|The Bela Vista Hotel is perched on a bluff rising above the Praia de Rocha, an expansive beach bordered by a marina and dramatic high dunes.|
Since the 1960s the Algarve region in the southernmost part of Portugal has developed into one of the most popular beach resort destinations in Europe. Boasting a rugged coastline with enormous cliffs, breathtaking beaches inside coves and caves with sparkling azure water of the Atlantic Ocean and a Mediterranean climate with over 300 sunny days a year (more than California), one could easily understand the allure of the area.
The Algarve has paid a price for its popularity, with many of the beach towns becoming overdeveloped, but there are many gems among the mass-market hotels and resorts and we discovered three of them during our autumn visit.
Mid-October is a tricky time to find a beach resort in Europe that is warm enough to swim in. Temperatures in southern France, Spain, and Italy and the Greek Isles, dip into the low to mid-60s Fahrenheit and the beaches can be windy. After much research we concluded the Algarve had the highest temperatures, the lowest wind speeds, and the least amount of rainy days in all of Europe, plus the ocean temperatures were acceptable.
We flew into Faro airport/FAO, the main airport serving the Algarve. The rental car companies were on site at the airport, conveniently located a few hundred feet away from the main terminal. Our first destination was the town of Portimao, about an hour drive from the airport, a straight shot on the A-22 AutoRoute, till you reach the town.
|The Bela Vista Hotel is a five-star property with 38 rooms, three junior suites and one suite.|
We booked four nights at the Relais & Chateau Bela Vista Hotel. The name means beautiful view in Portuguese and one gets the name immediately: The hotel is perched on a bluff rising above the Praia de Rocha, an expansive beach bordered by a marina and dramatic high dunes. It was originally built as a hotel in 1934 with 15 rooms, hence the homey feel. The hotel was bought by the Phoenix Hotel Management Group in 2011, and completely renovated, becoming a five-star property with 38 rooms, three junior suites and one suite.
Veteran interior design firm Graca Viterbo has done a fabulous job with the décor of the lobby, public rooms, bar and restaurant, mixing classic Portuguese features such as the Azulejo tiles lining the walls and the dark wood carved stairway along with contemporary accents of black and white wide striped dining chairs and cherry red dining club chairs with swooping arms. The centerpiece of the lobby is an elongated piano with decoupage.
Our Elegance Room (#112), decorated with dashes of cobalt blue and marigold yellow, was a bit tight for space, but it overlooked the sea and beach and had a more spacious bathroom. One much appreciated amenity besides the standard ones such as high thread count sheets, L’Occitane toiletries, bathrobes, free Wi-Fi, LCD TV, and in-room safe, was the abundance and convenient location (right next to bed) of electrical outlets for iPhones and computers.
The service at the hotel is excellent with an attentive and well-informed front desk staff and concierge and pleasant, always smiling wait staff in the restaurant and bar.
We had dinner at the Vista restaurant in the hotel. The newly appointed Chef Joao Oliveira trained at some of the best restaurants in Portugal, including the nearby two Michelin star Vila Joya. We ordered the five-course tasting menu, an incredible feast of mostly local-sourced ingredients, including the wine. Oliveira’s creative mix of traditional Portuguese flavors and eclectic pairings will for sure bring him a Michelin star or two in the near future.
The pool area with rows of tall palm trees had comfy thickly padded chaises and enclosed daybed lounges along with drink service. L’Occitane spa, next to the hotel, has five treatment rooms (two for couples), sauna, hammam and workout room.
The front desk can arrange experiences such as ballooning, vineyard tours, private sailboat expeditions and golf outings. Note: There is a 12 euro charge a day to rent a chaise lounge and umbrella on the beach, which is surprising given all the amenities the hotel provides free of charge.
|Pousada Palacio de Estoi in Faro is an 18th-century former palace with neo-Baroque and neo-Rococo features.|
On our last day in the Algarve, we checked into Pousada Palacio de Estoi in Faro, which recently joined Small Luxury Hotels of the World and is also a part of the Pestana Pousadas de Portugal Monument & Historic Hotels. The 18th-century former palace with neo-Baroque and neo-Rococo features such as colored plaster moldings and blue tiles, has a French-style formal garden with fountains, ponds and marble statues. Once inside the hotel, you are transported into the 21st century, with contemporary, minimalist design. The palatial public rooms retain the original gold leaf and marble wall decorations along with hand-painted ceiling murals.
Our Superior Room (#211), measuring just over 300 square feet, was more than spacious with a king bed, oversized bathroom, and a great view of the pool and the valley below.
There’s an Olympic size outdoor pool as well as an indoor pool, and the Magic Spa has a sauna, hammam and tropical shower. Massages can be customized and popular treatments include a vigorous sports massage using eucalyptus, camphor and mint rescue gel and a massage and foot exfoliation with a delicious mixture of brown sugar, passion fruit, orange and honey.
The Viscount restaurant still uses its original stove to cook classic Portuguese dishes served in copper cataplanas, a special pot used for stews.
Agents should direct any questions to Nuno Pina ([email protected], 011-351-210-417-036), sales director, tour operation, MICE and corporate, Pestana Hotel Group.
One of the highlights of our trip was the lunch at the Vila Joya Hotel in Albufeira. Austrian-born Chef Dieter Koschina has achieved the distinction of not only two Michelin stars but also the only restaurant in Portugal to be included on the The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list by San Pellegrino.
We were seated on the terrace overlooking the hotel’s manicured lawns and the sea. We indulged in the five-course tasting menu with matching Portuguese wines. The sommelier gave us a detailed explanation of each wine, the region it was from, the grapes used, and how it related to the dish he paired it with. The young wait staff were pleasant and eager to please every whim of the clientele.
General Manager Celso Assuncao ([email protected]) is the go-to person for information on Vila Joya Hotel.