With temperatures soaring towards 30°C and foreign currencies suddenly winning against the euro, Portugal is all set for a bumper Easter, with hotels everywhere filling up fast. The Algarve particularly has been labelled one of the “best bargain destinations for Brits” as flights from all over Europe have started bringing holiday visitors in droves.
Forget any bad news that might be swirling out there in the ether, Portugal is on track for an exhilarating Easter. From north to south, conditions could hardly be better.
In Serra da Estrela, snowfall last week has seen businesses rubbing their hands with glee as the more intrepid book holiday breaks on sledges and skis. But the best forecasts are in the sunny south, where the sun came out last weekend and has been delighting all and sundry ever since.
Even the birds are happy – with habitual summer visitors like the multicoloured bee-eaters already back and soaring in the cloudless Algarve skies.
Last Easter’s ‘statistics’ were already good – with the number of holiday bookings rising 35.5% on 2013. This year, hoteliers are predicting even better.
“Judging by the number of inquiries for Easter, we have revised the growth predicted for this year from 2.8% to 5%,” said a delighted Elidérico Viegas of hoteliers’ association AHETA.
Tourism chief Desidério Silva has also been extolling on the importance of what he calls the “balloon of oxygen” that Easter visitors bring the region.
As beaches sprout colourful sunshades and the Algarve starts smiling again, the Resident has kicked off its shoes and gone ‘on the beach’ to find out why people choose Portugal over the myriad other tourist destinations available.
It may not be the most PC observation, but the world’s ‘safe sunshine destinations’ are on the decrease – which is why Portugal has always held a winning hand. The drop in the value of the euro against the dollar and the pound has simply made everything even better.
Marcia Fernandez from Galicia, Spain, agreed cost was pivotal in her family’s decision to drive all the way to Vilamoura for the holidays – but it was also based on the fact that Portugal has wonderful weather and “beautiful places to see”.
“We like everything about Portugal,” she told us as she soaked up the sunshine on Falésia beach. It is Marcia’s third time here, and she may well be back again.
German Maria Egbeas, 54, is also no stranger to the sunny Algarve. She’s been here with her husband before, and price is not so much an issue. It is the sun that brings the Egbeas to the Algarve. “Now it is very cold in Germany,” they told us.
Cold too brought the McIntyres from Ireland and lovebirds Emily Apps and Mark Walker from Crawley, UK.
In fact, Emily and Mark were so keen to get to the beach that they went straight to it from the airport.
“We only arrived three hours ago. We haven’t even checked into our hotel,” they laughed.
But among all the positive praise, our interviewees made some good points about this sun-blessed country that all too often shoots itself in the foot.
“The tolls on the highway are bad for visitors,” Marcia echoed the laments that have filled column inches since the Algarve’s A22 Via do Infante was transformed into a money-making machine in the name of austerity.
“You need a device in your car to pay the tolls and we don’t have one,” she explained. Spanish drivers were recently reported to owe millions to Portugal in unpaid tolls, and the Fernandez family are now among them. “We don’t pay the tolls because we don’t know how to,” explained Marcia.
Whether this will mean a letter demanding payment swelled by hefty ‘administrative charges’ eventually drops through the Fernandez’ letter box remains to be seen. Certainly if it does, this family will be sunning themselves elsewhere in future.
Meantime, Marcia was also critical of the lack of lifeguards over the Easter holidays. The Algarve’s “beach season” does not get going before June, and concessions are not obliged by law to provide lifeguards until then.
Katie and Noel McIntyre from Ireland seemed unphased by the tolls and lack of lifeguards, but they were worried about the state of the airport. It is “very poor, disorganised and chaotic”, they said, and “definitely does not have the international standards” it requires.
Here on business as a judge at Vilamoura’s Atlantic Tour showjumping competition, Dervala Campbell from Scotland was more worried about the early closing of businesses.
“Everything’s shut by 7pm!” She told us. “And you can’t find typical Portuguese food in Vilamoura!”
Thus as tourism bigwigs congratulate themselves on this bumper Easter season, there is still a lot to be done – or rather a lot more that could be done to keep the Algarve buzzing.
Meantime, all the ‘good news’ as a result of the drop in the value of the euro has caused a few headaches in the grey halls in Lisbon where not only does the sun rarely shine, but Portugal’s debt to the IMF is now suddenly €2.3 billion larger.
But as we said earlier, this is no time for bad news. Just sit back and soak up the welcome return to warmth and blue skies. Happy Easter!
This news story was reproduced with kind permission of the Algarve Resident. For more news, see: www.portugalresident.com.