For those that haven't been to Portugal for a while there has been a change in the free/wild camping situation and other friends (who I didn't ask if they'd mind being named, so I won't) filled me in on their personal experience. They had parked at Falésia beach last winter (on map below), the GNR (police) turned up for a chat - mainly the English Premier League and left. When they eventually got home to the post in the UK they found a fine for 252 Euros and a letter explaining that they had been illegally parked at Falésia beach and there was photographic evidence. Nasty policeman! Fancy lulling them in to a false sense of security like that? Anyway, because there were no bank details on the letter they couldn't pay using a bank transfer and without a European bank account they had no way of paying the fine with a cheque. Fearing further repercussions they popped 200 Euros in an envelope, posted it off and hoped for the best. When they got to Albufeira a couple of weeks ago, they went in to the town hall, their envelope with the 200 euros inside was retrieved from under the counter, so they paid the balance and left.
So why share this tale? We have heard from a few people about the GNR issuing on the spot fines (Mario and Denis were caught at Paderne - that cost them 125 Euros). Portugal is one of the poorest countries in Europe and they don't have the infrastructure to cope with the vast influx of motorhomes on the Algarve each winter. The councils have issued licences for aires and there is now a plentiful supply of council and privately owned ones operating at many locations. Whilst it's nice to be able to park up on a deserted beachfront and stay the night, responsible motorhoming has to mean that we stay respectful of our host country. How would you like it if you couldn't see your favourite view from home, or not get parked at the sports centre because of a sea of motorhomes? These aires are inexpensive. Parque Da Palmeira, for example, is 8 Euros a night including electricity, fresh water, dump, wi-fi and hot showers. Not bad for just over a fiver is it? Us northern Europeans turn up in our campers expecting a cheap and warmer winter than the one we would get further north and at these prices - in some cases less than the council tax - certainly less than the heating bill. The aire at the marina in Portimao is only 70 euros a month, so with a solar panel and careful use of electrical appliances indoors you could stay there and contribute to a local enterprise. I also share this with you because the authorities now have the ability to write to you at home. Incidentally, the fine doubles if you don't pay on the spot. So the Belgians that Mike met who were hiding from the police on an Aire to avoid paying their fine could well be on a hiding for nothing!
If you can't afford to pay for an Aire, all is not lost. There are still large areas in Spain where free camping is tolerated. I know it's annoying when things change, particularly if it means you can no longer afford to do something. But that's the price we pay collectively for motorhoming having become so massively popular over the past 15 years. When we came into this, there were none of the pressures on local communities as there are now. Incidentally, there are still people free camping on car parks in Portugal, we wouldn't do it though now. It's just not worth the risk in my view. I can think of much better things to spend 250 euros on than a fine.
Cautionary tale over. Enjoy Portugal - its a beautiful country but expect to pay to stay. Motorhoming isn't just about free, it's also about being a responsible fellow European citizen. Also, if you do some maths £250 Euros divided by 8 equals 31 nights on an aire.