The Seasons in the Algarve
Not Quite What You Might Expect
One of the main reasons people both visit as tourists, and decide to settle here, is the climate. This is one of the first oddities one has to get used to. I can’t list the seasons, I have to describe them because in many respects they are the direct opposite of what we experience in Northern Europe. In one sense Summer and Winter are the complete opposite of what one normally experiences in the UK. Let me explain.
If we start with Spring I have to begin with the month of December. Or do I begin with late October? Perhaps it would be easier to start this little discussion with Summer.
Okay, I haven't lost my marbles, but this can be an awkward subject, and that is what we are going to find time and time again when discussing this intriguing country.
There is one way of defining the start of Summer. Traditionally in Northern Europe we think of it as beginning around midsummer's day, which itself is confusing. Let me stick to something that is easier to relate to, the weather itself.
May the first is IMHO the beginning of summer in the Algarve. By this time the vagaries of Spring have settled into calmer weather. The sun is out, the temperatures are comfortably in the twenties, you can walk out without a pullover or the risk of rain, and the evening will not chill you. This is the beginning of the long summer.
In Northern Europe summer is the time when the plants grow like mad after a long rest, the lawn needs cutting and the weeds proliferate. Winter is the time when nature rests. In Southern Portugal the opposite is the case. There is little or no frost in the Algarve in winter so nature does not go into hibernation. However, from May to October there is little or no rain so most plants stop growing.
In the UK you can stop mowing the lawn in the middle of October because the grass will stop growing. You won’t start again until the beginning of April.
In the Algarve, if you have a lawn you will stop mowing towards the end of April, and not start again until November because the grass will stop growing. In that sense, the seasons here are the opposite of those northerners are used to.
What this means in other practical terms is that maybe the idea of having a lawn in your garden is a mistake, unless you want to spend a fortune on electricity driving a pump to saturate the area week after week for the best part of six months.
You need to concentrate on dry weather gardens. Try to grow the things that grow naturally in the countryside. It also means that trying to plant shrubs and trees in what is usually the North European spring is a big mistake. Plant in November when the rains come to get the plants well established before the first drought sets in.
Let's run through the whole year. Summer starts in May and ends towards the end of October. That's when the temperature starts to drop, and the drop is sudden. It is also when the rains come. The world perks up and starts growing again. At the same time the leaves begin to fall. You thus have autumn, or, as the Americans prefer to picturesquely call this time of the year, the Fall. At the same time you could be said to have the beginning of Spring, when the flora begin to burst back into life.
December can be rather cold and dismal, but by no means always. I tend to live elsewhere in the winter because I don't like temperatures that drop below twenty degrees centigrade, and I am always being told when I return some time in February that I missed another warm winter.
Up in the Alentejo temperatures can regularly drop to below -5C, but cold in this part of the world usually means a temperature in single figures, which may occasionally drop below zero around four in the morning, but which springs back up above zero with the rising of the sun.
Okay, so we get some frosts, so this is really winter, however, I prefer to welcome the start of spring with the first week, or thereabouts, of December, which is when we get the first bulbs bursting into a sprinkling of white in the fields, with the daffodil-like heads of the triandrus albus, otherwise known as the Thalia Daffodil.
I have some in my garden, and I pick one or two of them and place them on my desk where their wonderful scent perfumes the whole room. They are a wonderful alert to the coming of spring and a burgeoning in the countryside.
When I am in the Algarve I tend to have fires in my home from the middle of November until the middle of March, but even then, rarely all day. In short, this part of the world offers a welcome escape from northern temperatures. As I load this file I am having lunch on the patio by the pool.
I have been living under four feet of snow in Sweden at Easter time. Guys, you don't have to put up with that. No more counting the cars to know which hump in the snow hides your vehicle. No more driving nose to tail in a blizzard for ages only to find you are part of a circle of cars that's lost its way when the front car has inadvertently joined the back car to form a circle on the ice.
I know, I used to live in Stockholm.
Back in Portugal Spring starts to move towards summer from February onwards when the mimosa bursts into flower, and the almond blossom colours the black bark of the trees. There is no more exhilarating sight than a field of almond trees rising above a yellow carpet of oxalis. This is a weed which grows everywhere. It is seriously invasive, but is a welcome and pretty harbinger of spring.
The season continues through the year with the colour changing, and now concentrating on blue from the flowers of the jacaranda trees. The un-tended fields become a riot of colours, and this is the best time to travel around, especially on the west coast, and through the hills. If you like the spring time then you will be entranced by the many nuances of a season that effectively lasts from December to the beginning of May.
For those of you who are used to warmer climes (I was born in the West Indies so I find the Algarve a bit chilly in winter) one should probably avoid November to March. Those who are used to northern Europe will love this period. Those who prefer a coolish climate will have trouble with high summer. The summer of 2016 produced rather too many days with temperatures in the high thirties centigrade, with a couple of days bursting right up into the mid forties. Maybe this is the time to visit relatives in Northern Europe.