ord Byron fell in love with Portugal more than 200 years ago, writing enthusiastic poems about its beauty and calling it a “delicious land”. It continues to be popular to this day, particularly with Europeans and the British, who come here in droves to burn themselves to a crisp on the beaches and party the night away in some of the local night spots along the southern coast.
In modern times the Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost province, has been a magnet to many discerning vacationers (and golfers) for decades. A mere two to three hours flight from most European capitals, the Algarve is famous for its dramatic scenery, many beautifully tended golf courses, a cosmopolitan culture, a wonderful climate, and friendly people who really don’t care how much money you do or don’t have.
Most of the development here is along the tame southern coast, while the more rugged western coast with its cliff-lined beaches is a wonderful area for solitary exploration. The southern coast is fringed with lagoons, sand-spit islands and shifting dunes, magnificent headlands, snug little coves and vast stretches of open beach. From the coast the land slopes gently up through vineyards, orchards of oranges and lemons, almonds and avocados, to ranges of rolling hills.
When you visit the Algarve be sure to set aside some time to explore the less traveled areas. The quiet hilltop town of Monchique, dozing on wooded slopes, is one such area that you should not miss. Only a leisurely half-hour drive from the beaches, it is yet a world away.
The tranquil Monchique hills have remained little altered over the centuries. Here the air smells of pine, eucalyptus, roses and warm sunshine, and the mountain springs still provide pure clear water for drinking. It is definitely worth driving or hiking through the thick forest to Foia, the “rooftop” of the Algarve. The panoramic views from the top will make you never want to leave. Indeed, Monchique’s small claim to fame in modern times lies principally in its views over the Algarve.
Of interest just outside the town is the spa of Caldas de Monchique. It was the Romans who gave Monchique its name (Mons Cicus) and who originally built this spa, but there is evidence that the area was populated as far back as the stone age; prehistoric tools and several dolmen prove an early settlement by man of this region. In older times many of the rulers of Europe came here to partake of the spa’s medicinal waters. (These days, the word medicinal mainly means the water smells of sulfur, so be forewarned.)
Explore Monchique, with its narrow streets and intimate cafes, at your leisure. Traditional customs and ancestral ways of doing things still prevail here, and nothing is more important here than conversation with friends over small cups of coffee. In addition, all kind of activities are organised locally: guided walks, horseback riding, bird watching, mountain-bike tours, etc. Note that the principal language in this little enclave is English.
If you like a little golf on your vacation, you should know that golf is a year-round sport in the Algarve, though the main season is from late autumn to late spring. Winters are mild and golfers from colder climes can enjoy warm, sunny days and keep their swings smooth at a time when their home courses are unplayable. Many of the courses offer multiple green fee tickets at varying discounts for limited periods. During the warmer months, take advantage of the reduced green fees available at several courses for midday and/or evening teeing off times.
Note that strict dress codes are enforced at most clubs and this means that shorts must be of the tailored type and men’s shirts must not be sleeveless. Note also that the wearing of jeans in any season is prohibited at nearly all clubs.
The Municipality of Loulé is located in the center of the Algarve, reaching from the coast to the northern border of the Province and sandwiched in between Albufeira and Faro along the coast, with Monchique on its northwest border. VisitAlgarve.pt describes it thus: The municipality of Loulé is centred upon an inland city that enjoys a magnificent view of the sea from the top of its hills dotted with almond-trees. This region is marked by the coexistence of different realities that contribute to a very varied supply of features of interest to tourists: there are the Moorish streets of the busy and lively centre of the city itself, where you can still find artisans stitching leather or working with brass; the hills offer us the honey produced from wild flowers, the typical arbutus-berry brandy and the cakes made of almonds and figs; there is the hustle and bustle of the densely populated tourist centre of Quarteira, coexisting side by side with the town’s traditional fishing activities; Vilamoura Marina with its sophisticated tourist developments; the luxury holiday resorts and golf courses of the beaches of Vale do Lobo and Quinta do Lago, as well as the extensive natural areas of pinewoods, salt-marshes and sand dunes contained within the Ria Formosa Natural Park, a genuine wildlife sanctuary favouring such activities as nature trekking and bird watching.
Along Loulé’s southernmost beach, set within two thousand acres of rolling hills and pine woodlands, you will find the estate of Quinta do Lago, southern Portugal’s most exclusive resort. And set within Quinta do Lago is an Interval International-affiliated Premier Resort (designated by a Golden Pineapple) that’s perfect for both the golfer and non-golfer of the family.
The Four Seasons Fairways, a private members residential club, is situated in the heart of Quinta do Lago alongside the first fairway of the Ria Formosa golf course. Its villas and apartments blend the finest of Portuguese architecture with beautiful landscaped gardens. Each unit has an individual swimming pool or outdoor whirlpool on a private terrace.
The Clubhouse is the focal point for the outdoor and heated indoor swimming pools, gymnasium, tennis courts, snooker room, golf booking office, hair and beauty salon, minimarket, and, during school vacations, a Children’s Funclub. The lively bar and restaurant offers a weekly entertainment program.
All 3-bedroom villas have their own pool and the 2-bedroom villas have a pool or Jacuzzi. Facilities include en suite bathrooms, fully fitted kitchens with all the luxury appliances you could need including dishwasher, microwave, freezer – even a laundry room with washing machine and dryer. Air cooling for the summer months, heating for the cooler winter months, satellite television, direct dial telephones and Wi-Fi connection all help you to make the most of your stay.
In addition to exchange opportunities through I.I. and rentals, the resort offers three types of Membership opportunities:
- Classic Club Membership– From 1 week to as many as you can enjoy of fixed membership weeks every year in perpetuity. Prices are depending on season, location and size.
- Fractional Ownership– Six week membership, every year in a specific villa with 2 fixed weeks and 4 floating weeks.
- Flexi time – Seasonal membership every year from October to March in 2 or 3 bedroom villa.
In the greater Quinta do Lago estate there are 17 restaurants offering the best of Portuguese, Italian, French and International cuisine. Many of these restaurants are suitable for families with children. Some have terraces for dining ‘al fresco’ during the summer months. Within the estate there are four sophisticated nightclubs which are normally open until dawn for dancing and socializing.
The excellent beach at Quinta do Lago is a parallel spit (so there is sea on both sides). Part of the Ria Formosa Natural Park, the beauty of the Quinta do Lago Beach extends over 3.5 kilometres and is separated from the resort by an estuary.
Benefiting from top quality support infrastructures including bars, restaurants and a nautical sports centre, this Beach can only be accessed over a wooden walkway approximately 320 metres in length (one of the longest in Europe), crossing the Ria Formosa estuary and helping to maintain the ecological balance of the fauna and flora present here.
For shopping, the Buganvilia Plaza Commercial Centre has a wide variety of shops, including a newsagent and supermarket. At the entrance to the estate is Quinta Shopping, where you will find lots of goodies.
In all, the Algarve and Quinta do Lago will provide you with a vacation experience that will leave you wanting more. Not a bad thing.
Websites relevant to the area:
- http://www.fourseasonsfairways.com/ –Four Seasons Fairways
- http://portugal-info.net/ –The place for info on Portugal.
- http://www.quintadolago.com/ –For information about the Quinto do Lago estate in its entirety.
- http://www.monchiqueuncovered.com/ –a guide to the town of Monchique
- http://www.visitalgarve.pt/visitalgarve/vEN/ –The definitive guide to the Algarve
- http://www.algarve-web.com/ –About the Algarve
- http://www.algarve.org/ –More about the Algarve
"On the Road" is a compilation of destination ideas, resort reviews, videos and more gathered from a variety of sources that includes our readers.
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