“How’s the weather?” is often the first thing people ask us from the UK. Regardless of the answer, the general assumption is that Portugal is a permanent tropical paradise. That’s actually rather far from the truth.
Yes, for much of the year, the weather (here in the Algarve at least) is reliably glorious, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The weather can be different across the country and there are a number of challenges you may face to get used to it.
1. Portugal’s not all the same place
Portugal doesn’t just mean the Algarve. Although the country is small, it still experiences vast differences in climate. You may be surprised to learn that during the winter months, people ski the slopes of the Serra da Estrela, while just 300 miles away tourists get sunburned in Albufeira.
The temperature in Portugal can change significantly by moving just a few miles, and the biggest extremes are found in inland areas, which can experience both forest-burning heat in summer and extreme cold in winter.
2. The temperature doesn’t tell the whole story
Often those in the will see winter Algarve temperatures of around 15-16°Celsius and assume we’re having spring-like weather. It’s often not the case.
There’s every chance it’s also blowing a gale, or perhaps worse – the Algarve has experienced several damaging typhoons in recent years. Also, just because it is 15°C during the day, doesn’t mean it won’t be cold by 5pm. With central heating a rarity across Portugal, the winter just as much as our Northern European neighbours.
3. You will acclimatise
During our first year in Portugal, the locals often looked at us as if we were crazy when we walked down the streets in T-shirts and shorts. Now we look the same way at the tourists from behind our scarves.
The simple fact is that your body adjusts. I’m no doctor, but I think there’s a physiological component to this. Now in our fourth year here, we need temperatures well into their twenties before we feel warm, and those in the low thirties no longer feel particularly hot. Until, of course, we try to sleep at night…
4. Weather affects everything
There are many things that potential expats neglect to consider relating to the climate in Portugal. Wet winters make rustic houses go moldy without extensive use of dehumidifiers; if you struggle to sleep in a hot room, you’re going to have to budget for all the electricity the air-conditioning uses; and if you use air-conditioning all the time, you’re going to need some good skin moisturiser...the list goes on.
5. It is a whole lot better than the UK
My first four points are intended to illustrate that Portugal isn’t a sunny utopia. Different climates bring different challenges, and many of them have surprised us since we moved.
However, down here in the Algarve, there is something we are guaranteed: from May to September, the weather will be predictable, reliable and beautiful. We still remember those UK summers that would sometimes fail to arrive at all, and we’d never want them back.
I’ll finish with something one of my Portuguese neighbours told me shortly after we moved here: “Portugal isn’t a hot country, it’s a cold country with hot sun.” That is, without doubt, the most important thing to remember – and I’ve got the fluffy socks and plug-in heaters to prove it!
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