How to survive a villa holiday in Portugal!

Planning a Portugal holiday rental with friends or family? Here are our tips to strike the perfect balance for spending some quality time together and enjoying what this great country has to offer:

when to go

When to go, or when not to go? That is the question!

If you can travel outside the peak season (July & August) villa rentals are substantially reduced as well as car hire. Although the days are shorter, the weather in May and June, September and October in Portugal is usually still pretty warm. The crowds have also gone, and you will get much more attentive service at restaurants.

Who to go with?

Villa holidays work well for multi-families of similar parenting age, for best friends’ groups, or for extended families who want to spend some quality multi-generational time together.

But make sure you have similar ideas about mealtimes especially when children are involved, if you want to go out for meals or self-cater, if you all agree on booking a babysitter or not, and what activities might interest you.

Share the load with regards to chores: booking the villa rental, making flight and car hire reservations, food shopping and cooking on location. Don’t forget to make sure that the villa has the required number of cots and high-chairs and to book booster seats for the car hire. And you might want to book some extra villa add-ons like pre-arrival food shopping, personal laundry service or a chef-at-home, to give yourselves a proper break.

Look for spacious accommodation with private areas allowing you to get some quiet time with your book if you fancy it, but also plenty of communal space to all be in it together.

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Reserve your flight tickets early

This is especially relevant if you’re travelling as a big group and you will have a better range and rate to choose from. There are 3 international airports in Portugal. Oporto is the nearest airport to our Douro Valley villas. Lisbon Airport is ideal for our Lisbon Coast villas, Comporta and the Alentejo. Faro airport is the closest to our featured Algarve villas. However, Seville or Lisbon are also good alternatives in the high season when flights to the Algarve are scarce – it will add a couple of hours to your travel, but both are connected to the Algarve by excellent motorways.

Book travel insurance

Protect yourself in case your plans fall through. In most cases, a cancelled villa rental is not refundable unless the same period can be rented again by the villa owner.

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Request extra villa services early

Our featured holiday rentals all include some cleaning, but if you are a large party you may want to consider requesting some extra cleaning hours or even cook service. Do book extra villa services early especially if you are travelling during the high season when such services might be over-subscribed.

Local knowledge

Read up as much as possible about your destination in advance specially if you are visiting a city like Lisbon, but once there, put the guidebook down and ask for native advise – the Portuguese are a friendly people and will love to share a tip or two about the best market to go to, their favourite dish or wine, the most unspoilt beaches etc. Then enjoy living like a local!

Our Villa Welcome Books, which you get when you arrive at your booked accommodation, will also list recommended attractions, restaurants and things to do locally near your holiday home.

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What to pack?

Well, books of course! Check-out our previous blog post on recommended holiday reading for all the family.

Our villas rentals mostly include pool towels and hairdryers so that you don’t have to travel with bulky items, as well as anti-mosquito plug-in gadgets and some table games. Some villas also include a pool table, table tennis, bikes and a few kid’s toys – check your villa description for inclusions.

But do travel with mobile and laptop chargers as well as travel plugs – even if the villa has them, it might not suit your particular model.

Sun hats and sun lotions are essential of course, and comfortable shoes too, especially if you intend to walk around exploring. Portuguese cobblestones and uneven pavements are lethal for high heels or indeed slippery leather soles. Lisbon and Porto are also quite hilly, so trainers are a sensible option. For the beach, the local style trend is to wear “Havaianas” flip flops, which you can get at most resort shops.

Go with the flow and relax

The Portuguese are a little flexible with their timekeeping, but you will be expected to turn up in time for airport transfers, villa check-in times and dinner reservations. So, if you are running late, advise all concerned. Then everyone will take a deep breath and go with the flow.

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Be aware of local culture

One kiss or two kisses? Two kisses are the norm when friends and even acquaintances greet in most of Portugal unless you are in Lisbon, where one kiss is considered more elegant!

If you want to score highly with the locals, mastering a few simple expressions in Portuguese like “se faz favor” (please) and “obrigada” (thankyou if you are a woman) or “obrigado” (if you are a man) will get you a long way.

Dress appropriately; whilst the Portuguese are pretty open-minded and relaxed about their dress code, they don’t walk around without a t-shirt on, other than at the beach or pool area. But there are several beaches where naturalism is widely practised if you want to bare it all.

Very boisterous and drunken behaviour in public areas is also not acceptable and will most certainly get reproving looks from those around you.

The Portuguese Sun

It goes without saying but drink lots of water, cover up your head and use plenty of sunscreen – even on a cloudy day the UV index is quite high in Portugal.

If you have had a big lunch or have been drinking alcoholic beverages in the sun, try to cool your body off first (poolside shower or sit in the shade for a bit) before diving into a cold pool or into the Atlantic Ocean as this could cause cold water shock.

