It’s not often that a coffee and a pastry can delight and enrage at the same time. On the first day of vacation in Portugal – a break reserved for winter 2019 before the world went into Covid-19 lockdown, then came out of lockdown and almost immediately collapsed – I found myself watching staring at the receipt for two coffees, a milk chocolate and three pastries.
“There must be a mistake,” I mumbled, squinting with aging eyes at the white paper covered in little numbers and unfamiliar words, then at the change I had just been handed from a five euro note. . “How can all this cost €4.80? »
But there was no mistake. Excellent coffee and a pastry stuffed with magical Portuguese cream can be had for a combined total of just €1.50 in the Algarve – a place well used to dealing with golfers and big-budget Irish villa owners.
Portugal camping holiday was booked before any of us knew or cared what a wet market was, then postponed to 2021, then postponed again to 2022
Well-heeled Irish are drawn to the Algarve not by cream cakes or ‘cheap as crisps’ coffee, but by the promise of endless sunshine, short flights, excellent fruit restaurants of sea, crystal clear sea water and a population with amazing commands. of English, which shames our own linguistic (in)capacity.
But the bottom line is more central to the equation for me and I still can’t understand how a coffee and a pastel de nata cost so little there.
Or maybe the better question is: why does it cost so much here?
A coffee and pastry in Ireland will easily cost you over €5 – and rarely taste as good as in Portugal. Such a price differential is, by any measure, absurd, and no amount of talk about higher overhead, higher taxes, or a higher cost of living can justify it.
But vacations aren’t just about coffees and pastries. There’s a little more to it and with the summer season coming to an end – or at least coming to an end – it’s time to total up the costs.
Portugal camping holidays were booked before any of us knew or cared what a wet market was, then postponed to 2021, then again to 2022.
When I say camping, I obviously don’t mean a holiday experience in tents. I couldn’t pitch a tent – at least one that stayed pitched – if your life depended on it. I mean one in a caravan (or a mobile home, or a chalet depending on how posh you want to sound) with a dishwasher and air conditioning and a shower and beds and a TV – the camping kind that would make Bear Grylls cry.
Whilst this was a self catering holiday the quality and price of the food on offer in restaurants in Lagos and surrounding towns meant that we were not tied to the kitchen in the way that we might have to be at the house.
This – let’s be chic – two-bedroom chalet in the Algarve costs €2,400 for two weeks in July. It wasn’t big – in truth it was quite small – but it had a decent sized terrace and with daytime temperatures rarely dropping below 30 degrees and three very child friendly swimming pools on site, the papal chalet has been used for a bit more sleeping, pouring milk over cereal and ablutions so size didn’t really matter.
Flights for five to Faro – while pleasantly alliterative – cost a not-so-pleasant €1,600, give or take a few Euros. Then there was car rental. Much has been written about the price of renting a car at home and abroad exploding, and it certainly was. A five-seater seat for two weeks cost us €1100 – a price which the rental car office told us was at least €500 more than it would have been in the past.
“At least it’s diesel,” said the handsome man behind the counter as he handed over the keys. “That should save you some money.”
Maybe, but at just over €2 a liter forecourt prices there were broadly in line with prices here. We spent a total of €55 on fuel over the two weeks and an additional €18 on tolls – I can be so specific about this as we prepaid it in advance so we didn’t have to worrying about paying 55 cents here and 30 cents every time we take the highways.
Although it was a self-catering holiday, the quality and price of the food on offer in restaurants in Lagos and surrounding towns meant that we weren’t tied to the kitchen in the same way that we might have to be at the house.
We did a great store anyway, mostly because I’m a sucker for overseas supermarkets and like to wander the aisles marveling at unfamiliar produce and counters of fresh seafood and butcher’s shop and pastel de nata and Kerrygold – which was only marginally more expensive in the Algarve than in Kerry, by the way.
It’s one of the few products that costs more out there. At the Continente supermarket, a bottle of Nivea SPF 30 sunscreen was €10.19; a five liter bottle of still water cost 99 cents, a 500g box of Kellogg’s cornflakes cost €1.74, while a liter of fresh full cream milk cost 84 cents. A dozen eggs cost €3.57, while 1 kg of chicken breast cost €6.49. A bottle of Vinho Verde cost four pounds.
