An Idyllic Seasonal Business in Low-Cost Portugal

When you’ve been traveling the world by cruise ship, the place you finally call home must be special indeed. When Matt Ashwell and Lena Roganovic made their final disembark from one of the Princess Cruise ships they had been occupying for almost five years, it was in the southern Portugal region known as the Algarve.

“Matt’s parents live here, and we used to spend our vacations here as well, so it was a natural transition for us,” says Lena.

They had both been working as on-board photographers for Princess Cruises, and had met and fell in love while they were both docked in Sydney Harbour, Australia.

They now live in the Algarve town of Alvor. Originally a fortified town, it has retained its traditional fishing village roots. A 16th-century church presides over whitewashed houses lining cobblestone passageways descending to the riverfront. There you’ll find bars and pleasant seafood restaurants, while the Alvor Estuary overlooks a protected marshland for migrating birds. To top it all off, the nearby Praia do Alvor beach offers one of the best seaside experiences in the Algarve.

Despite having dream jobs aboard a cruise ship, they wanted to try their hand at starting a business of their own. And it has worked out well for the couple. They formed Matt + Lena Photography five years ago. “We’ve both always been photographers, but we ventured into weddings after moving here. Destination weddings are trending, and Portugal is one place that has it all: great climate, delicious wine and food, friendly people, relaxed attitudes, and romantic landscapes,” says Lena.

Weddings are seasonal work, so Matt and Lena’s summers are hectic, traveling all through mainland Portugal from the far north to the southern tip, and even to the Azores (an autonomous region of Portugal in the North Atlantic Ocean made up of nine volcanic islands). “We get to explore lovely places, have adventures, and meet fascinating people from all over the world who come to Portugal to get married.” Matt and Lena have also shot weddings in Canada, Australia, Poland, and Paris. A new endeavor this year was venturing into commercial and fashion work as well.

One of the best parts of living in Portugal is the affordable lifestyle. Lena grew up on Toronto and finds the contrast startling. “Toronto is crazy expensive,” she says. “You just can’t go out for a glass of wine and a beer for under five dollars in Canada. But you sure can here, and Portugal has an amazing selection of wines.”

Matt and Lena make further savings on their apartment. “We rent a nice, affordable apartment that is covered by roughly half of our monthly budget of $1,200,” says Matt.

I asked Matt and Lena if there were any drawbacks to living in the Algarve. “It gets touristy at the height of the summer season, but other than that it’s pretty quiet. Life here is definitely easygoing and laidback,” says Matt.

Like her husband, Lena loves the physical beauty of the area. “We’re surrounded by amazing beaches, cliffs, and coves,” she says. “We stroll down to the harbor with fishing boats bobbing in the tranquil waters, or along a boardwalk over miles of sand dunes and wild, golden fields. The Monchique mountains are in the distance. It’s absolutely beautiful.”

The two use the quiet winters to relax and recharge their batteries, taking advantage of opportunities close by. “Windsurfing is great here,” says Matt, “and there’s also a small airport where you can skydive. It’s a wonderful life, being able to do what you love and also make a living.”

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