Q: Where are you going on holiday?
A: The Algarve.
A pretty familiar conversation at the moment, not least given the rise of Portugal as a destination of choice in the last couple of years in particular, but it’s a response that brings far more questions than answers!
From the rugged surfing heartlands to the east to the traditional fishing villages in the centre and the lively resorts of the east, to cover the Algarve with one broad brush is doing a massive disservice to one of our favourite European spots.
We’re officially converted, having been back three times in as many years after first visiting (pre-kids) in the late 1990s. It’s fair to say we’ve covered the miles during those trips and taken in all corners of the Algarve – so it’s a part of the world we’ll be posting about in bite size chunks in the months ahead.
Where to start? Not an easy choice as there are plenty of highlights but we’ll begin with the more obvious choices and leave the hidden gems for later.
Any area with the self-confidence to hand itself the tag of the Golden Triangle isn’t shy and that shines through when you visit what’s certainly the most polished corner of the coast.
At one tip of that triangle is Vilamoura, a resort that was just a twinkle in the eye of its creator more than half a century ago but one that is far from tired today.
The official figures say Vilamoura covers 2,000 hectares but it feels like a close-knit resort, in the best possible way. With its lush golf courses, luxury hotels, neat apartment complexes and plentiful list of activities for all ages there’s a lot going for it as a resort – but the jewel in the crown is the marina, the real hub through day and night.
With a great blend of bars, restaurants, shops and much more in between it’s the perfect spot for watching the world go by. Not to mention a bit of yacht spotting along the way.
More than 1,000 boats can berth at the marina at any one time – but the yachts may well be outnumbered by joggers, with the meticulously maintained paths threading their way through the perfectly manicured gardens of the resort thronging with locals and visitors alike. It helps add to what’s a very civilised, grown-up air. It isn’t all refined elegance, the bright lights are never too far away, but it’s a completely different vibe to the likes of nearby Albufeira (far more karaoke club than yacht club).
To be fair it doesn’t all sound like the perfect recipe for a holiday with little travellers in tow and for a fortnight probably wouldn’t be, but for a day trip or two we love it. Stay for the sunset and memories are guaranteed.
In peak season it pays to be prepared, restaurant bookings (where possible, not all will reserve a table at the height of summer) make sense to avoid the long waits that invariable accompany the best eateries and particularly if you fancy a quayside table. The Mayflower, a long-established favourite in Vilamoura, is top of our list whenever we’re in town.
Picture courtesy of Vilamoura Transfers.
But remember to skip pudding – save yourself for Nougat Tea’N. Part of a small but perfectly formed chain of patisseries, the Villamoura version is a real joy for the senses. Incredible creations that put the Great British Bake Off to shame are stacked neatly in cabinets that wouldn’t be out of place in a jeweller’s shop. Thankfully the price tags are much more accessible and as a sweet treat it’s difficult to beat.
Good food, good company and plenty to see and do makes for a pretty agreeable Vilamoura recipe.