After arriving in Lisbon we had first enjoyed two weeks in Sesimbra, where we discussed various "where to next in Portugal?" options. After considerating various options we decided to spend a month on the Algarve.
In May the rental prices are still cheap compared to the July and August summer "silly" season, when rental prices triple and quadruple and accommodation is virtually impossible to find. After the summer season ends, rent prices plunge and availability soars until May or June the following year! And year after year the cycle goes on.
With little effort and many options, we found a monthly rental through Booking.com for an apartment in Santa Luzia. It is on the eastern Algarve and looked like the perfect location for us.
Uber Trip from Sesimbra to Pinhal Novo
We set off from Sesimbra with a Uber trip to Pinhal Novo, which is the nearest town on the central Lisbon to Faro train line. As with our journey from Lisbon to Sesimbra, we considered the bus options. But the negligible price difference and convenience made taking an Uber an easy decision.
Note! If there are three or more people it's often cheaper, and definitely far less effort, to travel by Uber than by public transport.
The drive confirmed another of my observations. There are areas in Portugal where an endless stream of small towns and villages, create one virtual urban area.
One of these areas is along the edge of Parque da Arriba. Each village with its own character, some with new building and renovation projects and all with scattered derelict buildings.
As we travelled along I realised that there are many options for living everywhere in Portugal!
Train Pinhal Novo to Tavira
On the trip down to Faro, there were long distances of unpopulated farmland and more attractive-looking towns (which I added to our where-to-live options!)
The following few towns caught my attention:
Alte is one of the typical villages in the Algarve. An unspoilt haven hidden away in the hills of Serra do Caldeirão. Situated in the central Algarve, it is 22km from Albufeira (one of the 'not for me' party places in the Algarve!) and 44km from Faro airport.
The noticeable feature of this village are the whitewashed houses with simple roofs and beautiful lace chimneys.
There is no direct public transportation to Alte from most parts of the Algarve. The closest municipality with a direct bus connection to the village is Loulé, which was another attractive-looking town.
Any town on the Algarve not focused on tourism gives it an attractive atmosphere!
Tunes is a village in the municipality of Silves.
Passing through these non-touristy, non-expat focussed towns and villages made me realise that many could offer 'my perfect' lifestyle.
At Faro, we had to change to the local east-bound train to Tavira. And from there, we'd take an Uber or taxi to Santa Luzia.
The Faro station is basic, with no information boards, the announcements in Portuguese and many confused people. This informal situation making it necessary for train Information to pass from passenger to passenger!
The final station of this eastern train line is Vila Real de Santo Antonio. Just over the river border from Spain.
On this ride, the only vaguely interesting town we saw was Olhao. Later after doing some research, we decided that it didn't warrant a second look.
While staying here, I decided to go to London for a weekend. Both to see my children and to collect a new iPhone, which had been making its way from San Francisco for the previous six months - a long, arduous journey with a long story!!
My Trip to London from Faro
This was eye-opening!
The initial leg from Santa Luzia to Faro Airport was an Uber, a train, and another Uber.
The train was chock-a-block with students who jumped on and off at various stations. This local commuter experience being quite unique for me, coming from South Africa.
In South Africa local train services are a disaster. The business has been devastated by cadre incompetence and corruption. In addition over the last few years thieves have destroyed the physical infrastructure. It's distressing to see, but complete stations were stripped bare, down to the raw bricks and concrete. Electric cables, basins and toilets, sections of the power lines and even, more incredibly, in places the actual railway tracks have been taken.
Experiencing a viable rail commuter system I realised what a loss this has been to whole communities.
Arriving at Faro airport, I was surprised by the number of people there. Then hearing the chattering and accents it made me feel like I was in some regional airport in the UK rather than in Portugal!
I saw the reason for this as I looked up at the arrivals and departures boards. Apart from the flights from London there were loads of flights to and from UK regional airports like Bristol, Liverpool and Leeds.
The Algarve is a popular UK retirement, holiday and package tour destination and for this reason I'd decided that this would not be my prime choice of where to settle.
However, after living in the Algarve for a few weeks, I realised that my preconceived idea of the Algarve as ex-pats and parties was only valid in certain areas and more so at certain times of the year. I discovered that my preconceived idea was merely a sliver of all that the Algarve offers.
The east is quieter and less flooded with "foreigners". And as you head a few kilometres north, you are in farmlands and small villages.
For me, this is more like the authentic Portugal and where I want to live.
