A Laidback, Low-Key Life in a 200 Year-Old Portuguese Cottage

My husband Keith and I sit at our neighborhood café, enjoying a coffee and ice-cold bubbly water. Our Maltese, Carson, appreciatively sniffs the fresh ocean breeze. The cost to spend a couple of hours relaxing and chatting like this—a daily ritual which punctuates the easy lifestyle we lead—is $2. This is our life in beautiful, affordable Portugal.

Our journey to this new life began back home in Woodland, Utah. We had just returned from a three-week trip in Europe, driving through France, Italy, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, and more. It was an eye-opening, satisfying, culture-rich journey.

I stood on our deck, enjoying the distant view of Mount Timpanogos, the second highest mountain in the Wasatch Range, dreaming of the start of ski season in a few short months.

“I want to go back,” my husband, Keith, said.

I smiled. “Sure, honey, next year we can”

“No, I mean I want to go back now, and stay there. Don’t you miss the architecture, the statues of monarchs presiding over flower-filled roundabouts, the luxury of taking up a café table for hours with the purchase of just a 70-cent cup of coffee?”

Less than a year later we had accomplished the first steps: we’d sold our home and fulfilled bucket list items by taking a Pacific Northwest road trip. While traveling, we applied for visas at the Portuguese Embassy in San Francisco.

We also secured a six-month lease in Northern Portugal. Not sure if we would stay overseas, we didn’t ship our possessions, but stored them near our son in Indiana who could send them after us if necessary.

Visas and plane tickets in hand, each armed with one suitcase and two carry-ons (one of mine was Carson), we began our adventure.

We moved into a 200-year-old stone cottage in a valley not far from Porto, where we watched gamboling goats on the sun-kissed meadow on the property. I learned to tell time by the chiming of church bells, delighted in discovering superb, inexpensive wines and cheeses. Shockingly, the hamburger, pizza, and pasta lover in me began to develop a taste for fresh-grilled fish.

That was five years ago. Today we’re just one year away from dual citizenship in the country we believe offers the best all-around lifestyle. Here’s why.

Portugal is geographically beautiful, with miles of coastline and sandy beaches, often with competition-worthy surf. Countryside and cities both hold mysteries of the past in castles, fortresses, cathedrals, and palaces.

The people are welcoming and courteous. It’s not unusual in some regions to find they speak some English, or French, in addition to their native tongue, which by the way, is not a difficult language. If you can learn Spanish, you can learn Portuguese.

After spending five years near Porto and Braga, we moved south, near to the beach city of Ericeira. The rent for our four-bedroom, four-bathroom house, a half-hour from Lisbon International Airport, is $1,000 a month. In Utah, we paid two and a half times that amount. Utilities run about $100 a month, about one quarter of our former bill.

It feels different living here compared to the U.S. because life flows at a slower pace. Traffic jams are rare, even in large cities, due to the preponderance of roundabouts.

Running late? No worries. Someone cancels an appointment? You’ll find yourself calmly saying, “That’s okay. Let’s reschedule.” Because the whole nation rolls in this easy-going manner, you can’t help but adopt it yourself.

People often think of Portugal as simply a smaller version of Spain. Not the case. Each country’s esprit is unique. In a nutshell, Spain has the flavor of Central and South America, while Portugal feels truly European: think France with a southern, low-key attitude.

In fact, just think Portugal.

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