And where to soak it all in from the lap of local luxury
While bigger Portuguese cities like Lisbon undoubtedly have their charms, sometimes the standard tourist trail can stray a long way from authenticity. The Algarve on the other hand is a couple of steps removed and all the better for it. There’s something for everybody with pristine stretches of white sand you don’t have to weave around packed deck chairs to enjoy, markets bustling with adventurous local artisans as well as pastel alleyways filled with architectural sights.
The Algarve is a place teeming with culture and the Anantara Vilamoura resort is one of the best places to bask in it without ever leaving the premises (though, you should really leave the hotel). With thoughtful local details and a luxurious touch, it’s a gorgeous getaway ideal for a romantic weekend.
I stayed at the Anantara Vilamoura, the latest in a long line of Anantara resorts and the franchise’s only European offering. For a place with a rich heritage like the Algarve, an Anantara is a perfect fit as they mould each of their five star resorts around the DNA of the city they find themselves in.
From the moment you walk in, the passion of the team for the resort and its mission is absolutely infectious. It’s the little things that count here: from the carefully curated selection of wines at their fine dining restaurant EMO through to the way that a quiet magic falls over the lobby lounge as a small band takes centre stage for the Fado, a heart-wrenchingly beautiful performance of traditional Portuguese music.
The resort is a hotspot for sports lovers, as the Portuguese golf masters takes place literally next door at the Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course. From your balcony or a pristine cabana on the edge of their numerous pools, you can spot golfers practicing their swings and avid players can even sign up at the resort for a handful of lessons with their in-house experts.
I stayed in the Anantara’s Deluxe Pool View Room, which had a stunning view of the resort’s pool lined with palm trees and the Victoria Golf Course stretching off into the distance. The room itself was beautiful and modern, with a dangerously comfy bed and a minimal yet warm aesthetic.
The bathroom was one of the best parts of the room, stocked completely with Elemis products to enjoy while basking in a bathtub or underneath a rainfall shower. (It sure helps we’ve counted Elemis amongst our favourite holiday beauty products.) The sweet complementary touches went a mile as well, from the speedily refilled Nespresso coffee capsules to use with the in-room machine to the tangerine custard flan left on your bedside table during turndown service.
The culinary selection at the Anantara was by far the biggest delight of the resort. We were lucky enough to try all of their offerings and it was the Ria that impressed me the most with its mouth-watering selection of fresh seafood (the octopus salad really hits the spot). I know it’s your holiday, but breakfast buffet at the Victoria is well worth waking up for if only for their Portuguese fried eggs: sunny side up eggs sprinkled liberally with chorizo chunks.
Romantic date nights and special occasions find an ideal home at EMO restaurant, the resort’s fine dining jewel. You won’t find any angsty teenagers with floppy fringes here though, as it draws on the word ’emotion’ which inspires its tasting menus; a culinary collaboration between sommelier and chef to evoke intense feelings with every carefully paired wine and dish. The wines were outstanding and there’s a green wine I could easily be drip-fed every day, heightening the tastes of modern Portugal which ranged from a Carabineiro Cream (topped off with a seafood dim sum parcel) through to lemongrass Black Pork Tenderloin served with a sweet and sour Xerez sauce. Try to book in on a quieter night however, as things get busy quickly and you might be left waiting a little while between courses.
The hotel itself is a very laid-back affair and its clientele a mixed bag, from couples on getaways to families and the inevitable pack of golfers who you’ll find filling their restaurants as the sun comes down. It’s an incredibly welcoming resort without a hint of pretentiousness and returning to its light-filled lobby will fill you with warmth after a day spent pounding the Algarve’s pavements.
You’ll want to bring your swimsuit to enjoy the hotel’s several pools and those looking to let their hair down can bust a move in the summer at the adults-only Cascades pool, complete with a Veuve Clicquot champagne tent and DJs to set the mood. As far as dress code goes, the only place you’ll really need to dress up is EMO – anything goes for the rest of the hotel.
The Anantara Spa is a complete departure from the rest of the hotel, with dark, moody interiors and candles at every turn. My treatment began with a gentle foot scrub, comprised of warm milk and coffee grounds to rejuvenate my skin, before leading into the Anantara Signature Massage (€95 for an hour). Blending together the warm, rich oranges and almond blossom scents intertwined with the region, this aromatic oil massage is a gentle one designed to relax you and encourage the circulation of energy around your body. In fact, it may or may not have been so relaxing that I actually fell asleep. For those looking for something a little more intense, they also have massages designed to target tired muscles like the Anantara Golfer Massage (€95 for an hour) and thanks to their partnership with luxury skincare brand Elemis, they also have a series of facials to keep you glowing.
After your treatment, don’t slink off back to your room though. Stick around for their gorgeous indoor pool set with massive floor to ceiling windows that overlook the entire golf course. This space was without a shadow of a doubt one of my favourite spots in the hotel – especially as the weather was a bit brisk for the outdoor pools when we were there – and is open to all guests, regardless of whether or not you’re having a treatment at the spa. With an adjoining sauna room and recliners that face out onto the horizon, it’s an ideal place to kick back and relax after your treatment with a pot of their house ginger tea and fresh fruit.
Every Anantara has their own Spice Spoons experience, a gourmet adventure that takes you through the tastes of the region and even teaches you to whip a few local dishes at home. The Vilamoura’s take was absolutely fantastic and took us into a neighbouring town called Loulé, under the guidance of their kind (and endlessly patient) sous chef Luis. We spent time exploring its iconic domed market, where he explained the rich history of traditional staples such as Pao Alentejo (also known as ‘bread with a head’ for its curious shape) and the way the country’s heat brings delicacies like peri peri peppers, figs, carab, almonds to the forefront.
While we were given half an hour to explore the market and pick up any souvenirs to take home, Luis quickly sourced fresh ingredients from a number of vendors he clearly knew quite well. We were then taken back to the hotel’s Victoria Restaurant, where he and a lively assistant chef named Christina walked us through a traditional Portuguese meal. From grilling chorizo on a live fire set with brandy through to layering a copper pot called a cataplana with seafood, it was a unique experience that was definitely a highlight of the trip – not to mention the fact that we were given a little USB with the recipes to take home.
While you’re there
Although the resort is in a quieter part of the Algarve, it’s still incredibly easy to slip off to charming Loulé – a Portugese town filled with pastel buildings and a bustling market packed with chorizo, wine and even curiosities like carab-flavoured fudge.
Saturdays are the best day to go when the market spills outside of the red domed landmark and fills the surrounding streets, hawking everything from chocolate filled churros for 2 Euros through to the endless oranges that fill the air with their scent.
A big draw of Portugal is naturally its pristine beaches and there’s a few to choose from. I fell in love particularly with Praia de Falesia, a 6 kilometer stretch of bronze sand, that happened to be nearly completely deserted when we went and one of the most tranquil moments of the entire trip.
For a full breakdown of the Anantara Vilamoura’s rates, visit their website.
Anantara Vilamoura nightly rates start at £223 / €255 in a Deluxe Double room for two persons on a b&b basis with VAT included.
The resort also offers a series of special packages, so it’s worth taking a look at their site from time to time to see if there’s anything in the works.