Luxury – Algarve Style
Peter Thomson is a great fan of Portugal and in particular the Algarve, here he shares the highlights of his most recent visit…
For nearly thirty years we have been holidaying in the Algarve. Recently on one flight, as the first g&t induced a rather mellow feel we mused that we had started coming to this part of the world with our young family and in recent years had been enjoying the same experience with our grandchildren. In all, with some slightly hazy recall, we reckoned we had probably visited the country in the region of twenty-five times.
While we have travelled to many other places in the world the Algarve has always possessed a rather magnetic attraction.
The Algarve is the part of Portugal that runs along the foot of the country stretching from the Spanish border in the east to Cape St Vincent in the west, this latter location being the most westerly part of Europe. From this point is it is almost next stop – America and one can only imagine the feelings of Henry the Navigator, a renowned Portuguese explorer, setting off with his intrepid crew into the unknown.
As Portugal only has an Atlantic coast you can expect the sea to be a few degrees colder than the Mediterranean and the waves somewhat more pronounced. If you are into your surfing, and who hasn’t embarrassed themselves on a surfboard, then you will be in heaven, though a relaxing, gentle swim can on occasion prove tricky especially for little ones.
Here you can expect over 300 days of sunshine, so if you are a golfer, tennis player or serious sun worshipper you will be well catered for. The summers are warm with lovely sea breezes.
Our love affair with the Algarve began when we rented a villa for the first time back in 1991. We took along the in-laws and our young family. The rest they say is history.
On occasion we have chosen to give my wife a break from domestic chores and stay in a hotel as opposed to a villa and have chosen the Hotel VILA VITA Parc Resort & Spa a couple of times. We found it fabulous. So we were thrilled when asked to revisit to experience its refurbishment.
VILA VITA Parc is designed for luxury and throughout the resort there is this wonderful feeling of calm. It is 5 Star and one of the Leading Hotels of the World, so what can you expect? Firstly, as with hotels of the calibre, exceptional service, fabulous accommodation, a plethora of restaurants and bars (almost too many to try out unless you can stretch your stay to a fortnight), and a wonderful setting. The hotel sits at the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean in landscaped gardens with a huge lake, fountains and waterfowl.
We were shown to our room which was attractive, bright and airy with huge windows overlooking the ocean and just a few short steps away from the restaurants and other facilities.
The climate and proximity to the Atlantic means you access to the freshest produce and fish, which takes me back to dining at VILA VITA Parc.
The Ocean Restaurant is two Michelin-starred and as you would expect the attention to detail is superb. Austrian-born Hans Neuner is the man in charge and his dedicated brigade offer some of the finest food we have ever tasted; we have been fortunate to enjoy many Michelin-starred restaurants and we were truly spoilt here. We dined on the ‘Culinary Moments’ menu, and with each plate another explosion of flavour was delivered. The Sommelier Nelson Marreiros paired each dish with care and flair.
In addition to more fine gourmet dining at the Aladin Grill you can feast upon delicious grilled fish in an Arabic setting with dark blue walls and stunning stained glass the restaurant is like stepping into a little piece of north Africa.
If you want to try traditional Portuguese fare you can find it at the restaurant Adega which has been set out as a traditional market square. It is one of the many alternative dining options as previously mentioned.
Just a couple of kilometres from the hotel, on the beach at Armação de Pêra, is another of the hotel’s excellent restaurants, Arte Náutica. The hotel has a complimentary shuttle so getting there is not a problem unless you fancy a stroll instead. As you sit directly on the beach, fish had to be the only option for lunch. Atlantic fish soup for my wife and I tucked into Razor clams with garlic and lemon. For mains we shared the Algarvian Fresh Fish Cataplana (it is about as traditional a Portuguese dish as you can get), all washed down with a bottle of locally grown Vinho Verde. A real treat.
And after all that you may wish to take part in some activity. VILA VITA Parc has many activities for all, that is if you can drag yourself away from the spectacular views and the breeze whilst you lounge reading your latest novel.
With some 7 pools there are lots of opportunities to swim and enjoy the sunshine. If you fancy some spoiling the VILA VITA SPA by Sisley offers some beauty care and revitalising treatments to pre-ageing/anti-ageing therapies. There are 12 treatment rooms and my wife opted for the Reflexology treatment, which she found to be extremely relaxing.
Whilst she was having her treatment I took myself off to the main building where there is a heated indoor pool and the Delfim Health Club. Perfect if you feel the need to exercise.
In addition there is an extensive selection of water activities, from windsurfing to kayaking. Nearby you can snorkle and visit Portugal’s largest natural reef which is just a stone’s throw away. The hotel can also arrange for you to undertake dive certification courses if you wish. Find out more about outside activities here.
There are sea cave boat tours and dolphin-spotting excursions plus the opportunity to go on a big game fishing expedition or spend the afternoon aboard a stylish yacht. The Vila Vita yacht will take you to visit the area’s tiny bays and coves, only accessible from the sea. Sadly, we didn’t have time but we will certainly book a trip when we return.
A trip to this area isn’t really about sightseeing, but more about relaxed enjoyment. Apart from many beautiful beaches, you might like to consider a visit to the Monchique Mountains. The scenery is impressive. The mountains offer remarkable views over the landscape. The main town of Monchique is renowned for its thermal waters and should not be missed. It is home to quaint cobbled streets, a local market and various festivals and fairs throughout the year. It was, in its time, a favourite of the Portuguese royal family. One thing you should take with you is a bottle so that you can indulge in the famous Monchique waters. If you don’t fancy climbing the mountain itself you can sit in the square and enjoy the cool whilst sipping a coffee.
Back down the mountain and quite near to the hotel is Porches Pottery. Here you get to see the locals hand painting the beautiful pottery and on the back of each piece there is the date of ‘birth’. It is a nice reminder of another year’s visit. Pieces can be seen all around the hotel it is definitely very collectable. We buy a piece or two every year to remind us of our lovely holidays.
If you get the opportunity you must try to visit the Ria Formosa Natural Park. It has a wide variety of flora and fauna living on the banks of the tidal estuary. If you are lucky you will catch sight of a flock of flamingos. You can follow the line of the estuary and get to Tavira Island.
It would be better to drive to this by heading east towards Faro and following road signs, as the walk would be rather challenging. To get on to the island itself you will have to take a ferry but you will be rewarded with magnificent beaches and restaurants. The place was once inhabited by fishermen and there are many indications of its past, well worth a trip.
There is so much more to do whilst based at VILA VITA Parc and here we have only given you a taste of what you can expect. The hotel offers discerning travellers plenty of things to do and to delight in, particularly the wonderful gastonomy and discreet attention.
We love this part of the Algarve and will continue to make it a must go holiday destination and we thoroughly enjoyed our return visit to the hotel.
For us it is so easy to unplug and have a totally relaxing break. It is almost like a second home for us. Give it a try!
Rua Anneliese Pohl, Alporchinhos 8400-450 Porches, Portugal email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel: +351 282 310 100
When to go
The Algarve is a great all year destinationfor golfers – the weather rarely drops below 15°C, whilst July and August temperatures peak in the early 30°Cs. September is a great time to visit – the temperature is a near constant 28°C and you won’t have packed family holiday crowds to contend with either.
Faro is an easy destination to get to. Flights from many airports across the country can start at as little as £50.