Vila Vita Parc enchants the guest with its exotic gardens; it invigorates the visitor with its pools and spa; it tempts with its food and wine. Those last two delicious elements will likely be at the very heart of your stay and they are key to the success of the company here in Portugal.
This five-star resort boasts a 2-Michelin star restaurant so one knows the food and presentation will be superb, and it’s no surprise that equal attention is paid to the wines. Portugal has much to offer in that regard but it’s still overlooked. There is more to the viticulture here than Mateus Rose, although I confess to having enjoyed a thoroughly chilled glass or two of that on hot evenings.
Most fine restaurants will claim to have a ‘cellar’ although this is, in truth, often a temperature-controlled closet off the kitchen. Vila Vita Parc has a real wine cellar (or Cave de Vinhos). It is almost a caricature of an ancient wine cellar: one thinks of low lights, cool brick walls, flickering candles and long-undisturbed bottles, and that’s exactly the reality here. It’s even more impressive when one appreciates that these walls, although genuinely old, have been transported here from Egypt, Austria and Greece. The-150year-old bricks have been re-built in gothic style to present a cosy and intimate space not only for learning about wine but also enjoying exceptional food with those vintages.
The Cave de Vinhos holds a stock of more than 11,000 bottles of wine in perfect conditions. This is a wine cellar and not a museum, so all these are available for purchase. The bottles portray the best wine-making skills from across the globe and include a fine selection of Ports. This fortified wine is enjoying a resurgence of popularity and has shaken off the dusty image of a too-sticky drink reserved for elderly relatives and usually at a funeral. People are taking a second look and finding it speaks very favourably to a younger, contemporary palate.
Vila Vita Parc owns its own farm and vineyard so has access to some noteworthy local wines. The striking estate of Herdade dos Grous, or Estate of the Cranes, is found some miles away in Alentejo. The origin of its name, “Além-Tejo”, literally translates to “Across the Tagus”. The region is separated from the rest of Portugal by the river Tagus and the area is known as the bread basket of Portugal.
One will notice a change in the landscape as one travels from the Algarve to Alentejo. There are gently undulating hills punctuated by well-spaced trees – these are often cork, which still represents the stopper of choice for the wine industry, but it is being increasingly used in the manufacture of goods that one would normally find made from leather.
Herdade dos Grous covers an impressive 1700 acres or so of this fertile land. It has a sizable lake, vineyards and olive groves that add to the sense of natural calm but this isn’t a vista designed for the visitors, this is a working farm and vineyard that produces some very creditable and prize-winning wines.
Alentejo is home to old grape varieties such as Trincadeira: it has been chosen as one of the main varieties here as it suits the hot summers, but it has also had a long history in Douro where it is known as Tinta Amarela.
The establishment of the estate and the cultivation of the vines began in 1987, with the extensive wine cellar being added in 2005. Oenologist Luis Duarte has a remarkable talent and has presented wines of great character. Wines like Moon Harvest (a pure varietal Alicante Bouschet) and 23 Barricas (from Syrah and Touriga Nacional) are exceptional. Luis Duarte has been awarded the title Winemaker of the Year twice so far – the only winemaker in Portugal to have achieved this.
There are plenty of horses on the farm and they are there for the riding enjoyment of visitors rather than for culinary purposes, but there are lots of grazing animals that are destined for plates here and at Vila Vita Parc. The cattle on this estate produce Carne Alentejana, a well-known and appreciated quality of beef. The European Union recognises the meat as a Portuguese Protected Designation of Origin brand. It’s a bit like authentic champagne only coming from a particular area. There are also local sheep called Merino Regional, pigs and some emus, but they seem to be more for decorative purposes.
Meat from Herdade dos Grous also fills the cool-room at the traditional German restaurant located a couple of miles from the main Vila Vita Parc (transport provided). Biergarten is a little bit of Germany transplanted, that one might be surprised to find in the Algarve, but the owners of the group are German and the food here showcases the produce of Herdade dos Grous admirably.
On the menu are handmade sausages, schnitzel and knuckle of pork and if you are a local you can take advantage of the butcher and gourmet shop, which offers prime cuts of meat in addition to those sausages. This is a spot for more souvenir hunting as they stock wine and food gifts from the estate. The gourmet shop is open from Tuesdays to Fridays from 15:00 to 18:00.
Vila Vita Parc and Herdade dos Grous offer two faces of hospitality and culinary excellence. Each venue has its own style and will appeal to those who appreciate attention to detail. Herdade dos Grous would make a delightful winter, spring or autumn break for those who want to take leisurely walks through vines, go riding, or relax with a good book – and always with the prospect of an excellent meal. Vila Vita Parc has a host of facilities for all the family and indeed all year round. Its selection of restaurants offers a gastronomic extravaganza for any traveller with a refined palate. Both offer the stuff of which memories are made, and those memories will undoubtedly feature some rather good wines.
Lunch – Monday to Sunday 12:30 to 14:30
Dinner – Friday to Sunday 19:30 to 21:30
Herdade dos Grous
Phone: + 351 284 96 00 00
Visit Herdade dos Grous here
Vila Vita Parc
Rua Anneliese Pohl,
Phone: (+351) 282 310 100
Telefax: (+351) 282 320 333
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018