Saturday markets. If you want daily bread, go to a Pandeira.
  • Credit cards are widely available although we suggest you take plenty of coins for Aires, washing machines and for tips.

 

Closing thoughts

Portugal wowed us. After a visit 15 years ago, we experienced the central Algarve with its golf resorts and marinas, which weren’t our cup of tea. Years on, with less stressful lives, more time and an open mind to travel diversity, we have been able to appreciate the Algarve. More than that, we have been able to relish in the fruits of Portugal’s inland gems and road less travelled destinations. Portugal has definitely leapt ahead to warrant a place in our Top 5 Favourite European countries. We have really appreciated its natural and cultural joys. We hope if you have the chance to come, that you too may feel inspired to travel this amazing country and feel richer for the experience. 

 

Save it for later?

 

Other posts you might enjoy…

Top Spots in UK – An Interactive Map

Top Spots in UK – An Interactive Map

Quintessential England with afternoon teas on the lawn, chocolate-box villages with thatched roofs and duck ponds and swans. Just some of the images that come to mind when I think of our home country. And whilst for the moment we choose to roam around Europe and explore foreign lands,  there’s no doubting England has some gems.

A friend is coming to England this summer from New Zealand and so I have put together the highlights that we have come to know and love about this stalwart island and compiled it all into an interactive map. As a guide, it is of course not complete. It never could be as this is a personal journal of our highlights over the last fifty years as Britains. Although it is a start….

So we invite you in to explore:

  • The southern shores of Sussex, Hampshire and Dorset
  • The delights of the south west, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset
  • The quintessential heart of England in the Cotswolds
  • Bath and Avon
  • Wales and her borders
  • Up north including the Lake District, Northumberland, Derbyshire and York
  • Isle of Man – we couldn’t pass this opportunity up after living there 18 years.

 

For our interactive map combining all our highlights, click on the link below. Of course for more information why not check out the Lonely Planet’s Guide to England.

 

 

Want to pin it for later?

 

Other posts you may be interested in…

Loulé – Algarve Authenticity

Loulé – Algarve Authenticity

The Algarve’s inland gem, Loulé is set apart from its tourist coastline cousins and was our first reconnection with the region after 15 years. Would our disappointing memories from that package holiday be erased, replaced by a more mature travel perspective? And would Loulé be our first healer? We really hoped so.

Our entry to Portugal from Spain was 40 miles inland away from the Algarve’s Atlantic coastline. And whilst I had my heart set on revisiting the craggy cliffs and rock artistry from Portimão to Sagres, we consciously chose to avoid the full length of this southern most region.

Loulé would be the first dipping of our toes in the Algarve’s proverbial waters, and after a recommendation to visit, I hit the research jungle drums, to find out more. I was captured by the phrases “authentic Portuguese village”, “not a tourist destination”. Now that was my kind of place.

 

Mértola

Although before I launch into regaling you with our tales of this fine town, let me tease you with a little preamble. Inland Portugal was a soothing introduction to our uncertain return. Winding our way through the curvaceous lands towards the Alentejos region, Mértola and its Natural Park of Guadiana was our first station stop. This Islamic icon initiated our Portuguese history lesson. Mértola, perched high above the river that courses its way to the Atlantic, is a walled city that houses Arabic tension and Christian dominance from way back in 10th century.  It was a lovely place to check out for a couple of hours. Here’s a little taster in a gallery below. 

 

N2 – Portugal’s Answer to Route 66

As keen motorbikers back in the day, our route south towards Portimão was shaped by the lure of Portugal’s answer to the famous Route 66. The N2 was in spitting distance from Mértola and this route had our names written all over it. The N2 glides from Chaves in the north to Faro in the south of the country, covering some 450 miles, tip to toe. It is classed as the longest continuous road in Portugal, winding through 4 different mountain ranges and crossing through 29 different municipalities. We joined it at Almodovãr and soon found ourselves snaking through the oak forest landscape that was as curvaceous as Marilyn Monroe. I could see why this is a Mecca for motorbikes. Traffic, now diverted onto the toll motorways for quick access north and south, leaves this road quiet, free and magnificent to drive. With the cork industry evident thanks to the half naked oak trees lining the roads, we wound our way to Querença having had a rich hour’s drive on this ‘not to be missed’ route through Portugal’s beating heart.  Click below for our gallery.

