We, cold souls, languish in northern Europe, longing for holidays offering bright sun and vibrant food. Look at any Mediterranean travel brochure and along with gold-fringed beaches there will be images of food.
But there is an alternative to the now-crowded Med: the Atlantic. Yes, dear geographically challenged reader, that might conjure visions of grey sea and a sinking Titanic, but consider the country on the same latitude as the Mediterranean but with unspoilt stretches of sand, refreshing summer breezes and food that can compete with anything from France, Spain or Italy.
Portugal in general will tick boxes for any food-loving tourist. It’s a large country that offers different landscapes and therefore varied agriculture down its considerable length; and then there is the sea, which borders on two sides. The Algarve, in particular, presents a wealth of dining opportunities from land, vine and ocean.
Vila Vita Parc is described as a resort and it boasts 5 well-deserved stars. Its food mirrors the quality of its accommodations and facilities. The guest is presented with outstanding grazing from breakfast to dinner. Wine-lovers will not feel the need to wander, as this 2-venue establishment is proud of its cellars and indeed its vineyard (more of that to follow).
One might like to start the day at The Bela Vita which is on the ground floor of the Main Building. This restaurant allows guests to enjoy breakfast sitting on a sunny terrace with views of the exotically planted grounds displaying enough tall palm trees to make any homesick Polynesian feel quite content.
The morning spread reflects the national makeup of those staying at Vila Vita Parc. There are hot dishes that will likely be the chosen fare of the British and Americans, and those include freshly made omelettes and fried eggs along with crispy bacon and perhaps a side of waffles. One does, after all, need sustenance for an arduous day of basking in the sun, dipping in the pool (although that could be dippings in plural pools as this resort is blessed with many), an energetic spa treatment or an exhausting round of golf. Perhaps add a fruit smoothie to that cooked spread.
Scandinavians and Germans will enjoy the extensive selection of pressed meats, cheese and smoked fish, perhaps topping some pumpernickel bread. Do try those local cheeses and cured ham; Vila Vita takes pride in supporting the local economy with everything from its linen and bath products to fresh local foods. Breakfast here can be a sampling adventure that one might normally find only in a high-end deli. You will discover a display of Portuguese cakes that change by the day and these should not be missed. There is chilled fruit for those who want to feel noble.
French visitors are not forgotten: there are croissants and pots of coffee.
The Whale is a family-friendly restaurant and ideal for lunch, and its large summer terrace will ensure that you don’t miss any sun. There are breathtaking vistas of the sea, making this a spot that invites convivial lingering.
Gamberetti Fritti – fried shrimps in basil-garlic oil, lemon, African oil and 13 year-old balsamic vinegar served on ciabatta – should surely be a signature starter here. It’s spicy, and that bread soaks up the delicious dressing. You will likely be tempted to order this every lunchtime but then one would miss Risotto alla Milanese – saffron risotto with shrimps and herbs – and that would be a shame.
Pizza aficionados will be forced to admit that pizza from the wood-fired oven is superior to that which might arrive in a box on the back of a moped. Al Peperoncini – tomatoes, mozzarella, hot peppers, garlic, onion – will delight anyone with pizza cravings.
Those sea views will be a charming garnish to a main course of fish, as it is, unsurprisingly, a big feature of The Whale. The squid is particularly good here just simply grilled: it has not only its unique and delicate seafood flavour, but the attractive charring adds both texture and a rich taste. There is a cabinet with a display of the ‘catch of the day’ and the head waiter will offer amusing conversation and suggestions.
Talking of the sea, Vila Vita Parc has a beach restaurant, Arte Náutica, that will allow guests to get close up and personal with sand, waves, weathered decking and more fresh seafood. This is off-site, but a complementary and frequent bus will drop and collect diners at Armação de Pêra.
This is a casual restaurant during sunbathing hours, but as the sun sets the ambiance changes to smart-casual, with bathing suits and sarongs being exchanged for cotton dresses and light linens. Yes, the focus is on the bounty of the ocean but there are carnivore-pleasing alternatives. The portions are generous but there is no hurry, so sit back and enjoy melon and ham, shrimps, grilled fish, and some summer cocktails. Dry white port with tonic water is highly recommended and marvellously complements the setting sun.
Ocean is Vila Vita Parc’s fine-dining signature restaurant and it proudly sports a brace of Michelin stars. It’s located in the Residence building and has commanding views of the sea and coast. It is an elegant salon with décor that is enhanced by the strikingly dressed guests, making an evening here deliciously memorable.
Executive Chef Hans Neuner heads Ocean and his attention to detail is evident from the first glimpse of his imaginative dishes. He values the array of local ingredients at his disposal and he transforms them into visually impressive and delicious creations that are almost too good to eat.
Hans is a confident chef and introduces elements of whimsy into his cooking. One might find a seascape of lacy coral bejewelled with tiny shrimp. Perhaps one could be served with a lawn and an edible tree. There will be fish and meat expertly prepared and artistically garnished but all having perfectly balanced flavours.
Chef Hans Neuner was named Portugal’s Chef of the Year 2009 and 2012, and his team has been awarded two Michelin Stars. Ocean is celebrated for its polished and discreetly attentive service. The menu changes seasonally, offering new temptations even to its regular guests. The wines complement the dishes and enhance what is, after all, an occasion.
Vila Vita Parc has a host of restaurants and bars to suit every taste. They offer a variety of menus and ambiance, the quality is universally high, and the staff are just as friendly at supper as they were at breakfast. A visit is a pampering experience, and a return is assured.
Vila Vita Parc
Rua Anneliese Pohl,
Phone: (+351) 282 310 100
Telefax: (+351) 282 320 333
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018