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Villa & pool safety

Portugal is considered one of the safest countries to travel in the world, but opportunist break-ins do occur.

Villa owners will not accept any responsibility if any personal items disappear from the villa or grounds around it, so take care not to leave any belongings lying around, especially if of value and when you leave the property for any length of time. Some of our villas are fitted with safes and alarms, but not all. Do lock up all the windows and doors when you go out.

Do not use glassware around your villa’s swimming pool or anywhere where you or other villa guests might be walking around barefoot; most villas provide shatter proof glasses and plates to use outdoors.

Out & about safety

Pickpockets (a malevolent issue anywhere in the world) tend to work in crowded areas like markets and tourist sites, Lisbon and Oporto city centres, tram rides etc. But snatching of mobile phones and handbags, theft of unattended baggage and car break-ins also occur and are the principal crimes against visitors to Portugal. Be aware of your surroundings and take care.

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Eating in or eating out?

If are you are eating in, keep it simple and use local produce. Villas are great for chilling out with family and friends of all ages, without worrying about cramming buggies into restaurants, dealing with overtired kids or paying for a babysitter. Most of our villas have a BBQ for guests to use unless there is a high fire risk in the local area.

If you have booked a local cook, ask her to prepare some local delicacies. We can also arrange for some more sophisticated catering with a chef-at-home service at quite a few of our featured villas.

Don’t do everything together!

Especially if you are a large group, it is very difficult for all to agree to do the same things 24/7, so break up into smaller groups to go to the beach, take a boat trip on the Douro river or explore one of the nearby towns.

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Portugal’s coastline

Portugal’s beautiful coastline is dotted with beaches of fine golden sand washed clean by Atlantic tides. The west coast can get a little rough but it’s great for learning to surf. The further you go into the Mediterranean along the south coast the warmer the seawater gets.

Choose beaches with a lifeguard (red and yellow flags placed in pairs will mark the areas that are patrolled and are considered the safest places to swim) and observe the beach condition signal flags: RED for danger, do not bathe; AMBER for be careful; GREEN for safe; BLUE & WHITE CHECK for beach unattended.

Watch-out for “Peixe aranha” (weeverfish) in high summer – they are most prevalent during low tide (shallow waters) and bury themselves in the sand. If you accidentally step on one of its fin stings, it can be very painful. However, the local lifeguard or beach bar will most likely have an antidote spray. You can also wear rubber beach slippers to keep you protected.

When rock-pooling with children you may encounter sea urchins and anemones, which also have a sting and can cause an adverse reaction – avoid touching them.

Jellyfish aren’t a major problem in Portuguese waters, though there have been some rare sightings. Stings from jellyfish are painful but not dangerous. Applying calamine lotion, antihistamines or analgesics may reduce the reaction and relieve the pain.

If you have booked a holiday in Comporta, you should be aware that the region sits within a protected nature reserve where the Sado River meets the Atlantic Ocean with rice paddies planted all around. Although they do not carry malaria or dengue fever, the local mosquitoes can be a nuisance! The worst time for mosquitos is at dusk but using repellent normally takes care of it.

Take a picnic to the beach by all means but bear in mind that fires or night camping are not allowed along the Portuguese coast.

Sample some Portuguese wines

At some of our villas, i.e. on the Douro Valley, it is possible to arrange a more bespoke wine experience or local winery visit. In other locations we can organize for some local wines to be delivered to your villa before arrival or even a private wine tasting. But generally, we recommend you also try Portugal’s excellent value for money wines whenever you go out for a meal.

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Try something new!

Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone, eat a local delicacy not available in your home and do things you never thought you would!

We challenge you to order some “caracois” (snails) or “tremoços” (lupin beans) with an ice-cold beer at the local cafe, to learn to surf or stand up paddle, to sip a white port tonic whilst enjoying the dramatic Douro Valley scenery…

Charcoal-grilled sardines are also a must during the summer months! Just follow your nose and the delicious scent of grilled fish filling the air will take you to your nearest beach bar or harbourside restaurant.

Made in Portugal

Take made-in-Portugal souvenirs home and support the local economy! Local crafts such as hand embroidered linen, pottery, leather, baskets, cork, as well as gourmet products are a pleasure to buy in Portugal, as artisans take pride in producing some fantastic handicrafts and prices are reasonable – lookout for them in local markets, as well as some roadside stalls. Mountain villages like Sintra (near Lisbon) and Monchique (in the Algarve) abound in locally made pine furniture, basket ware and handicraft shops. Gold or silver filigree jewellery as worn as by the ladies of northern Portugal is also quite unique.

Enjoy your holiday!

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