Advice for a month in Portugal or Spain w/toddler
April 28, 2017 11:27 AM   Subscribe

My husband and toddler (2) and I would like to spend August in Portugal or Spain on a part working/part vacation holiday. We would like to rent a house in a walkable town, potentially close to a beach, without being drowned in tourists. Can you offer advice on towns to explore, rental services to consider, and other logistical questions that coming with parenting and working in either country for a month?

Our set up: we want to spend August abroad in Portugal or Spain renting a house with room for us and an occasional visitor. Requirements:

Simple public transportation and walkability
Relatively accessible to beach
A beautiful location (does not need to be a tourist-site location, just a nice town - city not required)
Family-friendliness - i.e., a place with parks and not so swanky toddlers out and about are frowned on
Wonderful food (doesn't seem like we could go wrong)
Good home base for excursions.
Month-long rentals with internet access feasible.
Not overrun with tourists or deserted due to August vacation.
Approachable for people who speak basic Spanish and English and are willing to muddle through.

That's my core question, here are some bonus questions:

- I've never lived temporarily abroad with a kid and simple, easy access to healthcare (english available) is important to me. What should I think about?
- Similarly, pre-kid I'd never have considered renting a car in this situation, but now think may necessary. Month long car rentals in either country - doable or insane?
- At the same time, we will be renting our DC house out for a month. Never done this before. Is AirBnB preferred service or another that provides better protections for owners?
- What rental services in either country should we research? Turn-key will be preferred.
- Anything else I should think about re: taking a toddler abroad for a month?
posted by xaire to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Somewhere like Tarragona (South of Barcelona) might fit the bill.

Or a town like Gandia (South of Valenica).

Most places in Spain and Portugal are family friendly places.

If you can, avoid August; it is peak season for most places with a beach. Moreover, accommodation prices rocket.
posted by jacobean at 12:02 PM on April 28, 2017

Jesus August will be baking hot. You could not pay me to go to Barcelona in August, which is going to be peak tourists and twats season. I would opt for Porto or Praia da Luz. Manageable size, super family-friendly, loads to do, lots of English speakers. If you arrange a rental via Air BnB, your landlord should be able to help you with English-speaking GPs (especially if they are expats, of which there are a healthy number) but any emergency room will be able to assist you in English in these locations.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:25 PM on April 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

re: hotness, keep in mind that we'll be coming from a U.S. region that will be in the upper 90s and unbelievably humid and gross, so while the transition isn't ideal it's not the end of the world. But yes, good flag :)
posted by xaire at 1:30 PM on April 28, 2017

Cascais, which is super close to both Lisbon and Sintra.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:37 PM on April 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

keep in mind that we'll be coming from a U.S. region that will be in the upper 90s and unbelievably humid and gross

Temperatures in southern Spain/Portugal will be about that - it can get over 100 as early as June - so I'm glad you will be prepared! On the plus side, in some places the Levante wind can be intense, which often has a cooling effect (while taking all the washing off the line).

I've never lived temporarily abroad with a kid and simple, easy access to healthcare (english available) is important to me. What should I think about?

Medical care is definitely easy to access in Spain, although I don't know that I would call the process simple. Keep in mind that the less touristy the town, the less likely it will be that someone in the clinic speaks English, so that's a concern. If it's that big of a concern, you could always pick a town on the southern coast and pop over to Gibraltar for medical issues. See this page for more info about health care/insurance companies there.

If I were you I'd go to Estepona. Mountains, beach, and not too far from Gib.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:09 PM on April 28, 2017

You might like Rota – it’s a small town near Cadiz, Spain, in Andalucia. It’s the location of an old U.S. military base and so probably has a higher-English speaking population than it would otherwise. It’s also a resort town and the beaches are absolutely beautiful. Good food as well. It’s a good location to either get into Portugal, Morocco, Gibraltar, or into the center of Spain (Madrid). All of that said, August will be hot in Rota, too.
posted by tooloudinhere at 5:40 PM on April 28, 2017

I spent a week in Cascais and it's absolutely lovely, just what you need.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:53 PM on April 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

You might want to be aware that a lot of businesses (in non tourist related industries) close in Spain in August. Basically everyone wants to hide from the intense heat. If you go to Spain, do take an excursion to Granada - it is not on the coast but I cannot express how stunning it is. I am quite well travelled and it still remains a firm favourite. I have spent extensive time in Mojacar and that area, my parents have a few places there and it is pretty well located in terms of there being quite a number of places to see/visit, especially if you rent a car. My brother took his 4 and 1 year old to the house for 6 weeks a couple of years ago (I think they went in August too!) and they said it was incredible, super chilled out lifestyle, great food, swimming everyday - kids adored it. Things to be aware of for toddler: if the place has a private pool - you might want one that has a gate around it so your child doesn't need to be watched constantly so they don't fall in.

