The city of Beja, with a population of 35,000, sits on a hill overlooking the expansive fields of the Baixa Alentejo region of southern Portugal.
The vast plains of the Alentejo extend as far as the eye can see and are dotted with cork oak and olive trees. Here life moves slowly. Shepherds can be seen with their flocks moving from one field to another. Cows lie lazily in the hot sun and farmers still use horses and tractors for transportation.
Spring is a popular time to visit the area, which is when it blossoms into a kaleidoscope of colorful wildflowers that decorate the horizon. Extreme summer temperatures transform the vistas to dry fields of hay as temperatures soar to the 100 F mark with little to no rain. Winters are cold and wet in this region and the perfect time to curl up with a good book in front of the fireplace.
Although the Alentejo is not as popular with expats as the nearby Algarve, there are a select group of expats who would not live anywhere else. For those who appreciate a slow-paced, rural lifestyle, immersed in the culture and language, affordable living, and accepting of the weather, this could be for you.
Things to Do in Beja
Beja Castle is one of the landmarks that has withstood the test of time. The impressive marble tower takes visitors up 131 feet and offers a panoramic view of the region and city below.
Nearby, is the Church of Santiago Maior, built in 1590 and later elevated to the status of cathedral. The interior is decorated with traditional blue and white azulejo tiles, paintings, and a gilded altarpiece.
The heart of the city is Praça da República, a checkboard-tiled plaza with a center statue and a handful of shops and restaurants that surround the charming square. Stop for a glass of famous Alentejo wine, mingle with the locals, and feel the vibe.
From the city center, it’s just an hour’s drive to the UNESCO wonders of Évora. Explore the impressive historic city center, chapel of the bones, cathedral, and Roman temple.
For some fun in the sun travel 90 minutes to the gorgeous beaches of the Algarve, the perfect holiday destination.
There are a variety of activities to keep fit and active in Beja. Several gyms in the city offer an array of programs, from group classes to personal training sessions.
Cycling enthusiasts will delight in the flatness of the region that makes it perfect for long rides, with little traffic. Long-distance walkers and runners can take advantage of trails that offer something for most every fitness level.
The city has a cinema that shows first-run films in their original language, usually English with Portuguese subtitles, for a cost of $7.40. Grocery shopping is easy here with supermarket chains like Continente, Pingo Doce, and Intermarché, along with minimarts in residential areas. A variety of clothing and sporting goods stores also can be found, along with home improvement centers.
For a touch of the United States close to home many expats make the 90-minute drive to Seville, Spain to take advantage of a Costco warehouse. This members-only club will make you feel like you are back in the U.S. with food samples, U.S. brand names, and plenty of options to choose from. The cost for membership is $35.50 per year.
Throughout Portugal residents have access to the low-cost public healthcare system. There is no cost to join but small copays apply, less than $6 when you need to see a doctor. Many expats and Portuguese also sign up for private health insurance which allows them to see an English-speaking doctor of their choice with fewer wait times to schedule a procedure. Plans start at around $100 per couple but increase with age, pre-existing conditions, and how comprehensive the plan may be. Many physicians in Portugal speak some English.
Since Beja is an equal distance to both Lisbon and Faro international airports, residents who live here can choose whichever hub offers the best commute to fit their travel needs.
It’s easy to connect with like-minded people and make friends on Facebook groups like American & Friends PT, Anything and Everything Alentejo, The Good People of the Alentejo, Alentejo Expats, Spouses Help & Advice, and more.
Cost of Living in Beja
The cost of living in Beja is more affordable than the nearby Algarve. Here a couple could live nicely on $1,600 a month including rent. But like always, the cost of living depends on lifestyle, and some may find it necessary to spend more or even less.
It’s possible to rent a three-bedroom, two-bath furnished apartment with a garage for $600 in the area. Expect to pay another $120 for utilities (electric, gas, water, trash), $65 for an internet and phone package, $400 for food, $200 for dining out, $60 for a gym membership for two, $150 for health insurance, and $100 for transportation costs.
Feature image: ©iStock/LuckyTD