An American in the Algarve: Simplify Saint Valentine’s Day

Tips for a Stress-Free, Unique Celebration

In third grade, Neil Moore drew a lopsided heart above his name on a handmade Valentine’s day card that said ‘Be Mine’ and left it on my desk in the top right corner. To say that I was chuffed would be an understatement. In American terms, I was literally over the moon. 

Neil had honey-coloured curls, big green eyes and a smile that could charm a snake. I thought he was even better than a banana split (my measure of perfection at the age of ten). I had an entire secret book dedicated to my crush. I carried it everywhere with me. I wrote down everything he said and every move he made, his favourite soccer players, the way he turned out his leg and stuck out his tongue at the same time when he was concentrating, how he held his pencil with his thumb and first finger pressed together, the questions he thought were stupid in English, what colour shirts he wore most (yellow). Everything about him fascinated me. I recorded it all. Every detail. I had no idea what purpose that might serve or why I was doing it, but for some reason, it seemed like a brilliant idea.

So, on the Valentine’s day in question, his card made me feel like a giant balloon that had at last been filled. I floated through classes with a silly grin. I didn’t really have a concept of what ‘Be Mine’ meant, and I hadn’t yet delved into the complexity of ownership surrounding those words. For me, the card just meant Neil liked me back. At least enough to draw a heart for me above his name, which he hadn’t done for anyone else (I checked).

Even now, over three decades later, I remember that feeling. The mixture of incredulity and euphoria tinged with a sense that it wouldn’t last. I wasn’t the most optimistic of children. I recall thinking that I should savour every moment of that day because I would probably never love anyone ever again as much as I loved him.

Over time, I understood that my childish perspective on love was wrong, but a part of my emotion that day strikes me as right. Let’s put aside questions about identity for a moment and discuss how to be in a relationship without losing ourselves. The simplicity of that gift is where the lesson lies.  

Since third grade, I’ve been given some lavish gifts for Valentine’s Day. Expensive jewelry. Fine chocolates. Bouquets of roses, so beautiful they could break your heart with their ephemerality.  

But no present since third grade has ever elated me like that simple, slightly lopsided hand-drawn heart. It turns out that small things do matter. Sometimes, they matter far more than the big things – especially when it comes to holidays overtaken by commercial interlopers designed to manipulate people into spending money on things they don’t need. 

As far as historical origins go, it’s far from clear who Saint Valentine actually was and what he did to become so famous. In one legend, he was jailed for defying the emperor and secretly marrying couples to spare the men from war. In another, he healed a child and created a religious conversion that eventually got him executed. According to some legends, he was a priest. In others, he was a bishop. 

Another common belief is that Valentine’s Day as we know it evolved from Lupercalia, a Roman festival in which men and women were randomly paired up in a lottery. There was some notion that fertility increased if you were lucky enough to get slapped by a bloody animal’s skin. 

As romantic as gruesome beheadings and sanguine smacks sound, recent scholars insist that the modern association of Valentine’s Day with love began far later. The poet Chaucer is thought to have started the link between Valentine and amour. Sometime in the 1400s, noblemen began writing ‘valentines’ to their love interests.

The rest, as they say, is history. Cadbury has helped solidify the notion that chocolate signifies romance since the 1800s. Hallmark got ahold of it sometime around the beginning of the last century and has never let go. No slouch when it comes to storytelling, Tiffany’s also has a large share of the estimated 26 billion dollar market. But I digress.

Back to the puenta. It’s easy to get stressed out about what to buy for your loved one or how to best celebrate in a romantic, unforgettable way. But at the end of the day, keeping it simple may be the most romantic gesture of all. It might also save you money.

To get some unique ideas for this year, I spoke to Secret Events Algarve ( Rita Cardoso, who creates beautiful experiences for various events, had a wealth of great ideas. And the best part? You won’t have to refinance your house to do it. So, get inspired by the little things. Dig into what you could make with your own hands or how you could express your feelings without the passé vibes of chocolate, flowers or jewellery. Having trouble? Rita to the rescue. Just remember, it’s not about what you do or how much it costs. It’s about how much heart you put into it. Even if it’s lopsided, it might be the most beautiful gesture anyone’s ever received.

Meredith Price Levitt is a freelance writer and aerial silks teacher. She has just opened a new aerial studio near Lagos called The House of Honey. An American expat, she moved to the Algarve in 2020 and continues to happily write and fly around in her studio. 

Rita’s ideas for a unique Valentine’s Day in the Algarve:

  • Head to the cliffs on Ponta da Piedade to watch the sunset together
  • Do a couple’s treasure hunt around town
  • Surprise your lover with a couple’s photo session
  • Enjoy a romantic picnic (if you’re not a chef, Rita can cater)
  • Head to a vineyard for a spontaneous afternoon of wine-tasting
  • Hire a private chef to make a surprise dinner at home
  • Hide a secret gift for your partner to find (it doesn’t have to be a big gift. The best part is looking for it)
  • Plan a weekend away in one of the Algarve’s many beautiful hotels (or camping in nature if that’s your vibe)
  • Make a pre-dawn coffee and head to Porto do Mós for a sunrise stroll
  • If you feel like something that will get your heart racing, why not book a tandem skydive in Alvor?


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