 

 

Loulé, a town of authentic charm

So back to Loulé and the reason for writing today. We love the charm of authentic villages. Communities where the locals hang out for morning coffee, buy their fish from the daily market and gratefully sell their wares to any passing trade. Would Loulé satisfy our search for such genuine communities?

Our arrival to Loulé initially didn’t give us the image we had hoped for. Although we have come to appreciate that, just like a cracker, it is what is on the inside that really counts. We found ourselves a safe place to park (37.13815, -8.02614) just a few minutes walk from the southern gate of the city walls and got our Maps.me route at the ready. In my research I found a great blog from the Algarve Tourist that acted like our own personal guide, giving us all Loulé’s POI and their relevant coordinates. What a find that was, as wandering aimlessly irritates the pants off me.

Yet our self guided walking tour was anything other than aimless or irritating. It was a joy to experience its cultural diversity, seeing Portuguese and North African residents live in harmony together. To feel the vibe of locals going about their daily lives without the intrusion of coach tours was a privilege. I’m sure tourists exist in the summer, although Loulé seems unrelentless in its desire to stay true to its authentic roots. With its cobbled streets that entice you to explore the local artisans, brightly coloured houses holding centuries of history and small bars and cafés tucked away in corners, Loulé is charm personified.

The arrival of Arabs in 8th century gave Al-‘Ulya’ its first real identity as a fortified city and many of its features still remain today such as the Islamic Baths, the bell tower of St Clemente church and the Muslim cemetery in the park across from the tower.  Although from mid 1200’s until 19th century Loulé’s character altered hugely as economic crises in the country impacted on its development and Christian dominance took hold of its architectural and cultural evolution.  Finally today’s finely tuned community fuses diverse inhabitants who are set on making Loulé home, irrespective of history’s struggles.  Click below for our interactive Walking Tour of Loulé.

 

 

Our Top 10 Sights

1. St. Francis Catholic Church

Set on the modern fringes of the town, this 17th century church looks plain and easily missable, although there will be crowds of people around its doors, so you’ll know you have found the right place. Although it is the inside that is meant to the main attraction. Unfortunately we couldn’t get in on our visit. 

 

2. Walk down the elegant shopping street Rua 5 de Outubro

As you head across from the Church, take the Outubro street which takes you down the tantalising shopping centre. Unlike so many other cities or towns, this is a short lane full of smart boutiques and shops selling a huge range of cork products. Cafés line the streets and with the artistry on the cobbled floor, you will experience shopping like never before – and guess what? So few tourists too. 

 

3. Take a peak at the Conceição Chapel

Whilst perhaps plain on the outside, it is inside the the view will amaze you. Sadly you’re not allowed to take pictures, although with an Alter full of gold and the walls of intricate blue images, this tiny space is quite incredible.  Conceição is a big lesson in never judging a book by its cover. 

 

4. See the excavation works at the Islamic Baths

We were lucky on our visit as the major excavations of these ancient Baths had an open door for us to peak through. It is a major project uncovering the remains of the walls and they are unearthing a significant piece of history. Hopefully you will be lucky too.

 

5. Bicas Velhas Fountain and Castle

Just behind the Islamic Baths, you will find a fountain that dates back to 1887 and that supplied the local population with their water. Look out for the four spouts one of which was made from smelting one of the bells from the Mother Church.  

And around the corner, you will find the Castle fortress and its museum. Its origin dates back to 2nd century when the Roman’s had a presence here, then the Moors more specifically took control until 1249 when the Portuguese gained control from the Muslims. You can visit from Tuesday to Friday from 10.00am – 1.30pm and 2.00pm – 6.00pm and on a Saturday from 10.00am – 1.30pm and 2.00 – 4.30pm. There is an entry fee of €1.62.

 

6. “Espirito Santo” Convent

This 17th century building is iconic, if not for its history than for its 45ft Pine tree, which rises from the centrepiece of the building. Initially occupied by Franciscan Friars, the convent evolved into a shelter for unprotected women and yet it was only in 1711 that the Pope recognised it as a religious sanctuary. The earthquake of 1755 had a devastating effect on the convent and had to be rebuilt and today it is now the home of the Art Gallery. You can walk into the inner court and crane your neck skywards to see the enormous Pine tree even if the Art Museum is not your cup of tea. 

