When house-buyers look to the Algarve as a potential destination to relocate to they often overlook Faro, viewing it merely as the gateway to the region because that's were the international airport happens to be. However, Faro is a delightful historic city that has plenty of shopping, excellent dining, a surprisingly vibrant nightlife and a great social life to offer.
From its ancient fortified walls to the pedestrianised shopping streets lined with interesting boutiques in the city centre to the hidden, quiet plazas where old men still play dominoes at outdoor cafes just as they did one hundred years ago, Faro is worth considering as a retirement or relocation destination.
Things to do locally
Among the highlights in Faro's immediate surroundings are the deserted island, Ilha Deserta, which is just a short ferry ride from the city, and Ria Formosa Natural Reserve, which comprises a series of saltwater lagoons sheltered from the ocean by various small islets.
Here thousands of migratory birds come to rest for a while in the mudflats. It takes a boat tour to fully appreciate the wildlife and vegetation of these wetlands. Located about 3 km or 2 miles east of the neighbouring town of Olhão, the Centro de Educação Ambiental de Marim is an environmental education centre which is part of the Ria Formosa Natural Reserve. It sits in its own stunning 60ha-grounds (148 acres) of sand dunes and pinewoods. The grounds contain a centre for injured birds, temporary and permanent exhibitions on the flora and fauna of the area, a restored farmhouse, tidal mill and several aquariums. It was from this centre that the web-footed Portuguese water-dog, once used by fishermen to help bring in the daily catch, was bred back from near-extinction.
Beyond the nature reserve are three sandbar islands that offer day trippers pristine beaches for a picnic and a day out by the sea. Also close at hand for a day's excursion is the small fishing community on the Ilha da Culatra, a charming place to come for an authentic seafood meal.
Within Faro itself there are numerous cultural attractions to explore, such as the richly decorated parish church, São Pedro, or the beautiful Baroque Igreja do Carmo at Largo do Carmo, a church simply dripping with Brazilian gold leaf. Also located in Faro is the Museu Regional do Algarve, the Ethnographic Museum of the Algarve, which takes a nostalgic look at how things used to be in Portugal's southern-most region. For more modern entertainments, there's always the bustling beach resort of Praia de Faro, just a short drive away.
The eastern Algarve offers a wide range of property types, from farmhouses needing restoration to key-ready luxury duplexes or penthouses with sea views. Renting somewhere can be as cheap as 300 euros a month for a one bedroomed apartment, provided one chooses long-term rental over holiday lets. A local retirement village, located a 20-minute drive from Faro Airport, offers retirees full facilities onsite. Here property prices start from £79,000. Choosing such a location means joining a ready-made community of older residents, but not everybody is keen on such an "exclusive" social life on their doorstep.
Faro itself has a lively expat community, as each year many people choose to retire to the area due to the mild year-round climate, healthy outdoor lifestyle and great local amenities. Buying a property in the eastern Algarve is therefore marginally more expensive than buying in the central part or in the Western Algarve, which tends to be less densely populated.
However, generally speaking Portuguese property prices are still lower than in other EU countries, even lower than Spain's. In the Algarve, a budget of £490,000 to £500,000 (roughly EUR 550,000) will buy a large three-bedroom, two-bathroom villa with stunning sea views, set in a large plot of land with mature gardens. At the Costa del Sol, a similar property could well cost twice that much.
For around £200,000 or EUR 220,000 it is possible to buy key-ready three-bed Algarve apartments with excellent onsite amenities, including a communal swimming pool.
If you're looking to buy a detached house in deed of renovation, the eastern Algarve can provide restoration projects starting from around £147,000 or EUR 160,000 for a two-bed property set in a plot of about 225 square metres.
Some people prefer to build their own dream home in the Algarve: a plot of land large enough for a two-bed, two-bath villa costs around EUR 95,000 or £88,000.
Settling into Faro Life
Portugal has long been one of Britons' favourite retirement destinations, partly because the cost of living is lower than in many places of neighbouring Spain, and partly because the Algarve's beautiful coastline, delicious cuisine and sunny, mild climate are just too hard to resist.
An estimated 60,000 Brits already live in the country, of which the younger, working-age group tends to live in Portugal's two main cities, Lisbon and Porto. Retirees tend to choose the Algarve, which can best be described as a far less developed, more peaceful version of Spain's Costa del Sol. However, just like the famous coastal strip in southern Spain, the Algarve offers plenty of world-class golf courses, tennis courts, marinas, water sports facilities, fine dining restaurants, family amusement parks and cultural attractions, as well as international schools.
Faro has around 40,000 permanent residence, many of whom are expat retirees. The city offers therefore a surprisingly buzzing social life, day and night. Long hours of sunshine - with around 300 sunny days a year on average - and a laid-back lifestyle make the eastern Algarve a great place to relocate or retire to. It's a good idea to subscribe (FREE) to some expat forums online, as they can not only provide a wealth of advice and useful information on what's happening locally, but also offer details of local social groups that meet regularly, such as drama, cycling and walking groups.
The Portuguese government and local authorities have been very proactive in trying to attract wealthy retirees, as well as plenty of semi-retired people who still want to run or invest in some sort of business. There are numerous tax incentives, which means not only British expats flock to the Algarve, but also retirees from Scandinavia and Ireland.
Take a look at the forums of http://www.expat.com/forum/viewforum.php?id=823 and http://www.expatfocus.com/expatriate-portugal-faro and discover just how much there is to do!
Summer temperatures lie between 28 and 30 degrees C, while in winter the thermometer drops to around 8 degrees C, which means the property you buy should have not only air conditioning, but also some form of heating, such as an open fireplace or wood-burner for example. Summers tend to be dry, with a higher level of rainfall in winter.
Please see our Guide to retiring to Portugal for details on how to transfer your UK pension, healthcare issues and obtaining residency permits and visas.