With Portugal preparing for a staged exit from lock-down, our Editor KIRSTY JOHNSTON, called on her parents to tell the NI Travel News readers about one of their favourite holidays destinations – the Algarve…
Due to widespread public health concerns around the spread of the COVID-19 virus, worldwide tourism has stalled even in the summer hotspots, such as the Algarve, however as infection rates start to subside industry experts expect late-2019/2020 tourism to rebound with an unprecedented rush to book much-needed summer and autumn escapes.
One such resort we cannot wait to return to is Vilamoura, our favourite resort in the southern region of Portugal.
Not so long ago (although it feels like several life-times now) in February 2020, we left the dreary skies of Belfast for the sunny skies of the Algarve and couldn’t wait to step off the plane at Faro Airport into the warm breeze of the Algarve. The flight was smooth and fuss-free, just like our transition through Faro airport. Everyone was orderly and polite – which always makes for stress-free travelling. We picked up our suitcases and took the short taxi transfer to our hotel, the iconic Tivoli Marina Vilamoura Algarve Resort.
Known for its large marina and golf courses, Vilamoura is a modern and sophisticated holiday destination located on one of the finest beaches of central Algarve.
At the heart of Vilamoura is the exclusive marina complex, where million-dollar yachts moor and visitors can dine at gourmet restaurants or socialise in the chic bars – and this is where our favourite hotel is located, the five-star Tivoli Marina Vilamoura Algarve Resort. Far more than a luxury five-star hotel, the Tivoli Marina Vilamoura is sophisticated, savvy and located directly on the beachfront, it is somewhere we return to year after year.
Walking into the spacious, air conditioned lobby of the hotel we were greeted by the porter who immediately relieved us of our luggage. The lobby and check-in area is bright, spacious and oozes luxury. The reception staff were, as always, very friendly and efficient and we were presented with a choice of a glass of champagne or fruit juice. Unfortunately we had arrived slightly earlier than anticipated and our room was not ready just yet, however, we were quite happy to relax on one of the plush sofas in the lobby with a fragrant, freshly brewed coffee to wait on our room. We were on holiday and in no rush to do anything but relax.
Very shortly one of the receptionists came to let us know our room was ready and to show us the way. The porter followed with the cases on the gilded trolley – no need to worry about lugging suitcases behind you – everything is opulent and elegant.
Once we were delivered to our room – along with our luggage – we took a few minutes to explore our room for the week. We had opted to stay in one of the double rooms overlooking the pool. On previous occasions we have been overlooking the marina, which is absolutely beautiful, but the sun hits there early in the morning so it’s a little cool there in the early evening and we do like to enjoy a gin on the balcony before dinner.
The room was, as always, beautiful. Luxuriously appointed and decorated with contemporary design furniture, allied to restful hues of taupe and cream, with accents of dusky blue, moss green and fiery orange, providing a comfortable, as well as sleek and glamorous overall effect. The hotel’s exclusive Tivoli Bed was designed with delicate materials that ensure a perfect night’s sleep – always important when choosing your hotel. The beds at the Tivoli are also huge, so there’s plenty of room to spread out.
The shower was huge and had a range of shower heads to ensure a spa like experience and fresh towels are provided every night. We also got a turn down service – it was lovely to return to our room in the evening to a beautifully turned-down bed, drawn curtains and a sneaky little chocolate to enjoy before bed.
The room also boasted all the usual facilities including kettle and a coffee machine. There is also a mini bar which you can avail of if you want. Water was complimentary.
We have reached a stage in our life where we go on holiday to relax. We aren’t interested in partying or uncomfortable plastic sun-loungers. We want relaxation, comfort, de-stressing and calm. And Tivoli provides it in spades.
But don’t get us wrong, if you want to party, the Tivoli has you covered with the PUROBEACH VILAMOURA. Soak up the sun on a lounger all day long then sip cocktails and groove to the beat in the evening. Recently renovated the Purobeach Vilamoura this is Algarve’s new premier hotspot for laidback relaxation and beach club vibes famed from Majorca. Spend hot days and nights overlooking lush gardens and crystal waters. Enjoy elevated calmness and fresh entertainment, from fine dining to live DJs.
Exclusive for adults only – take a dip in the pool. Live it up with a relaxing massage. Order another round of Champagne and chill out surrounded by verdant greenery. Premium service and peaceful tranquillity combine for the perfect summer party scenery. Drop-dead sunsets, sleek DJ beats and signature dinners set the mood. Located within the grounds of the hotel, but not actually in the hotel itself – making it the best of both worlds. Calm and tranquil or lively club vibes.