 

7. Câmara and Municipal indoor market

After walking through the alleyway to see the back of the Convent (take note of the best public toilets in the square here that I have even had to visit) you will come out to the main N270 road through the town. And you won’t miss it – the elegance of the Town Hall and the unmistakable pink facade of the indoor market. The market is on every day and offers you a range of fish stalls, at least 20 butchers around the outside and an array of other yummy goodies to tempt you. Although if you want a bigger market experience, then come to Loulé on a Saturday when the Farmers’ and Gypsy market become the places to hang out. Check out our gallery by clicking below.

 

8. Medieval cobbled streets 

As you meander your way from the market towards the Igreja de São Clemente, towards the south side of the town, take some time to wander your way through the narrow, cobbled streets where artisans have small shops and café bars sell their tapas the locals. Here atmosphere is intimate and warm as daily life just toodles on by without a care for the visitors passing by. 

 

 

9. Igreja de São Clemente

As you walk away from the market, the Bell Tower of the Church of San Clemente is your call, visible way above the reaches of the medieval houses. The square that the church calls home is full of interesting points and it is worth glancing upwards as you marvel at the bells that toll around Loulé’s rooflines. The church was built on a mosque and has survived three earthquakes so has many tales of survival and perseverance to tell. 

 

10. ‘Martim Farto’ Townhouse and Muslim Cemetery 

Opposite the church notice a very different style of house, which is thought to have been a noble-man’s dwelling constructed in 18th century. With Baroque style architecture the house holds an interesting story; Martim Farto a counsellor and representative from the King’s Court was said to be godfather to most of the children christened at the time. To the left of the building also check out the unique chimney, which is so different to those seen around the country.  Also you will see the cemetery that is now a public garden and that can be enjoyed by all in the town.

 

More to see…

Whilst Loulé as a town is worth seeing in its own right, there are some special times to come visit and experience a cultural uniqueness.

 

Carnival time

If you can time your visit around 3-5 March you will experience the flamboyant carnival that grips Portugal at this time of year. Loulé has a reputation for being one of the best in the Algarve. Just check before you go as the annual carnival dates do change according to Easter calendar.

 

Market day

If you want to explore Loulé in the relative privacy of your own company then go Monday to Friday, as Saturday the place changes personality – it’s market day. Not only do you have a Farmers’ Market there’s also a Gypsy Market too and people come far and wide to visit. So expect more crowds, although what an interesting experience that would be.

 

So Loulé? What’s our verdict?

A delightful and historic place to visit way from the coastal crowds, that hums to the sound of Islamic and Christian war-dances that have scarred the ancient landscape. And yet paradoxically, peace and harmony now reign through the quiet, cobbled streets. For such a small town it has a big personality which will charm you and we highly recommend a visit.

 

Pin for later…..

 

Other posts you may be interested in….

 

A Guide to Exploring Denia, Spain

A Guide to Exploring Denia, Spain

 

Delightful Denia, sat in the south east corner of Spain teeters on the edge of the Costa Blanca magnet. And yet Dénia could not be further from the Costa image that has been generated by decades of tourism to this sunny, southern fringe of Europe.  Authentic, vibrant and offering a wide variety of things to see and do, Dénia draws us back year after year. 

We are not great ‘returners’ to places because there is so much of the world to see, why would you want to have a return visit to somewhere? And yet, we all have our favourite ‘go to’ places where we feel instantly comfortable and pretty much ‘at home’. Dénia is that place for us. After five visits over the last three years, we strangely find ourselves magnetised to this corner of Spain and especially during the winter months, provides just a little sanctuary for our travel weary tyres.

And each visit opens up something new to us drawing us further in to Dénia’s irresistible charm. So much so that we feel we have now compiled a super list of things to entertain and delight you as you make your way to Spain’s southern beach belles. Why not swap the tourism of the coast for a little bit of authentic Spain wrapped up into a dynamic ball of culture, gastronomy and entertainment. 

 

Here is our Guide to this fabulous destination that could offer you a winter get away or a summer vacation with relaxation and activity blended together like a perfect cocktail. 

 

1. A peak into Dénia’s history

Dénia’s story begins way back when it was the capital of the Muslim Kingdom – if you are a historical purist then you would have to acknowledge evidence of Dénia’s prehistoric existence going further back than the history books can reveal. May be back then there was little interest in the town’s southerly location and oceanic position, although certainly as we crawl along the historical timeline we can see why Dénia was so widely admired by outsiders. 

