From Sleepy Village to Lively Town: My Portuguese Adventure

My backyard swimming pool has changed a bit. In 2010 my partner Kevin and I took a leap of faith and moved to central Portugal. Soon we were swimming in a dreamy lagoon filled with mineral-rich water instead of a tiled chemical hole-in-the-ground like we had back home.

Salir do Porto is a tiny village (home to about 700 people) an hour’s drive north of Lisbon, sitting on the estuary off the Sao Martinho bay. It is a classic tightly knit old-school Portugal village with warm and friendly people. The bread and fish trucks arrive daily, honking their horns to let everyone know it’s time to buy dinner. Occasionally a sheep would get lost and wander into town. We had the shepherd’s mobile number.

A giant sand dune looms over the old ruins at the end of the cliff. Beyond the ruins is a mineral spring, named the Spring of Santa Ana. A pipe flows from the side of the cliff into a square chiseled rock basin about six feet square and five feet deep. People climb along the cliffs as nimble as goats to fill their empty bottles with the fresh spring water. A shot a day is the recommended dose. Green clay is used for a face and body masque, then washed off in the spring. Any good spa would charge a bucket of euros for a “treatment” with these same natural ingredients.

For two years, we loved village life in Salir do Porto. However, the damp sea air kept our traditional, centuries-old house very chilly in the winter.

One day, Kevin asked me, “Want to move to Lagos?” We had visited there twice and had a great time. Located at the southwestern tip of Portugal, Lagos has warmer winters and is known for its vibrant street music and performing arts scene. Kevin, a musician, would always have work singing and playing his 12-string guitar for happy holidaymakers. There is also a beach for every mood. I said, “Yes, let’s get packing!”

I am now spoiled for choice of swimming spots. Next to us is a great sports complex, where for less than $50 a month I get to use two pools and a state-of-the-art gym. It’s a 15-minute walk from our apartment to Potato Beach, which sits next to a 17th-century fort. The historic city centre has narrow cobblestone streets with seemingly endless pavement cafes. There are breathtaking cliff tops for hiking and the coastline is perfect for kayaking. The surfing is good and the food is better.

We faithfully attend the farmers’ market every Saturday morning. Everything is fresh, seasonal and grown locally. We eat fresh figs and peaches every summer; in winter we buy clementines for around $1 a kilo, avocadoes for $3 a kilo and greens for $1 a bunch. It feels good to get to know the growers and put money directly into their hands.

Will we ever move back home? Probably not. Everything we need is a short walk from our apartment, storks fly overhead and we can see Roman ruins from our balcony. It’s like living in a storybook and I have always loved a good story.

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