I went to Lisbon and Porto last year - both are stunning. I fell in love with Lisbon big time, so much history and culture. If you do go - it is worth grabbing a train to visit the old capital Coimbra because it is absolutely gorgeous. I found both Lisbon and Porto felt much lest touristy than the coastal areas of Spain I have been to, it felt less like a package holiday type deal to me. I also believe Porto is one of the cheaper cities to live in Europe or it was when I checked a while back. Food was amazing.

You don't need to worry about the language barrier - people are pretty great if you try and it is pretty common to work things out via gestures etc. Install Google translate on your phone - it is often a life saver but I think you'll find if you're somewhat close to a town a lot of younger people study English at school and you can find a willing translator pretty easily.
posted by TheGarden at 11:15 PM on April 28, 2017

One more vote for Portugal, somewhere on the coast between and including Cascais and Porto, mainly because of the climate. Or on the Spanish Atlantic coast, but I haven't personally been there, so can't recommend anything specific.
When thinking about climate, remember that affordable European homes and restaurants rarely have air-condition. So being in Malaga or even Barcelona in August is completely different from being in DC in August.
Coimbra is not directly on the coast but has riverside parks and a beach and fits your needs perfectly.
A close relative recently needed hospital care in Portugal, and was amazed by the quality of care and level of medical expertise, all English speaking.
Another option I've been recommended but haven't tried personally is Mallorca, up in the hills. My daughter goes to Mallorca every summer and loves it.
Both Spain and Portugal have very child-friendly cultures and every town, village and city is walkable. You won't need a car unless you are in a remote village, but with a toddler, I might rent a car periodically for excursions and for getting to and from the airport. Maybe you can get a better deal with a month's rental, but in most European towns and cities, parking is complicated and/or expensive so count that in as well. There are the usual rental services, maybe you get good deals on your credit card or with your plane ticket - check that out first.
There are many portals for renting houses/apartments, apart from airbnb, I usually google for holiday homes [town] when searching as well as look through airbnb. I've never had a bad experience anywhere.
Maybe an apartment would be a better option than a house, unless it's a very small town. Many people in Spain and Portugal still live in town, in apartments, so for walkability, access to shops and generally a normal young family life, a well-placed apartment could be a better value.
posted by mumimor at 2:00 AM on April 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thirding Cascais - but feel free to stay at/near the stations a bit east of the town itself; there's a promenade from at least Sao Joao de Estoril all the way to Cascais, with small local beaches and plenty of lovely cafes and ice cream spots along the way. You wouldn't necessarily even need a car; a taxi to the area from Lisbon airport is around fifty euros and Uber/taxis/buses are available too. There's a direct train service every twenty minutes or so between Lisbon Cais do Sodre station and Cascais, with most trains stopping at all stations along the way.

There will be many apartments available for rent in August but yes, AirBnB may be the best solution here. Look for ads in English and check things like the air conditioning/stairs/neighbourhood friendliness via message with the owner first.

A car rental of this length might be quite pricey - but do check out the French short-term lease thing if you decide to go this way. You may be able to collect the car in Lisbon.

In Cascais itself there's a wee central area that's maybe a bit busy, but I hung out with a friend and his toddler for a picnic and afternoon at Parque Marechal Carmona right near the centre and the castle/fortress - brilliant playground and loads of wild chickens! It was also almost difficult to speak Portuguese - English was everywhere.

Best of all, Portugal has passed a law (link in Portuguese, sorry) saying that people with toddlers (as well as disabled folks and the elderly) must have "priority" in many, many situations like queues for taxis and at the supermarket, on the penalty of a rather stiff fine. Could be a game changer for a holiday with a toddler!
posted by mdonley at 4:54 AM on April 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

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