The Greeks, Muslims, Christians and French have all placed their mark on Dénia in some form or another; whether it’s been to trade the raisins that were a strategic export from the town for over 100 years or using the 11th Century castle to protect their kingdom, Dénia’s place in history is firmly set.

In 18th century the Spanish regained control of this important region and it has been firmly in charge ever since. Now a modern grip has been placed on the town offering respite to tourists albeit not in the same way as its Costa cousins around the corner.  Dénia manages to maintain its authentic roots, charm and unobtrusive personality – that is until festival time. More on that in a moment.

With its busy fishing port and ferry hub for the Balearic Islands, Dénia refuses to remain passive in Spain’s economy. With its discrete hotels and restaurants positioned along the pedestrian promenade that stretches from sandy beaches, marinas to craggy coves, Dénia demands attention from those intent on passing by on the nearby AP7. Will you be one of them?

 

2. Our 3 favourite things to do in Dénia

 

Walking around the harbour, marina and promenade

The enormous marina oozes opulence as you weave your way through the Nautical Club and observe the gin palaces on display alongside the town’s promenade. For a moment you can gaze at their lavish lifestyle and dream. In stark contrast next door the fisherman moor up their rigs ready to off-load their daily catch in preparation for the fish market. Between 5-5.30pm every night, it’s worth heading into town to watch their antics and get a real cultural feel for Dénia’s working personality. Serenaded by parakeets that fly between the palm trees that lines the coastal road you can also admire the mastering of the Balearic ferry coming into to dock at 3.30 each day.  If you fancy the walk around to the breakwater behind the ferry terminal, you are rewarded with gorgeous views as you look back to the town’s skyline – particularly beautiful as the sun sets. A solar powered boat will happily escort you from just behind the ferry terminal back across the harbour to the main town promenade – all for free. 

 

Dénia’s markets

There’s nothing more authentic than a local market, where you rub shoulders with residents going about their daily lives. I love the feel, smell and look of markets with their vibrant colours and regional fare on display to tempt your taste buds. Dénia has two weekly markets; Monday morning’s market is all about clothes, shoes and accessories located at the western edge of the town at Mercadillo. And Friday morning is all about the fruit and veg stalls which is just two blocks away from Dénia’s shopping area – Marcos de Campo. Two streets of stalls draw you in with their calls of ‘Todo Euro’ – all for a £ – and there are certainly some bargains to be had. Although they don’t do much for the reduction of plastics sadly. 

At the top end of the Friday market area, there is also an indoor market, which is well worth a butchers, as they say! With meats, fish and bizarrely some vegetables too, this is a permanent market area and is great to wander around. So treat yourself to a coffee or chocolate and churros and just watch the market world unfold before your eyes.

 

Come in March and experience Las Fallas

Dénia may be a working port and a hub for authentic Spanish life, although you come mid March and the whole town takes on a completely different vibe. Firecrackers pop, bands play through the streets, traditional Valenciana customs come out of the wardrobe and 50ft statues appear through the streets. Las Fallas, the most bizarre experience that has to be entertained if you are in Spain in March. Throughout the whole Valencian region, this ancient tradition that stems from carpenters brings towns along this eastern coastline to life. For a whole week, these incredible works of art that have been crafted during the year are presented to the town. A competition for the best in their category, are vied for and money awarded for the most original art form. Papier maché, steel and wooden structures loom above you with intricate detail, which at the end of the week are burnt! It is just something you need to experience, just once in your life. Check out more about the festival by clicking here. 

 

2. Rides for cyclists

Dénia is positioned beautifully in a basin nestled between the Montgó Massif and Mount Pego creating a landscape of orange groves and almond trees. With these comes a lot of gorgeous flat cycling routes. For those looking for something more challenging, then just a few miles inland you will find plenty of mountains to test your skills, like the Col de Rates.  Cycling teams from all over Europe come here to train in the winter, so serious cyclists are well catered for.

 

gentle cycle through the orange groves

The route from the northern side of the town on the Via Verde to Els Poblets is fabulous. With the heady aroma of orange blossom from the acres of fruit laden trees, this car-free ride is wonderful. With the site of Mont Pego to entice you, this is a super leisurely ride. A quick refreshment at Els Poblets and then take the same route back, or along the coast if you are a looking for an alternative. From Camping Los Pinos, it’s a 18 mile round trip. From Dénia centre it’s about 11 miles. 

