Moving to Santa Luzia is my fourth move in five months and it should be my final move for at least a year, maybe longer. To qualify for Portugal’s D7 residency visa, I had to have six months of accommodations lined up. At the time I applied, you could have AirBnB reservations or even long term reservations at a hotel. I didn’t want to commit to six months in a place I hadn’t seen so I split the time up between three places, the first two in Albufeira and the third was in the surfing town of Nazare. Nazare fell through about a month before I was supposed to go there and I ended up in Olhao, a town whose name I still can’t pronounce. I figured that during the initial six months, I would decide where I wanted to land long-term. And I did.
Looking for apartments here is a bit different from looking in the United States. Your best bet is to go through a real estate agent, especially if your language skills, like mine, are lacking. But, unlike the States, whether you’re renting or buying, you don’t use just one agent; you use as many as you need. There’s no real MLS equivalent here. If you go to the website of a real estate agent, you will only see the houses that agency has for sale; not the houses ALL the agencies have for sale.
I started my search for a long term rental back in late March, early April. The closest thing to Craigslist here is OLX.pt. I also looked through Idealista.pt (where I had the best luck) and Flatio.pt. (not so much), which is a short-term rental site. Expat groups and Facebook Marketplace are also good sources for properties whether you are renting or buying.
Early in my stay, I had seen a guest house for sale in the town of Tavira. The idea of running a guest house and setting it up as a writers’ retreat caught my imagination. My practical side kicked in (“There will be people who will talk to you and expect things”) and I once again realized that I don’t excel at sharing. I had enough of that in my childhood, thank you. But the town of Tavira hooked me. It’s in the very eastern part of The Algarve, near the border of Spain, and a bit warmer than the western side. I’ll take all the warm I can get. I centered my search there. And again, just like my move to Portugal, I decided on Tavira without having set foot in it.
I looked at a grand total of three apartments, one directly listed by the owner, the other two through agents. My new friend Jo drove us over to explore the town and to help me evaluate apartments. We walked around the town (including the castle ruins) for a couple of hours before seeing the first apartment. The apartment was lovely, a refurbished, sparkling clean two bedroom, two bath for around €650 a month. With a parking space. It was in a nice neighborhood near a school, but in a very squat block of apartment buildings. No atmosphere.
The second was in the village of Santa Luzia, a few kilometers outside of Tavira. The apartment is on the main drag of town (which is mostly empty ten months of the year) and overlooks part of the Ria Formosa, a system of barrier islands that is designated as a World Heritage Site. It faces south, has sliding glass doors that lead onto a narrow balcony (just wide enough for chairs and a small table), and has a bakery next door. If you’re shouting “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner” right now, you know me well. It was a bit pricier at €800 plus €50 for electricity but… waterfront. And bakery. Moving to Santa Luzia had a bit of a downside, too. It’s a hell of a hike to the larger supermarkets and stores. I’d probably have to Uber for any major grocery runs. I had one more apartment to look at.
The third apartment was up a treacherously steep flight of stairs, a two bedroom, one bath that was dark, small, and older. There was a spiral staircase up to the bedrooms (cool!) but the bathroom with shower was downstairs. There was no way I could navigate that staircase in the middle of the night, half asleep. I am afraid my spiral staircase days are behind me—even more today than yesterday. (If you got that, you’re old.)
It was really no contest. For the little bit more money per month, I could have a sunny, waterfront apartment that was spacious and comfy. And today, I move in. I am ridiculously happy about it. There will be frustrations—the landlord’s English is slightly better than my Portuguese. I’m not sure how busy the street will be in summer tourist season (though I plan to be traveling next summer, so it may all work out). But I have a place to call my own. I can fully unpack. I can start getting THINGS.
Moving to Santa Luzia makes me feel like today is the day I start living in Portugal as a true resident, not a visitor. Happiness.