My Love Affair with Portugal

We used to get stuck behind horse-drawn carts all the way from Faro airport when we first started coming to the Algarve. It was the 1970s and they took your photo as you got off the plane and you could buy it as a memento of the exciting thing you’d done.

My parents came to Lagos in the late 1960s after a very good year at work. My dad, Hunter Davies, had been living with The Beatles and writing their authorised biography and my mum had had her second novel turned into a feature film. The copyright deals had gone to their heads and they splashed out on a year in Portugal. 

They rented an old sardine factory in Praia da Luz and fell in love with the Algarve. Paul McCartney turned up there one day with his new girlfriend Linda and stayed in their spare room for three weeks, annoying all the locals by causing roadblocks as the press descended on the village. 

Family with Paul and Linda on the beach at Luz 1960s

Dad showed him all the sights and Paul let my six-year-old sister drive his car down the hairpin bends at Monchique (ridiculous, would anyone think that funny these days?). By the time I was born in the mid-1970s, they’d bought a place on the cliffs above Porto de Mós and we came every summer.

Each year we’d spend a month moaning in Cumbria with the grandparents, counting the hours as the rain battered the windows and the wind howled across the fells. Then came the final two weeks of the school holidays in Portugal where we were allowed to spend whole days climbing across the terracotta roof tiles picking almonds, playing in the waves, making awnings from freshly picked bamboo, running to buy papo secos from the bread man who came round on his bike; it was idyllic. 

The only thing I didn’t like was the enforced siesta that seemed to go on all day. My dad would emerge bleary-eyed from the bedroom at 5 pm, by which time we’d be so desperate to go to the beach we’d be crying. I think that’s why now I have my own children, we stay on the beach all day, every day. One thing I did take from my dad though was not allowing a Cornetto until the last day of the holiday. They were the most expensive ice cream on the board in those days. Now it’s a Magnum and my girls are most certainly not allowed one until day 14. 

They sold the house in the early 1990s and we packed up our Portugal life. It wasn’t until 2006, when my dad was visiting an old friend and asked my husband and me to come with him, that we rekindled our love affair. He made us knock on the door of our old house and chat up the new owners. Before we knew it, he was poking around their bedrooms and reminiscing about old times. That evening after three caipirinhas and two bottles of vinho verde, he was looking in the windows of estate agents. The next day he’d had an offer accepted on a little house up the road.

My mum was furious, she thought it was a stupid thing to do. That part of their life was over, why was he going back? She never had any time for nostalgia and, by then, she was dying of cancer and wasn’t in the mood for a new property. But Dad has always been impulsive and has never cared what anybody else thinks.

Flora with her husband Richard

Floras daughter Sienna (14) carrying daughter Amarisse (15)

Thank god for his silly behaviour because he’s given me a whole new life in Portugal. My French husband fell in love with the Algarve in the same way I had and our children are now having the same romantic summers that we did. It’s the landscape of Portugal that inspired me to become a full time artist and leave my life as a TV documentary producer, the best thing I ever did. 

Last summer, we drove from Lagos to my husband’s home town near Montpelier and not once, in the whole of southern Spain or France, did we see a beach that comes anything close to those of the Algarve. Where else do you see towering sandstone and limestone cliffs hugging golden sands that run for miles and miles? Where else can you find beaches with no bloomin’ paid-for sunbeds and free parking? Where else can you eat something as cheap and simple as sardines and potatoes and feel your mouth exploding with pleasure? 

View before
View today

Porto de Mós has changed so much in the last thirty years. Gone are the campsites and hippies, now it’s all oversized LA-style concrete pads that look like morgues to me. But the landscape has survived – from our balcony, you can see all the way to Sagres, the edge of Europe. You can lose whole days watching how the colours and textures of the cliffs change as the sun makes its way across the sky. Lives have come and gone, but the beautiful coastline stands strong. 

Now when we arrive at the airport, there’s not a donkey in sight. The place is all sleek and shiny and the toilets smell lovely. We zip down the toll road and stop off at Ikea on the way. But some things haven’t changed a bit, the ocean is still as freezing as it ever was, the bougainvillea still so piercingly pink that it hurts your eyes, the wine we drink too much of is still as delicious and the Portuguese people still as outwardly unbothered by the ongoing infestation of Brits. I love you, Algarve!

Each month in Tomorrow, Flora will be sharing her shopping tips and home decor ideas … inexpensive and practical advice that will help you breathe new life into your living space and get it feeling fresh as the ocean and warm as the sunbaked cliffs! Go to the Homes and Property section for Flora’s first article.

My Interiors

We’ve been coming to our family house in Porto de Mós for 12 years and never once touched it, sleeping on the same beds and eating with the same forks that the previous owner left behind. It’s been desperate for love and attention and finally, this year, we had enough money to give it what it deserved. 

After much family fighting it was agreed I would be in charge of the renovations. I thought I’d won the battle, but that was just the beginning. My dad said he didn’t see the need for any of it. What’s wrong with the old kitchen? He rather liked the small airless room with the mock-mahogany units that went from floor to ceiling. “What do you mean by mixer taps?” asked my auntie. “You’re lucky to have taps at all.” And so it went on.


It wasn’t just the older generation. My sister thought it would be nice to have a carpet (you what?). My niece asked for a cinema room (you’ll be lucky) and my brother just rolled his eyes and said, “Do what you want but don’t make it too Flora-ish.” (Damn cheek.) 

By that, he meant, do we really need to turn a stale, dark and gloomy dungeon into a beach house flooded with light and oozing with Portuguese tiles, rattan and linen, terracotta and palm trees and Mediterranean blue? Aaah, yes we do!!

I smashed up the old kitchen, opened up the walls and made the whole of the upstairs open plan. That left me with a blank canvas, a bit of a featureless box. That’s when I started to investigate what the Algarve has to offer in home decor. Where was TK Maxx when I needed it? 

I got really excited when Ikea opened at Loulé a few years ago, but, for a region that lives much of the year outdoors, I was surprised to find their garden furniture range is very limited. I also didn’t have a budget for expensive local retailers, so I would have to search far and wide.


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