 

 

A challenging cycle around Montgó

If you are looking for something more testing or you have an electric bike like we do, then why not give the Montgó circuit a go. The ride will take you up the challenging mountain route from Dénia to Javea and then hugging the lower edges of the mountain you head back into Dénia on a good 19 mile round trip. And the views at the top are spectacular.  

 

A cycle to Jésus Pobre Sunday market

Another nice stretching cycle takes you out of Dénia out to a little mountain top village that each Sunday has a gorgeous  artisan market. So armed with strong legs for the ascent to the village and some pennies for a bit of lunch and a beer, you will be in for a treat on this fabulous cycle.  

 

3. Our 3 favourite Hikes for walkers

Dénia offers some wonderful walking, with gentle strolls along the coastline to more stretching hikes up through the Montgó Natural Park. Take your camera, your binoculars and of course water and layers as the afternoon winds can brew up suddenly in this area. Whilst we’ve not scaled the heady heights of Montgó as yet, we do have three favourite walks that we recommend. 

 

A saunter up to the Pepperpot

You can either join this walk from Dénia, if this is where you are staying and walk along the coastal promenade, or from Camping Los Pinos at Les Rotas. As you wind your way along the Mediterranean Sea, the crashing waves are mesmerising. This south easterly edge can be a bit breezy in the winter and early spring, especially whipping up in the afternoon so you will often see surfers trying their luck on the waves. Just past restaurant Mena, you follow the signs for Torre del Gerro and wind steeply up the hill to what is lovingly called the Pepperpot. This building that purveys the coast below it is actually the remnants of a 16th century fortification built to protect against pirates. The views from up here are magnificent. For instructions, you can use this link. If you’re feeling energetic, you can carry on up across the hill over towards San Antonio Lighthouse, although this is a big stretch and will take you another 2 hours round trip. 

 

A hike up to Javea’s windmills

This is a great climb up into the hills overlooking Montgó. Not only are you treated to superb views that can on a clear day take your eye up towards Valencia, your nature-loving personas will adore the wild rosemary, lavender and 650 other species of flora that call this landscape home. En route you will come across a run down and abandoned village that is now home to some amazing graffiti artwork. Perhaps locals see this as a blot on the landscape, although it is certainly a unique vantage point. As you continue to climb, you cross Las Planes and towards the ancient windmills that were built to maximise the winds that blow here to farm their wheat. Now mostly restored these windmills, some of which have been converted into homes, have incredible views over the Javea shoreline. It’s a walk that requires at least 3 hours and some sturdy boots, although a great hike of about 6 miles. For routes check this link out

 

A Walking Tour of Dénia

Every town seems to have their own free walking tour and Dénia is no different. If you head to the main Tourist Information Office you will be able to pick up information about their Walking Tours. We took ours during their LAS FALLAS festival in March 2017 and the tour takes in the Old Town as well as all the festival statues that are created specifically for this event. It is well worth visiting in mid-March to experience this extravaganza. 

Check out our gallery here….

 

4. Our 3 favourite places to eat

Dénia is a Mecca for food, as you might expect being both in Spain and on the coast. If you love seafood, then you. are going to love Dénia’s eating experiences. We have found three amazing places to eat that are our go-tos when we are here.

La Republic – Denia Marina

This is a place to come for a special event. It’s a five course meal for €21 and with views over the Marina and out to sea, it is a stunning location, with great prices. We adore it here. Read more about this special place here.

 

Fuegos – Bar and Grill

If you are looking for something more earthy, then you will never go wrong with this local restaurant. Always busy and in the four visits we’ve had here, we’ve not been disappointed. With a Menu del Dia for €14 and their house speciality half a chicken, this place is excellent value. 

 

Llaollao

Not a restaurant, although a must when you visit Denia – the frozen yoghurt shop. This is a great treat and if you can imagine your naughtiest ice-cream fantasy with toppings galore then you will have come to the right place. Located in the lower end of the buzzy Marco de Campo shopping street, Llaollao can’t be missed. It’s fluorescent green – and for between €3-4 you can have a tub of frozen deliciousness with toppings that take you back to childhood. We highly recommend it. 

 

5. Things to see beyond Dénia

You could easily while away your time in Dénia alone with buses, bikes and your own feet to guide you. Although beyond this magical town is a plethora of other sites that are worth exploring. For many of these we have hired a car, or had friends take us to these spots, so if you have additional transport, these are definitely worth looking at.  

