Portugal & a Taste of Seville
By Gyl Stacey 2001

After having such a good experience of Portugal in 1999, my husband, Mark, and I decided to return in July for another two-week holiday. Having successfully made all our arrangements exclusively on the Internet last time, we decided to see if we could find an accessible villa in another area. We found a number of companies and private owners renting what they say are wheelchair accessible villas, but in our experience it is best to state exactly what your individual requirements are to avoid disappointment. What will suit one wheelchair user may not suit another.

The villa we chose looked right for my needs. It was extremely spacious, had four bedrooms, two of which were on the ground floor, both en suite with one bathroom having a roll-in shower. We got in touch with the owners, who live in the south of France. They supplied us with information and photographs, confirming accessibility.

We flew from Glasgow and picked up a car at Faro airport for the short drive to the villa. Unlike last year, we did not bother with a hand control vehicle - though they are available - it suited us just to go with a regular hire car. The villa itself is located on the outskirts of Santa Barbara de Nexe, a small village near Almancil, built on the hillside behind an acre of walled garden and gates. Inside, the villa is extremely spacious, a wheelchair users' dream with wide doors and enormous rooms, tiled floors throughout. The downstairs accommodation comprises a well-equipped kitchen (the maid, Maria, will leave a few provisions to get you started), a huge lounge / dining room overlooking the barbeque and patio area, a toilet, and two bedrooms, both overlooking a private swimming pool. Unfortunately, there are steps from the bedrooms down to the pool, but ramps have been built right around the house, allowing easy access. I found both of the downstairs' bathrooms to be perfectly wheelchair usable.

We spent the first few days not too far from the swimming pool, taking the occasional dip to keep cool. The views from the villa are magnificent, looking over the Portuguese countryside towards Faro, with the sea in the distance. Friends of the owners will pop in occasionally to check everything is as it should be and to maintain the pool. If you decide to stay in and eat at the villa, there are a couple of supermarkets near by which are accessible. Locations of these are on the information sheets provided by the owners. However, take the opportunity to eat out and experience some Portuguese cooking. There is a large number of restaurants near by so you need never be stuck for choice. Try the Portuguese local speciality of chicken piri-piri at Signor Frango in Almancil, or for a rather special eating experience, Casa do Campo also in Almancil.

The Algarve has a huge range of activities on offer. We tried microlighting, jet skiing (I was the driver!) and parascending. Unfortunately the scuba diving was fully booked when we were there, but we could have tried deep sea fishing. This is apart from sightseeing, or simply sunning ourselves on the beach.

Much of our time though, was spent exploring the area. The Portuguese are very friendly and English is widely spoken in the area due to the number of ex pats living there. Since we had time, we decided to venture further afield. I will not go into great detail, just enough to give a flavour of the experiences we had.

During the first week, we drove up to Lisbon for a couple of days and booked into a city centre hotel. To describe the city itself in just a few words is quite difficult, but "frantic," "inaccessible" and "faded grandeur" will give you some idea of my experience. Lisbon is essentially a city crying out for funding to rebuild itself. It's built on seven hills, which with the old cobbled streets and a distinct lack of dropped kerbs will give you an idea of the difficulties in getting around. It does, though have some wonderful buildings, once you start to see beyond their state of disrepair.

The city planners appear not to have any policies on anything to do with either disability or accessibility, which is obvious from the difficulty we had in getting around. Few accessible buildings and the only usable toilets are within the major department stores (El Corte Ingles). Luckily, Mark is by now rather used to these challenges, and we rarely let these obstacles stop us from exploring! 

At one point in our travels, we managed to get off the beaten track, looking for a restaurant recommended by a friend who had been to Lisbon earlier that year. We discovered a small part of the "real" Lisbon where locals sat outside chatting, and local shops, no larger than a front room, nestled into the odd corner of old tenements. Here we found a wonderful restaurant with superb atmosphere and food - one of the highlights of our short time there. 

The following week we drove over the border into Seville. The intention was only to stay for the day, just enough to get a small taste of what the city was like to help us decide whether we wanted to return at some time in the future. You need nerves of steel to drive and navigate around the city. Poor road signs combined with some aggressive driving by the Spanish made things very difficult. Eventually we managed to park in a car park under a department store (El Corte Ingles again) and set off on foot/wheel. 

Be prepared for the heat if you intend visiting in the summer. It was a baking 42 degrees and not even the comfort of a slight breeze. Having only a short time there, we decided to take a city bus tour. At least that way, someone knew where they were going, and we would see a few of the major city attractions. Disappointingly, the buses are not accessible, nor do they have air conditioning, so be prepared for a 45 minute trip in very hot conditions. The city itself is beautiful and has some fascinating architecture. Culturally it owes a lot to the Moorish invaders and their influence is obvious everywhere. I do not know about the accessibility of these places, but I can say that in my one-day visit there were few signs of wheelchair access to restaurants, shops or to public buildings.

The owners of the villa are Jane & Ivor Trimm, 30 L'enchaunteur
Dom De La Valee, La Croix Valmer, 83420 S. France
Their telephone number, dialed from the UK, is 0033 494 543 188.

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