Flying with Wizzair
It was the first time I'd flown Wizzair, and overall, I was pleasantly surprised. Although the flight was an hour late arriving from London, apparently due to the Covid checks necessary at Gatwick.
The flight to London was relatively empty. Although this could have been expected considering that I was travelling in early May. Well before the holiday season and still with the remnants of Covid confusion.
The empty flight to London didn't prepare me for the flight back five days later.
I arrived at Gatwick at 05:30 on Monday. The place was buzzing. Long lines of people waiting impatiently to get through the unnecessary and understaffed checks. Belts on, belts off, shoes on, shoes off, pathetic "little" people barking instructions.
Another airport situation which reinforced why over the years I've grown to detest taking flights.
The plane was loaded (not one free seat) with package tour groups. Loud and boisterous, off to enjoy their week of sun and fun. And no doubt a lot of liquor!
Like the previous flight, it was late. The excuse this time was that the flight attendants were stuck in traffic!
On arriving at Faro, I planned to take an Uber, but I'd exhausted my recently bought data (probably through roaming?) As a consequence I couldn't connect to the internet! So with no connection outside, the only solution was to book from inside the airport and then find the Uber outside! It was messy, it did work, but the driver wasn't happy as I'd kept him waiting.
Arriving at Faro railway station, I was struck by how quiet it was.
The ticket office was closed, and three men were sitting in the waiting room fiddling with their cell phones. The train I'd planned to catch didn't arrive. People were sitting around waiting. I sat and ate my apple and cursed the loss of my internet connection.
Then through the informal platform "communication" network we learned that the railway's staff were on strike. No one knew which, or if any, trains were operating. I felt lost as without data my phone was useless. It was a surreal feeling. Sitting about thirty kilometres from home and stuck!
During the long wait, I had spoken to three people who were also going to Tavira, so when they offered to share their Uber, I was delighted.
Finally arriving in Tavira late in the afternoon, I sighed a breath of relief. I still had a 3 kilometre walk back to Santa Luzia but, no problem, I'd done that many times before.
Our Daily Life in Santa Luzia
Here we lived like locals. Shopping at the nearest Aldi and Lidl supermarkets, both a pleasant 1.5k walk away in Tavira. Our "bulk" shopping here was supplemented by visits to the local mini-mercado for our daily requirements.
We stayed in a ground floor two-bedroom, two bathroom apartment. There was a front verandah where we often ate and ate, and a complex swimming pool. Situated only a few hundred metres from the promenade, restaurants, cafes and mini-mercado in one direction and farm lands in the other. It was perfect.
Most of the other residents we met in our apartment block were foreigners. They were from France, Austria and Holland with the occasional Portuguese added to the mix.
This store remarkable. It stocked with everything from appliances to tampons, wine to bananas, cheese to toilet paper and every other household and grocery item in between. All crammed into a tiny space, every nook and cranny piled to the ceiling.
This busy, limited-space shop was fed by staff walking to and fro throughout the day from a close by bulk stockroom. An interesting supply chain!
Soon after arriving, Roger (our travel friend) started feeling ill. Initially with flu-like symptoms we thought that he may be suffering from COVID-19. He was! It didn't take long before he felt terrible with a high temperature and coughing and spluttering.
We did what we could to stay away from him and after a few debilitating days, he started recovering. Fortunately within a week, he was virtually back to normal.
While in Santa Luzia we visited Tavira on a few occasions for sightseeing walks around the town and for doing some admin with the bank end Vodafone.
There is nothing spectacular. Other than a few old churches and an expansive view from the castle.
Train trip to Vila Real de Santa Antonio
During our time on the Algarve we never went west of Faro. We had no genuine interest in what those areas had to offer, so we spent our time enjoying where we lived.
Instead, we took the train east to Vila Real de Santa Antonio, the town situated on the bank of the Guadiana River, which is the border between Portugal and Spain.
From the train station it is a short walk to the town centre of yet another typical Portuguese town – from pristine to derelict. The old town surrounds an expansive touristy plaza—restaurants offering "English Breakfast" detracting from the local ambience.
Santa Luzia Beach Options
There are two beach options from Santa Lucia. The closest one, Praia da Terra Estreita, is a short ferry trip across the river. This ferry runs from May to October.
The other beach option is Praia do Barril. From Praia da Terra Estreita, it is a pleasant beach walk of about 2 kilometres. Alternatively, there's a three- or four-kilometre walk along a flat path. If you're feeling lazy, you can take an old steam train for the last kilometre.
Walking and cycling in this area has many options with quiet dirt roads, paths and the beach.