 

The caves at Benidoleig

Not more than 15 minutes by car, or if you are feeling fit, you can cycle to (especially if you are electric assisted). The mountainous region surrounding Dénia is a jigsaw of natural and historical pieces that need to pulled together to complete your visit here. Whilst not the longest caves we’ve been in, they are of great archeological and scientific value. For a mere €3.90 per adult, €2 for children, this is definitely worth visiting. For more information check here.

 

Jalón Valley –  Almond Tree Blossom

Just 20 minutes by car inland, you weave your way through the Gata de Gorgos and reach the small town of Jalón, which if you are in the area in February is a must visit destination. With orchards of Almond trees, which are the first to blossom, this is a magical site. With the frame bordered by mountains, the pink and white flowers are worthy of photographing and walking through. The scent is heavenly.

 

Javea/Xavia

Javea is a popular tourist destination with its protected bay and shelter from the magnificent Montgó Massif. From Denia it is only a 15 minute drive away and buses will also take you there. It’s worth exploring for its harbour, coastline and old town. There is also a ferry that runs to and from Denia to Javea for €18 pp if you want to top off your experience. It runs from April to October – for more information and timetables, click here

 

Stand on the Greenwich Meridian point at Beniarbeig

Only 15 minutes away by car, or slightly longer if you cycle, you will reach the lovely little town of Beniarbeig. Famed for its old bridge monument and its Greenwich Meridian Point. Standing at this spot seems strange when you think you are directly in line with London a mere 1200 miles away.

 

Guadalest

If you have your own transport or can hire a car, then slightly further afield it is really worth visiting this gorgeous region. Just 15 minutes from Benidorm, Guadalest is steeped in history and is known to be one of the most highly visited sites in Spain. With its a reservoir surrounded by mountains and the castle and old town perched precariously on a precipice, Guadalest is full of charm. For a mere €4 you can enter the castle house and indulge in its history and bask in the views that, on a good day will take your gaze to the Benidorm coast. 

 

 

6. 3 Recommendations for sleeping

Dénia feels like home to us and each winter it draws us back. If you love the relative safety of a campsite then you’ll love  Camping Los Pinos.  At the southern end of the town, away from the buzz of port life and nestled in amongst the pines, you will feel a warm welcome from this family run site. Just a minute’s walk from craggy coastline, this site is perfect for watching sunrises, walking and cycling. The longer you stay the cheaper the site. For stays over 7 nights you pay only €15 and over 21 nights just a mere €12.50. It’s a multi-cultural site with a lovely mix of Dutch, German, British and French all connecting and social events at night, if that is your thing. Although this site is getting so popular that you will need to book.

 

Wild camping isn’t officially permitted in Dénia, like many places in Spain, although we do see vans down at Fernando’s restaurant at the northern end of town. Interestingly on Google Maps, it’s listed as an RV Park!  (38.847934, 0.102204). Although it’s a bit too busy down there for us with vans side-by-side. A night or two seems to be tolerated alongside the marina (38.837167, 0.120973).

 

If you ever need camping accessories or van supplies, then there is an excellent store up in the near-by El Verger. Just a 15 minute drive north, you will find an extensive offering of everything to do with camping, motor homing and caravanning. There’s even an Aire here if you need an overnight stop or services. (38.861775, -0.007745).

 

And if you prefer hotels or apartments, then why not check out Hotel Port Dénia by the Marina or the Bravasol Apartments in Las Rotas, right by the campsite. The apartments overlooking the coast can be rented for €29 per night if you are staying for 21 days or more. 

 

 

Final thoughts

Dénia has so much to offer and after three years and five visits, we still find new places to explore, by foot, by bike and further afield by car. Rich in gastronomy, festivals and day to day life, Dénia is ready to welcoming you with open arms and a warm heart. Each time we leave, it gets just a little harder – and that is coming from two free nomads roaming the world.  So next time you are heading for the Costas on the south coast, just make a short diversion off the motorway and check out the delights of Dénia – you’ll not be disappointed. 

 

 

Pin it for later?