However more to our pace is the Tivoli Spa. Inspired by the raw elements from the sea and sand of Algarve, Tivoli Spa Marina Vilamoura oﬀers elegant and ageless Spa rituals, grounded in holistic healing. Experience the innovative rejuvenation of a traditional massage, or choose between time-honoured techniques, balanced with exquisite modern touches from Payot – Paris skincare – or biologic and organic seaweed treatments from Voya – Organic Beauty. Treatments never stray far from the traditional meaning of wellness with a professional approach so that every guest emerges invigorated and released from daily stress.
Our days always start the same – a leisurely breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. Tea and coffee is served at the table while there is an extensive up-market buffet selection to choose from. You can choose to be slightly healthier one day with fresh fruits, yoghurt and toast and the next, indulge a little with a hot meal of sausages, bacon and eggs – there is even a chef on hand to make you a fresh omelette if you wish. There’s even Champagne on offer if you fancy something a little bubbly to start your day!
After breakfast we walk along the Marina, enjoying the views out over the super yachts and clear blue waters. Vilamoura is unlike any other Portuguese town, gone is the dilapidated charm, this has been replaced with striking perfection, which is expected by the super-rich who frequent the marina.
For beaches, Vilamoura cannot be beaten. There is the stunning Praia da Falésia with its 5km of pristine golden sands, while the pretty Praia de Vilamoura beach leads to the fishing harbour in Quarteira. It is to Quarteria that we usually walk taking in some of the sights and popping into some of the shops to pick up a souvenir or two.
When we visited in February there was a carnival on and kids were all dressed up in fabulous outfits and costumes parading down the streets. Quarteria has a big fish market where the fishing boats bring their catch every day. Next to that they have a produce market selling fresh fruit, veg and cheese etc. On the way back we usually stop for a mid-morning coffee and sweet-treat at one of the little street-side cafes.
Back at the hotel we normally pick up some towels from the spa and head down to relax by the pool. We always enjoy reading a good book or doing the crossword by the pool, it’s very relaxing. We also like to get a tan and the Algarve is the perfect place – not too hot, but still enough sun for a golden glow. Sometimes we picked up an English newspaper on our walk and enjoyed doing the crossword together in the sun.
The pool area is lovely and clean with, very importantly, soft sun-loungers – no hard plastic here! The outside pool is cold (there is a hot one inside in the spa area) and boasts a poolside bar which serves an extensive menu. On holiday, when the big hand of the clock hits 12 and the little hits 3, it’s ‘Gin O’Clock’ and it’s time to enjoy a cool drink and a bite to eat at the poolside bar. Portugal is serious about wining and dining and hotel guests flock to the pool bar to taste pepper’s steakhouse’s juicy cuts, oregano’s fresh pasta, or signature cocktails.
For a more lively afternoon, head to the Purobeach Vilamoura Beachfront, the lounge beds there are the ultimate base for experiencing Algarve luxury. Indulge in your own rhythms and whims with a signature menu inspired by Melbourne, Miami and Marrakesh or indulge in the chef’s creative flourishes with a promise of fusion cuisine to tease the senses, using local ingredients such as the freshest seafood and fish. When the sun goes down, golden sands become the dance floor with excellent DJs, alluring cocktails and rich bites to keep you moving.
The sun tends to go down just after four, and at our age we need a short siesta before we start our evening, so it’s back up to the room for a nap, a relaxing (second) gin on the balcony and a lovely hot shower.
Before dinner each evening we enjoy a gin (or two) in the hotel bar. Four gins by dinner time? Sure we’re on holiday! The hotel bar also serves some little bar snacks, usually crisps or nuts, not enough to dampen your hunger, but enough to stave off the post-sunset munchies.
From succulent seafood and the traditional flavours of Ria Formosa, to meat excellency, authentic Italian treats and superb contemporary dining, the Tivoli Hotel Vilamoura does not disappoint. Surprise your palate with an exciting journey through the various gastronomic options available, in particular we enjoyed the swordfish, lobster salad and langoustine. We also enjoyed indulging in the mini desserts – cheesecakes and tartlets. There was also a fully stocked cheeseboard on offer. While we were more than happy with the buffet – it’s very high end and filled with everything you could ever imagine – there is also a chef on hand who will cook you any fresh meats or fish you request. After dinner we like to walk off those mini desserts with a stroll along the Marina before enjoying a nightcap at the bar and turning in for the night.
For a little chance in the daily holiday routine, the hotel has two particularly interesting day trip options. Travel to the picturesque Loulé market in the excellent company of the hotel chef. Learn about the real delicacies this traditional market has to offer and immerse yourself in the amazing atmosphere which is still traditional in the Algarve. Don’t shy away from choosing what tempts you most! On your return to the hotel, the chef will teach you all the tricks to make a fabulous meal – your meal!
Also the Drive me on a Trike Tour – image yourself on a warm summer afternoon gliding around Vilamoura onboard a fun three-wheeler. Choose the route you’d like and sit back for a unique experience with some great routes that take in all the main sights. After the ride, get a personal taste of the local pastry back at the hotel, by tasting the traditional Pastéis de Nata.