While the UK experienced a white Christmas a whole month after Christmas itself and the coldest January it has had in years, team member Choon decided to escape the bad weather with a trip Portugal – namely the Algarve and Lisbon. Although January in Portugal is quiet in terms of tourism and the temperature is unlikely to exceed 15 degrees centigrade, the relaxing atmosphere and mild weather still makes a nice change from the bitter British winter and busy lives back home.
For the majority of the holiday, Choon stayed on a beach resort along Portugal’s south coast in Albufeira in the Algarve, not far from Faro, where the clear skies, sweet, clean sea air and light breezes meant it was nice to chill out without getting chilly. During the summer months, this area is bustling with people and is a very popular tourist hotspot, so although it was relatively quiet most of the time, having entire lengths of practically empty beaches to walk along or lie down on without distractions and disturbances can be lovely and makes for a refreshing and stress-free change. Tourist activities are abundant and varied, ranging from sea cruises, fishing expeditions, dolphin watching, paragliding, jeep safaris and horse riding, although some do not run or are limited during the off-peak season – but if they do, they’re usually cheaper.
If you’re wanting to experience the Portuguese gay scene, the Algarve is unfortunately not the place to be, as unlike neighbouring country Spain’s heavily gay populated coastal areas, gay bars are either extremely limited or defunct. Fortunately, Lisbon, on the west coast is not only Portugal’s capital city but the country’s gay capital too. Much of its gay area is centred towards the south of the city by its coastline, where there are some beaches, including ones frequented by the gay community – although perhaps not the best place to go when it’s not summer. Its most prominent gay areas are Principle Real, Bairro Alto and the liberal Largo de Camões (where Choon stayed at the apartment of one of our own hosts), all situated not far from each other; with numerous gay-owned bars, pubs, cafes, restaurants, clubs, shops and saunas dotted around – all of which are either open to and aimed at everyone or cater to a specific group of people, and their preferences, within the LGBT community. For a full list of places in Lisbon, click here. Porto, Faro and Lagos are other big Portuguese cities and are also known for their gay-friendly attitudes and gay nightlife.
Lisbon itself is a mixture of a very modernised European city like most others, and a more preserved historical place, particularly around the gay areas, where cobbled stones, narrow roads and alleys built on steep hills and diverse architecture, ranging from Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline and Baroque styles. Even the city’s old-fashioned electric trams make you feel like you’ve almost gone back in time too – a stark contrast from its modern and extensive underground metro system.
Despite its heavy Catholic influence, Portugal’s LGBT rights are some of the best in Europe – homosexuality and same-sex acts were decriminalised in 1982, homophobic and transphobic crimes are illegal, gays have been allowed to serve in the military since 1999, and since 2010 same-sex marriage has been officially recognised. Single gay and lesbian people may adopt children, although this right does not extend to couples just yet, however what is most advanced about Portugal’s LGBT rights is the ratification of the Law of Gender Identity and the formal approval of sex/gender assignment for trans people since 2011.
So why not visit Portugal too? Gay Homestays has nearly 40 properties and rooms available throughout the country, including 25 in Lisbon and some along the south coast in the popular Algarve. If you have been to places such as Italy and Spain, Portugal – which has similarities and differences to both – is a great and interesting country to explore, whether it be its many historical, religious and cultural sites, its wide and green countrysides or its many beaches, and with its many gay establishments and gay-friendliness, what’s not there to encourage you?