Ever wonder what it would be like to make Europe your home? After having lived all around the United States and traveling much of the world, my husband and I moved to Portugal more than seven years ago. Here’s why we stay.
Born in Brooklyn and living almost 30 years in Los Angeles, I’m no stranger to big cities. So when I got a taste of living in the countryside later in life I knew I preferred rural to suburban—much less urban—living. Access to a metropolis? Sure. But I wanted to ratchet down the pace (and ratchet up the civility) of daily life.
Here in Portugal that’s what we have. Talking and sipping coffee at an outdoor café, enjoying a meal together, are essential parts of the day. It’s not what you do for a living, or can buy with your salary, but how you make the best use of your time. And that’s by spending as much of it as possible with family and friends.
While there is no Amazon.pt, we can order online from a host of other European Amazon offerings (France, Spain, UK, Germany, etc.) Sephora, H & M, Burberry, and other chains exist in malls if you prefer to shop in person. Boutiques are in the smallest of towns, and for a large department store, I think there is none better than Spain’s El Corte Inglés, which we have in the capital, Lisbon, and in the north in Porto.
Many movies and TV shows are presented in English with subtitles in Portuguese. We have access to Netflix, YouTube and more, so entertainment is easy.
Not a week goes by without a local festa. The Portuguese love food, wine, music, and tradition, so there are festivals of garlic, cheese, bread, sardines, honey, bread, lace—you name it. Medieval and Renaissance Fairs give us a chance to dress up. In fact, if you don a costume, your entry fee will most likely be lower. Big name singers and musical groups perform at arenas in large cities, and discovering an impromptu parade of local musicians in a tiny village is not uncommon.
We’ve met folks here from the U.S., Canada, Belgium, France, England, Holland, Germany, Australia, Ireland, South Africa, Italy, Greece, Russia, and Estonia. Schoolteachers, translators, writers, lawyers, stay-at-home moms—you name it. As for the Portuguese, they are delightful: quiet, courteous, and helpful. In a packed restaurant, you can not only easily hear your dinner partner, but you won’t hear anyone else’s conversation, no matter how close the tables are, because the Portuguese are quite soft-spoken, by any standard. Pedestrians frequently nod “thank you” to cars stopping at crosswalks. More than once someone has deferred to us on a contested parking space. Locals are eager to understand you, often using broken English, and go to great lengths to give directions when asked.
We’ve always loved road trips, and moving to Portugal was like opening up a whole new world, literally. We’ve crossed the border many times into Spain, our neighbor to the east, to explore Malaga, Seville, Madrid, Valencia, Toledo, Barcelona and more. And that country is a gateway to France, from which we’ve driven on to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and other countries. Each one’s culture is fascinating, in part because transitioning seamlessly from nation to another in the same vehicle emphasizes both their differences and similarities.
Architecture and History
It doesn’t matter where you visit in Portugal, you encounter the past. We’ve scaled the ramparts of medieval castles, sat in an amphitheater dating from the days of Julius Caesar, and wandered through ancient cathedrals, monasteries, and synagogues. Museums are everywhere, from the many offerings of the two main cities mentioned above to the most modest towns.
Cost of Living
As soon as we arrived in Portugal, we began to notice the savings in our budget. On average, we spend about a third of what we did back in the States. A cup of coffee costs 80 cents instead of $3. The plate of the day at lunchtime in a café averages $10, which includes soup, a main course, a beverage like bottled water, beer or a glass of wine, dessert, and coffee.
Food and Wine
My favorite uncle in Brooklyn lived in a five-flight walk-up over a fish store. I have never liked fish, other than tuna on deli rye with pickles. Never liked it until I got to Portugal, that is. While I don’t think I’ll ever understand the thrill of octopus salad that holds sway over the populace here, fresh grilled dourado with salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil does it for me. And to be able to purchase a lovely bottle of wine at the supermarket for four dollars, one that you would easily pay twenty-five dollars for in North America, still amazes me. Finally, the Portuguese have a formidable sweet tooth, evidenced by the many luscious offerings arrayed in bakery windows everywhere.
From north to south and west to east, the weather in Portugal can be a roller-coaster ride. Sultry summer days are for sunning at a praia fluvial (river beach), lounging lakeside or body surfing in the Atlantic Ocean. Autumn’s crisp days herald the coming of a rainy, chilly winter. In the spring, wild calla lilies spring up on country roads, and here where I live in the center of the country, the brilliant orchards of pink- and white-blossomed cherry trees are breathtaking.
So that’s my list, but here’s a bonus reason: Healthcare here is easily accessible—although wait times in public facilities can be lengthy—professional, and economical. My husband and I both have had routine and emergency care in personal and private clinics and hospitals. We’ve paid as little as $7 for a consultation, $20 for x-rays and $200 for a combination of EKG and MRI. Paying $1,300 a year for the two of us combined for private health insurance is just one piece of evidence of the savings we experience.