One muses on holidays in Europe next year: perhaps France, as the south does have amazing weather and there is always the food. Perhaps a winter break to enjoy some bearable temperatures and maybe even some patches of blue sky. Spain has the ever-popular tapas as well as those vibrant cities of Barcelona and Madrid. Italy has had a loyal following since the dawn of The Grand Tour in Victorian times. But Portugal and the Algarve is often overlooked.
Portugal is diverse. There are, of course, all those elements that appeal to tourists who have become habitués of other southern European destinations. But it remains unique, with a wealth of unspoilt natural grandeur, more historic statues than one would want to shake a monument at, culture rich enough to satisfy a dedicated anthropologist, and food that is at last being taken seriously.
The Algarve is Portugal’s most southerly region. Its stunning Atlantic coast boasts hidden beaches of golden sand, rugged cliffs, and ocean caves and grottos. Even the name ‘Algarve’ has a story to tell, harking back to the Moorish conquest of the Iberian peninsula in 711. The Arab words ‘al-gharb’, meaning the land on the West, has been corrupted to the now-familiar name. Any place-name starting in Al is likely derived from a North African original.
This is Portugal’s playground, but there is much more to recommend it than its magnificent beaches and world-class golf courses. Vila Vita Parc is a 5-star resort with its own beach attached, but it offers leisure opportunities far beyond a stretch of sand (although that particular stretch of sand is secluded and well appointed).
Vila Vita Parc mesmerises the world-weary guest with its tranquil gardens verdant with palms, Bougainvillea, and exotic succulents. Its manicured lawns are punctuated by swimming pools fringed by enough sun loungers to baffle any northern European with a towel, and one of those blue azure beauties is heated, helping to make Vila Vita Parc something of an all-year-round destination.
The thoughtful design of the 54-acre estate allows plenty of space for guests whatever their chosen pursuit. Even at full occupancy there is the illusion that the rest of the guests must be away on an excursion. It has the air of a Moroccan-inspired village. There are no high-rise buildings here and the well-established palm trees tower over many of the structures. There are meandering paths just wide enough to accommodate golf buggies, which are the only vehicles guests will see for the duration of their tranquil stay. Leave your car at home and fly to Faro airport which is only 40 minutes away, or Lisbon a couple of hours away. The hotel will meet and greet you in the arrival lounge.
Vila Vita Parc offers 180 luxury guest rooms, suites and villas: the main hotel houses 65 deluxe rooms and 8 suites, while a separate building called The Residence, on the edge of a cliff, offers 29 suites that include 26 with garden or sea view, two Townhouse Suites, and one Residence Grand Suite.
Oasis Parc is a veritable ‘neighbourhood’ of the aforementioned village, comprising a cluster of white two-storey townhouses. The ground-floor suite has a private garden while the top tempts with its own private roof terrace, complete with cushioned loungers and open-air shower. This is a place that invites guests not only to bask in privacy but to return to for pre-dinner drinks or after-dinner coffee.
All suites offer WiFi access, satellite TV, radio-CD player and alarm clock. All have a mini-bar and wall safe. The bathroom toiletries are Portugal’s contribution to bathing luxury – they are by the celebrated soap artisan Claus Porto, and that company can boast such discerning ladies as Michelle Obama among their followers.
With such attention to private bathroom detail, it’s no surprise that Vila Vita Parc takes its spa and health facility seriously. Options include steam and algae baths, saunas, whirlpools and a tepidarium. To contrast the tepid element there is an Ice Grotto that is actually full of snow and ice. There is also a particularly amusing foot spa. Both classic massage treatments and Far-Eastern techniques are available, as well as physiotherapeutic treatments to smooth knotted muscles.
The indoor pool allows guests to take part in resistance water training, and the EnerGym is fully furnished with exercise equipment to gladden the fast-beating heart of sporty sorts. For the rest of us who seek more gentle activity there are classes in Yoga, Pilates, TaiChi, aquarobics and stretching. Personal trainers are also available for advice.
The new HYPOXI®-Studio is the first and only one of its kind in this corner of Europe. It offers a unique chance to sample the most sophisticated training method to achieve a perfect body. The programme is based on a moderate workout routine and a balanced nutrition plan.
Many adults without children might be concerned about choosing a resort which evidently welcomes younger visitors. Vila Vita Parc has plenty of space that is designed with kids in mind, so they’ll be out of the way of those seeking relaxing calm. There are bespoke kids’ pools as well as Annabella’s Kids Parc catering for 4- to 12-year-olds, and Natalie’s Crèche for babies and toddlers aged 6 months to 3 years. There are also play schemes designed to meet the sophisticated needs of youngsters aged 13 and over. The babysitting service will be welcomed by parents who also need some time away from those smaller folks.
On site there are facilities for the whole family: tennis and volleyball courts, mini-golf, a driving range, a putting green and a pitch-and-putt green. Golfers can also take advantage of more than 30 scenic championship courses in the area. Nearby are stables for horseback riding, and windsurfing, hiking and biking opportunities might also tempt.
Vila Vita Parc has a wealth of activities on land, on the beach and even at sea. This resort boasts its own 72-foot yacht which will allow guests a view of the iconic cliffs from the vantage point of the deck, and plenty of time to explore normally-inaccessible beaches and for swimming. The pampering continues with delicious food and wine to complement your bespoke excursion. One can expect something far more delicious than a ship’s biscuit and a flask of cold tea. This is an annex of Vila Vita Parc, after all!
Talking of food, Vila Vita Parc in the Algarve, presents its guests with better restaurants than do some small towns. There are dining options to appeal to youngsters (and the not so young) who might consider themselves pizza aficionados, a restaurant specialising in traditional Portuguese and Algarve dishes, a 2-Michelin-star restaurant that should not be missed, a beach restaurant dining experience, and even an authentic German beer-garden. Every taste is provided for, from the excellent breakfast buffet through to a local after-dinner digestif.
Places to go in the Algarve:
• Aljezur and Odeceixe on the Costa Vicentina, Europe’s surf retreat
• Monchique, a mountain retreat
• Silves, one of the Algarve’s earliest towns
• Alte and Querença, two quintessentially Algarvian villages
• The Guadiana River, part of the natural border with Spain
• Tavira, a historically fascinating city with great art treasures
• The Ria Formosa Natural Reserve
• The city of Faro, the Algarve’s capital
• Sagres, Europe’s south-western tip
Vila Vita Parc
Rua Anneliese Pohl
Phone: + 351 282 310 100
Fax: + 351 282 320 333
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018