In contrast, the price of the same brand of sunscreen in an Irish supermarket of comparable size to Continente is €21, while a five-litre bottle of water costs €1.25. Cornflakes cost €2.89 and a liter of branded milk €1.39. A dozen eggs will cost €3.69 and a kilo of chicken breast will cost €10.59. Vinho Verde, if you can get it, will cost you at least €14.
It was different from home, wonderfully different from home. For that reason alone, it was money very, very well spent.
To save anyone doing the math, this means that a very small basket of goods that costs €27.82 in Portugal costs €54.81 in Ireland, or 97% more.
Buying enough food and drink to cover dinners on deck for six nights and lunch another six afternoons plus all sorts of ice creams, drinks and bottles and bottles of before and after sun creams cost €270.
But we didn’t just eat there. While the cost of dining in Portugal has soared since 2019, it’s still much, much cheaper than back home.
An excellent non-alcoholic lunch for five was €58. Dinner for the same five people in restaurants that would be considered very high-end – albeit not Michelin-starred – in Ireland rarely costs more than €120, a price that covers starters, mains, desserts and all drinks .
Obviously we didn’t eat like the rich people with Vilamoura villas every time we went out and there were plenty of much cheaper meals – like pizzas for five with nachos on the side for €41 and sandwiches at lunchtime which cost no more than 20 pounds – a price that included all drinks. There were eight lunches and eight dinners taken away from the chalet which added a further €640 to the total expenditure.
There was also a sum of money spent by my wife and older children at a store called Sephora while I patiently paced outside. There is, however, some sort of omertà about how much was actually spent at this Sephora place, but seeing as it was just a makeup store – well, “personal care and beauty products” – that doesn’t couldn’t be much more than 20 pounds, could it?
Adding up the numbers, the total cost of a holiday for five people for 14 nights in the Algarve came to €6,083 or €608 per person per week – to use the somewhat sneaky pricing vernacular so popular with so many tour operators .
A rather swanky vacation home in Kerry for five popes and a Jack Russell named Toby cost four thousand dollars
Sure it’s a lot of money – and it’s money I’m lucky to have – but it cost almost the same as a holiday home 12 months ago that the cost of living crisis drives up the price of everything everywhere.
And unlike those vacations at home, it also meant mountains of cheap cream cakes like crisps and lakes of good coffee, a lot more dining out without feeling ripped off, a lot more time in the water and on the sand, and much less time worrying about what the weather might bring and how adults and children will be entertained when the pouring rain falls.
And it was different from home, wonderfully different from home. For that reason alone, it was money very, very well spent.
Because when I did this exercise 12 months ago – back when coronavirus had taken island departures off the table and we were all talking about the joys of staycations – the results were, to me, unsettling and bordering on terror.
An admittedly swanky vacation home in Kerry for five Popes and a Jack Russell named Toby cost four thousand dollars, to start. Although not cheap, it was one of the few properties in a tourist destination along the Wild Atlantic Way that was available at the time of booking and could accommodate all of us in a way that would not sadden not the heart. It was also much cheaper than two hotel rooms in any place tourists go.
And if you don’t believe it, try to find a room in a decent hotel anyway – and we’re not talking fancy five star here – anywhere in Ireland in the height of summer for less than £140 € per night and see how you ride.
Either way, we digress. The four thousand dollars for housing was just the beginning of the expenses.
Popes needed to eat and with restaurants beyond our financial means – and often closed due to Covid – it was independent all the way. Two weeks of groceries including food and wine, cleaning supplies, squirt guns and a giant inflatable paddling pool cost around €1,000. Yes, we could have made a Lidl shop, only bought own brand products, shunned the water guns and the swimming pool – but it was the holidays, please, so the purse strings were loosened.
The cost of driving from the east coast to the south west coast added another €200 to the total. This was back in the golden days when a liter of fuel cost €1.40, while all sorts of ridiculous wetsuits bought to avoid hypothermia from the cold ocean off the coast of Ireland still added a few hundred euros to the bill.
In total, there was little change over six thousand dollars for a two week break for a family of five.
People will read this sentence and fly into fits of rage. Some will take this rage on social media for good spreading. I know this to be true because when I wrote about the cost of a summer vacation this time last year some people were so furious that I seriously started wondering if I had spent their money during my vacation by accident.