Holiday Destinations - Quinta do Lago, Algarve
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 February 2016
Quinta do Lago, in Portugal's Algarve, is a well kept secret I can't resist sharing, writes Kate Houghton
’ve never been to the Algarve before. Indeed, I’ve never been to anywhere in Portugal before, so I had no pre-conceptions to overcome, just a curiosity to witness for myself a place so many of my acquaintances rave about.
Quinta do Lago is a 20 minute drive from Faro airport, which in itself is but a short flight from Manchester, both very important factors when you’re only going for a weekend. It’s a resort (though I hate to use that word, as it seems a little downmarket for what you actually find there) consisting of a golf course, beaches, a National Park, restaurants, hotels and villas for sale or for rent. The whole area is the preserve of a single company who have, over the last 40 years, slowly, carefully and very thoughtfully developed the area into one of the most successful and sought-after luxury holiday destinations in Europe. Agreements with local government set in place in 1971 were far-thinking at that time, with protections put in place for the environment and the landscape that have ensured that homeowners and holiday-makers benefit from an area of extraordinary natural beauty, serious levels of privacy and a freedom to build the holiday-home of their choosing, within intelligent and sensible limits.
The land set aside for Quinta do Lago is only now entering its final stage of development, with the last remaining tranches of land being released for sale to those seeking to build the villa of their dreams in a location with sunshine and summer breezes from April till November. For those not keen on the whole new build thing, villas built by earlier buyers are available for sale through the real estate agency operated by Quinta do Lago’s owner and a tour of the resort is a marvellous insight into the way both exteriors and interiors have changed in the last few decades, with traditional Portuguese style villas of stucco and tile sitting alongside cuboid glass fronted edifices and sites where the first, or even the second, incarnation of a holiday home has previously sat. One thing is consistent however – each and every home is a dream of a place I would walk over hot coals to own.
I stayed at the Conrad Hotel. This is a very grand place, where luxury is not an afterthought or a bolt-on, but something that envelopes you from the moment you enter the dramatic, super-modern foyer. My room was just as it should be – grand enough to instigate an intake of breath and a drawn out ‘ooooh’, but comfortable in the extreme. An enormous bed beckoned, but so did dinner, so a quick turnaround was on the cards to get me looking less economy and more first class, fast.
Dinner at Casa Velha is a bit of a must-do for every visitor to Quinta. This long-standing favourite serves fine French cuisine with a Mediterranean feel in a truly stunning location. Everything from the menu to the wine list to the décor and the service is designed to deliver a sense of pure luxury, but it’s fine dining without the fussiness so often found in restaurants of this calibre.
After a night of blissful slumber, a healthy breakfast at Pure Boutique Café was a welcome start to the day. The menu is all about packing as much healthy stuff into you as possible in the tastiest way possible. Not a bad idea after the indgulence of the night before. I was faced with such decision stress by their smoothie menu I photographed it and have been working my way through it at home ever since!
My healthy start to the day was extended by a bike ride though the nature reserve of the Rio Formosa National Park and back along the coast, in perhaps the most fabulous way to really grasp the uniqueness of this stunning location. Led by a local bike guide, we pedalled alongside the inland lake, spotting waterfowl (including flamingos, can you believe!) as we went, past the longest wooden bridge in Europe, along the edge of the golf course, into the salt flats (where we discovered a mountain of glistening white salt) and back along wooden walkways though the reserve. The sun shone and the sky gleamed blue and reports of snow at home simply added to the sheer pleasure of the day.
Seafood lovers make a beeline for Quinta’s Casa do Lago, a restaurant with stunning views across the Rio Formosa National Park and an interior which screams sunshine, fresh fish and lazy days. A freshly muddled Mojito (or two) was the perfect reward for my dedicated cycling and who could resist a Piri Piri chicken steak? Not me. Although my dining companions raved over the seafood options and professed to be more than thrilled with their choices.
The afternoon was spent enjoying the luxuries of the spa at the Conrad (come on – I’d spent 90 minutes pedalling, with my own legs, before lunch – of course I deserved a massage!) The Spa area is rather superb, as you’d expect, with pools indoor and out, steam rooms, saunas and lovely collection of treatments available.
Dinner on my second night had to take place at Bovino, about which I’d heard many good things already, mostly from a charming and astonishingly well-informed taxi driver named Alberto, who gave life to the sights and insight into life at Quinta.
Wow, was he right! Bovino (meaning, quite literally, bovine – as in steaks) is a shrine at which lovers of all things beef come to worship. From the outside - a traditional Algarvian farmhouse draped in cerise Bougainvillea, set on a hilltop with dramatic views. From the inside – a highly contemporary and exciting take on ‘steakhouse’, with wide open spaces, golden lighting and dark oak juxtaposed against bright white walls and vibrant colour. I went for a fillet steak with a Roquefort sauce to die for, but you can choose from a tempting range including the Spanish Chuletôn, Australian Waygu, Porterhouse, Chateaubriand, Tomahawk and more, with many, many sauces and side-dishes to complement.
You can’t visit the Algave without hitting a golf course or two. Well, I could, as my previous efforts at golf would suggest hitting anything I aimed at within a 50 foot radius would be highly unlikely, including the course itself. To overcome this handicap (golfer reference, geddit?!) a lesson was called for, and Quinta do Lago’s golf professional, operating from their Taylor Made performance centre was the obvious place to start. Poor old Callum. A lovely young English chap with natural charm and serious ability, faced with me – gangly, uncoordinated and clueless. He did a fine job though and by the end of my session not only could I hit the ball, but I could actually hit it in a straight line (forwards! Cheek.) I can see why people get so addicted, but I daren’t go again, I’d never get a thing done! (This is why so many more men than women play it I suspect…)
I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in Quinta do Lago. It’s hard to believe I packed so much in – active time and chill time, healthy eating and pure indulgence, learning and laughter. I’d definitely head back and do it all again, and if I were to win the lottery, I know exactly where I’d have my holiday home. I’ve even chosen the plot.