14 Feb The Algarve in Winter – What’s it Really Like?
When we moved to the Algarve I was looking forward to blue skies, sunshine and pool days. That’s pretty much what we got in mid-September when we moved into our apartment with communal pool, just a 15-minute walk from the beach. Little did we know that our beach days were numbered and we’d soon be shivering in our freezing apartment. Wondering what the Algarve in winter is really like? This is our experience.
The Algarve in September
Portugal is one of the sunniest places in Europe and the Algarve in particular boasts around 300 days of sunshine a year, with very little rainfall. Until October we were still basking in temperatures into the 20s. After finishing my work for the day, I’d head down to the pool for a swim and a read, feeling great about leaving the drizzly, grey UK weather behind me. Andrew would meet me after he finished school and we’d eat out on the terrace.
My parents visited in the October school half-term and we spent most of our time exploring the Algarve, sightseeing in Loule, Lagos and Faro. Our closest beach, Vale do Lobo, was still busy with sun seekers and the restaurants and bars overlooking the sea were relatively busy. Boat trips ran less frequently due to choppy waters, but we still managed to get out to see stunning cliffs and rock formations in the Ponta da Piedade.
Facing an Algarve winter in a freezing apartment
The Algarve climate changed starkly by the beginning of November, with temperatures dropping to below 10 degrees. All of a sudden it was too cold to venture into the pool and our complex emptied of most residents. That’s when we started to realise just how cold our apartment is. Built like a cave with stone floors and no insulation, we found the temperature plummeted and we had to start using our air conditioning units as heaters. The Algarve in November and December turned out to be way colder than I expected.
As we’ve discovered, the houses here in the south (and in Portugal in general, judging from our 2017 experience in Porto), are built for hot weather. That means Portugal in winter can get pretty nippy. Many homes have fireplaces yet lack the central heating systems we’re used to in the UK. I hate being cold with a passion, so working from home in freezing conditions became miserable.
We also discovered that the cool weather and poorly-insulated buildings can lead to damp, a problem I think most long-term rentals Algarve must suffer from. We had to start storing our clothes in plastic boxes rather than the wardrobes and keep windows open for ventilation. Andrew has had the same problems at his school, teaching in cold classrooms with electric heaters that make little difference.
Portugal in winter – what can you expect?
Sure, we knew we weren’t going to get the tropical Asian temperatures we’d enjoyed in Chiang Mai, but we had expected the Algarve to be warmer in winter. On a trip to Lisbon in November, our Airbnb host actually remarked on how uncharacteristically cold it had been that year and the coast was even hit by hurricane Leslie, the most severe storm in decades. So, perhaps this is another sign of the world’s changing climate?
The Algarve in December was incredibly quiet too, our local area became a ghost town with restaurants closed for the season and deserted beaches. If you like the peace and quiet, this may be a positive point, but I began to feel isolated living in such an empty area. By the time we hit late December, I was looking forward to escaping back to the UK for a dose of central heating over the holidays and a festive buzz.
The upside is that we’ve had very little rain in the Algarve. The skies are reliably blue with lots of sunshine, so I go walking every afternoon to warm up and get some sun on my skin. Algarve winter holidays can still be appealing if you’re visiting from somewhere like the UK but if you’re moving here, try to find a modern apartment with good insulation and be prepared to invest in extra heating.
Dealing with the Algarve climate
We arrived back from the UK in January more prepared to deal with the cold Algarve temperature. I brought more jumpers with me, plus a huge furry blanket. We also splashed out on a gas heater, which cost €100. This may sound a lot but running the electric air heaters was getting expensive and they just don’t create a satisfying heat anyway.
The gas heater so far has been a life-saver and although I still need a hot water bottle at night, we’ve found it warms the room much more efficiently. February temperatures are starting to top 15 degrees again and outside in the sun you can go without a jumper, which is something you definitely wouldn’t be able to in the UK.
So far, living in the Algarve in winter certainly hasn’t been the warm experience I’d dreamed of. We’re hoping that temperatures will really rise again in the spring and we’ll have a good few months to enjoy the perks of living here with our pool and the nearby beach.