I remember my first trip to Portugal before we moved here. It was January – probably the worst time of year you might say, but for someone who has just left the frozen wastes of Ireland, it was warm, yes even balmy, and we shed our coats in the taxi and grinned like idiots at the blue sky.

We had come to visit some friends near Albufeira for a week, and while our hosts stayed indoors in their sweaters, we spread ourselves out on their sunbeds, took off our socks, rolled up our trouser legs and took in the views of the sparkling sea while basking in the sun. We scoffed at the locals, fashionably dressed in boots and scarves and jackets, and wondered how on earth they would cope with the harsh reality of winters where people acquired chilblains, or an arctic blast threatened to rip the skin off your face and render your lips unable to form basic words.

Well, we are living here now, and are finally experiencing the realities of Portuguese winters, and the next one is just around the corner. The thing is, we have found out that there is such a wide contrast in the day and night temperatures during the winter, that it seems much more noticeable. The smiles have been wiped from our faces as we know that as soon as the sun starts to dip, we should hurry up home or get inside and shut the door, as it’s like an invisible switch has turned the heat down and opened the way for the ‘cold monster’ to extend his icy fingers over us. Add in the unpredictable rain, and we might be in for a chilly time.

Keeping cosy

Most homes in Portugal are designed to keep the sun out, which is a wise move, but most are not built with insulation, so the cold seeps in during the winter months. Most homes do not have central heating either, so the best you can do is layer up two or three items of clothing, and light a fire. Putting rugs down certainly helps, and pulling the curtains over does too – if they don’t keep the drafts out, they will make it look warmer at the very least.

Log fires, wood or pellet burners and oil-filled radiators work well in a small room, but a modern villa has wide open rooms with high ceilings – very hard to keep warm, and somewhere in my collection of winter clothes there is a lovely warm chipmunk onesie I was inspired to buy a few years ago – I would die of embarrassment if someone called round one evening and caught me unawares while wearing it – I look like the winner of the booby prize in a fancy dress competition – but boy, is it warm. And funnily enough, my dog thinks so too, as suddenly my lap is irresistible of an evening.

And as for the pool – well it might just as well have ice on the surface, it feels that cold, and I am not going in! Wild swimming? You can keep it, if it feels anything like the numbing water in my backyard.

I would love to give you some little pearls of wisdom about keeping warm this winter, but I don’t have the answers. Electric blanket, a hot water bottle (or two), heaters, wood or pellet fires, pile on the extra blankets– and even my unlikely onesie all do it for me. But there is one remedy I can guarantee will make you forget about the cold – a couple of glasses of Medronho (Portugal’s own firewater) will go a long way to take your mind off things!

Roll on the spring!