 

 

Other posts you might like…

Life is an Adventure

Life is an Adventure

We love that travel introduces you to new people who glide gracefully into your life and provides the chance to reconnect you to old friends. Old friends who travel from your past and settle firmly in your present.  This year we had a chance to meet up with old work colleagues from nearly 30 years ago. What a lovely rendezvous it was too. We swapped stories and their tale of life-change and adventure inspired us so much that we asked them to share it as part of our Guest Post series.  So we are delighted to introduce Tracy and Martin who take you on their journey from the deserts of the Middle East to rural France and how they created their very own ‘Good Life’.  Over to you, guys….

 

Oh my, life really is an adventure. Neither of us planned to have careers in the insurance industry… it’s just not something you choose when you talk to your careers teacher, unless you want to be an actuary of course!  But we both did, and it opened lots of doors for us. The door to travelling the world, to living overseas and more importantly, to financial independence.  

Martin is Irish, but lived in Royal Leamington Spa for most of his life and I’m from the Isle of Man. We both worked in insurance for over 20 years in life and general insurance & takaful (insurance products built on islamic principles). We lived in the Middle East for a combined total of 26 years in a variety of countries including Saudi Arabia, UAE (Dubai) & Bahrain.  We had a great life and loved every minute of it… even during the Arab Spring which saw the Saudi Army on the streets of Bahrain for 6 months.  Tanks at traffic lights is just not something the Highway Code prepares you for!

Living and working in a tax-free environment helped us save more than would ever have been possible in the UK and this enabled us to plan and prepare for a different future.  Bahrain is a fabulous place, but isn’t where we saw ourselves living long term.  We were there for the experience of living & working in a different culture and to achieve something else… a future that enabled us to live how we wanted; working outdoors, having adventures and more importantly, being our own bosses.    

 

For us it’s adventure all the way. 

 

It all started in 2012 when we bought a house in France. We knew we wanted to come back to Europe, but didn’t want to return to where we’d grown up. We’d been on this amazing adventure in the Middle East and didn’t want the adventure part to end.  We didn’t know much about France and pretty much picked it by putting a pin in a map, but when we visited, we loved it. The next thing we knew we’d bought a house and were visiting at every opportunity. 

After every trip it got harder and harder to leave our French idyll and in 2014 we seriously started planning for what life might be like A.B, (After Bahrain!) Whilst living overseas, one of the things we struggled with was finding someone to look after and care for our French home the way we would look after it.  We wanted to turn up on holiday and not have to wrangle the garden back into shape! Martin was always happy to give the ride-on mower a spin, but wrestling with chainsaws and taking 5ft of growth of hedges was not our idea of a holiday!      

On a visit in the summer of 2014 we saw a little cottage for sale in the next village and decided to buy it as a gîte. And from this point we knew we would be leaving Bahrain and moving to France sooner rather than later. After all, preparing a gîte for guests from 3,000 miles away, is a bit tricky!

During this time we also had to sort out ‘stuff’. At one point, we had 4 houses; one in the Isle of Man, two in France and the one we rented in Bahrain! That’s a heck of a lot of ‘stuff’ to sort out! We sold the house in the Isle of Man and rehomed or gave away belongings that we no longer needed and then did a similar thing in Bahrain. However, having done all of this we still managed to have a 20ft container when we left Bahrain!

The last few months of 2014 were all about planning what we would do when we got to France and how to maximise our incomes, once we stopped being employed. People have said to us that we must have been mad to walk away from permanent sunshine, tax-free income and a life where pretty much everything is done for you. However, although we were sad to leave our friends, in April 2015 we galloped towards our French adventure without a second thought.

The first few weeks were idyllic.  There was a warm, early spring in 2015 and it was wonderful.  We brought our 3 dogs and our cat with us from Bahrain and it was amazing to explore the area with animals who had essentially lived in the desert all their lives. One of the things we missed most when living in Bahrain were the seasons; it was either hot, or less hot. Here in France we get such a variety of weather and we love it all. Even on the coldest, crisp French day there is something wonderful about being outside and then sitting in front of a roaring fire.

Eventually our container arrived and for me this marked the day that the ‘holiday’ ended and ‘living’ in France really began. As there was no turning area at our house the poor driver had to reverse the lorry all the way up a 1km lane to reach our house and then the unpacking started. During that time we asked ourselves many times why we had brought so much, and where are we going to put it all. Well over the last 4 years we have rationalised and organised and now, eventually, we fit nicely in our French home!

