I’d never really thought much about Portugal until last year. My Mom visited a few years ago and had a good time. But she was there during the recession and things were looking pretty bleak, her experience didn’t make me think “I wanna move there!” As I mentioned in my last post I’ve always wanted to move abroad, during my daily news scans I always read the “best of” travel and expat articles. In the past couple of years Portugal has made it into many “best of” lists and it was one of those articles that I stumbled upon. The media attention is probably based more on having good PR people in the office of tourism than on anything else, but what can I say, advertising works.
Whenever I find an article talking about a great place to live the first step in the construction of my internet based fantasy is to look for an elementary school. Our girls attend Waldorf Schools here in Gainesville and they have been wonderful. So I searched for Waldorf Schools in Portugal, I found schools near Lisbon and Lagos. As early retirees on a tight budget my first inclination was to avoid the big city and check out the school in Lagos. Escola Livre do Algarve looked perfect so then I moved onto the real estate market, grocery stores, climate, and cost of living to get an idea of the overall quality of life. A lot of boxes were getting ticked, the only negative I ran into is needing a car. The area is spotted with gorgeous villages but bus service is sporadic and wouldn’t work for shuttling the kids to and from school. In Florida we use a Madsen cargo bike for the school runs but the roads between villages are not bike friendly for someone who doesn’t like to ride in traffic. Nothing is ever perfect but Lagos seemed pretty close, at least from online research.
The next step was a visit, we were planning a vacation anyway so I bought tickets to Lisbon. While planning the trip to Portugal we started to get more serious about early retirement and we started to be tempted by France. Ahhh France. I found Waldorf Schools in Lyon and Colmar and arranged our trip to be 3 days in Lyon, 3 days in Colmar and 5 days in the western Algarve. At the time of the trip we were both hoping we’d decide on France. We speak a little French, we like French food, we’d be close to skiing/snowboarding, it would be perfect.
I can’t find the words to express the difference in how I felt in each place so I’ll try images.
So, yeah, I picked deliberately misleading photos to make a point. All three places are great and I would love to live in any of them. Lyon is a big city, not much green space, true urban living. All kinds of museums and cultural events as well as being the gastronomic center of France. Also the most expensive place we visited.
I liked Colmar much better for a family. A small pedestrian center surrounded by nice residential neighborhoods and the Christmas markets are like something from a fairy tale. Both Lyon and Colmar were cold in November, this was something as a Michigander I didn’t think would bother me. Apparently after 17 years in Florida I am no longer tolerant of cold weather. Colmar was my preferred French destination but didn’t immediately grab me as “home.”
Then we arrived in the Algarve, we landed in Faro and air felt like the Mediterranean. It wasn’t warm by Florida standards but with lows in the 50s and highs in the 60s we could put away the winter coats. The prices for everything were much, much lower than France or the US. But most of all it felt wild and open, everywhere we went there was somewhere for the kids the run. This felt more like home.