With some help from a local business set up to help English speakers in France, we got our businesses organised. We decided to set up 2; one for gîtes and property letting; and another one to provide property management and security services to owners who didn’t live in France but who wanted their properties looked after. We called it Mayenne Cottages as we’re based in Department 53, La Mayenne. We knew what we would have wanted from a business like ours, so this became our offering.  Owning a French house for many people is an asset, but is also a place to breathe, a chance to explore different cultures and their home – we’ve found it really enjoyable to work with our customers over the last 4 years.

 

You reach a point where you have to pull your big pants up, take a deep breath and step off the cliff.

 

We’re often asked if we miss life in the Middle East and the honest answer to that is… sometimes. We miss the friends we made and I miss having a cleaner and someone to do the ironing!  However, the world is a really small place and with today’s technology it’s easy to keep in touch with our friends around the world. And with regards to the cleaning and ironing, I can honestly say I’ve become a different person! I used to be really uptight about everything being spotless, tidy and in its right place. My family used to move things for a laugh just to see if I’d notice!  Yes our own home isn’t the tidiest all the time, but we don’t worry about it and I save my uptight nature for when we’re preparing the gîte for our guests!  

Life is short. Since we moved back to Europe we’ve lost 2 close family members and we’re determined to enjoy and make the most of our lives.  We have no regrets for giving up our life in the Middle East and moving to a different way of living.  Oh boy, we’ve had to learn fast!  We were essentially a couple of townies now living in rural France. With the help of the YouTube Angel and God of Google we acquired a huge number of new skills.  Martin has become the master of the chainsaws, mowers and whatever other equipment he has stashed in his workshop!   And I’ve had to learn how to create a vegetable garden, set up a greenhouse and then store, preserve and make the most of the masses of fruit and vegetables that nature provides. 

Some of our friends and family think we’re ‘retired’, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.   We’re just as busy now, but not desk jockeys working 15 hr days and travelling all the time.  We used to be in airports on average twice a week and now perhaps only once a year.  In fact our time in France is the most amount of time we’ve actually spent together since we got married!  That in itself was a challenge; we both had good, responsible careers and both have our own ways of doing things so we do butt heads occasionally.  It has all taken a bit of adapting to, but we’ve now found a more balanced way of living and have learned that having new things all the time or the latest gadgets really isn’t that important. We still have goals, they are just different now and generally involve making things, learning new skills, growing things and in the next couple of years getting some chickens!  Yes you’re right…we’ve turned into Tom and Barbara Good and if you’re too young to remember them, the YouTube Angel will help you out!

 

How did we do it?

So if you’re wondering what our process was to get to this point, here’s what we did.

  • Prepare as much as you can in advance. We love a good spreadsheet and prior to moving we went into spreadsheet overdrive! We thought about what would we do with our time because neither of us were ready to stop working completely; how would we deal with the language issue; and what budget would we set using 3 options; (the doomsday scenario – no income; a medium level of income; and a high level of income). The key point being to answer the question – If the doomsday scenario kicked in, could we still live?   
  • However, you have to accept that even with the best preparation there will be many unknowns. You have to have the confidence in yourselves and each other to know that, whatever crops up, you can deal with it together.
  • And ultimately, you reach a point where you have to pull your big pants up, take a deep breath and step off the cliff. If you only prepare and never take the next step, there is a danger that you’ll spend your life saying ‘We would have;  We could have;  We should have’.

 

I guess reading this everything sounds simple and easy – I just want to say that moving countries is never easy.   You’re adapting to a new culture, a new way of life and, in some cases, a new language.  Our French was rubbish before we moved here and we’ve had to learn on the ground and fast. Our language skills still aren’t brilliant, but we improve a little bit every day.  We’ve had our ups and downs; like the day Martin couldn’t work out how to get cash out of the ATM machine because he couldn’t understand it; or the time we tried to exchange our Isle of Man and Bahrain driving licenses for EU ones and came up against the legendary French bureaucracy! However, it’s all about your mental approach to it.  Do you see it as an insurmountable obstacle, or do you see it as an adventure?  For us it’s adventure all the way. 

So whilst we don’t know what’s round the corner, especially with the changes happening within the EU, we know one thing, that whatever comes along we have faith in our ability to manage and adapt and it’ll just be the next stage in our adventure. 

For more information about Mayenne Cottages services check out their website here.

 

Pin for later?

 

Other Guest Posts you might like that inspire life-change: