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Published by Harmonia Norah, 2017-06-29 07:22:03




There’s a reason thousands of Irish head to the Algarve (apart from
the sunshine and star-spotting), as Norah Casey discovers, it has
almost everything you could want from an effortless holiday.hen my family and I first returned
to Ireland from London in the mid-
nineties, we were blessed with good
friends and family who guided us
through the intricate maze of an

WIreland we had left many years
We loved that holiday and still talk about it, despite all the
exotic places we have been to since. I can’t give you a simple
explanation why – it just works. Everything is easy and the
feeling of slowing down is almost instantaneous. The flight
was painless, and the journey from airport to house was less
than 30 minutes, so within a few hours you’re sitting outside
previously. They filled us in on who with the sun on your face wondering whether a walk to the
was related to who, the scandals we missed, the business beach or a gentle cycle might tempt you by early evening.
connections we would never have known… We were also told Yes, there are lots of Irish people in the Algarve, particularly
that all Irish people go to Marbella and Portugal on holiday in Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo, but it was nice
– particularly to an area previously unknown to us, Quinta sometimes to nod at a familiar face in a restaurant or stop for
do Lago. So we quickly crossed both destinations off our a chat with someone you know. It didn’t feel like we’d been
holiday list. Who wants to spend precious downtime meeting corralled into a corner of the Algarve. Each evening our hosts
everyone you meet back home? Fast-forward to 2013, mid-way found a different restaurant – some casual on the beach, some
through my Herculean attempts to work 20 hours out of 24 more formal – but it’s the conviviality and the laughter that I
doing Newstalk, RTÉ’s Today show and The Takeover. I was remember the most; the relaxed informality of being in a place
persuaded by concerned friends to take a break with them at that felt a bit like home, only better. For all the criticism that
their house in Portugal. Eventually I realised the world would the Algarve gets for being overdeveloped, it is still beautiful,
continue turning if I took a week off, and that time wouldn’t run and there are lots of hidden gems and quiet spaces. I renewed
out if I slowed down a bit, so I found myself leaving Newstalk my love of cycling there. For the most part, the landscape
one morning and boarding a flight to Faro with my son, Dara. is mercifully flat, so for hours each evening we would head


Ponta da Piedade in Lagos, Steven Gerrard and John Terry over cocktails, and a mention
the Algarve of Princess Caroline of Monaco and Alanis Morissette. I even
overheard someone talking about Madonna and Angelina
“It has the relaxed Jolie one evening in the ladies’ toilets (where all the gossip
informality of being in a is exchanged) but I missed a bit so can’t confirm if they are
regular holidaymakers at Quinta and the surrounding area.
place that felt a bit like Then, of course, there is the king of Quinta do Lago himself,
home, only better” Denis O’Brien. He’s mentioned all the time and I began to
wonder how everyone appeared to know when he was in
residence, had just left or was just about to arrive. Maybe
they have a flag system like at Buckingham Palace!

It is possible to do Quinta and the Algarve on a budget,
but there is no denying that the area has an aroma of
wealth – from the designer labels at the shopping centre to
the exclusive restaurants and high-end cars. But I found the
best bargain accommodation to be had in Quinta – and, of
course, it cost nothing extra to do what I intended to do for a
week: read books, lie in the sun with the occasional walk and
cycle to stave off the guilt about doing as little as possible.

We returned to Portugal towards the end of last summer,
and this time we decided to stay in our own place, while still
enjoying the benefits of good friends nearby. I obsess about
finding the perfect place to stay when we get away for a
break. There is nothing worse that expecting to stay in the
spacious room you see on the website, and discovering you
can touch the sink, the bed and the wardrobe in the closet
you’ve been allocated. So weeks and weeks of searching,
reading reviews, and making lists of the pros and cons of
various areas resulted in the final choice.

We wanted two bedrooms, but not in a nondescript
apartment block, and not two hotel rooms, corridors and
floors apart. Dara and I talk (a lot), and we like having
somewhere to sit and chat in the evenings. I also wanted

out to explore some deserted pathways. The bonus being Monte da Quinta Resort
that it took away some of the guilt at eating all that food and
partaking of some fine Portuguese wines.

There are lots of reasons why the Algarve became the
pleasure ground of the European elite, and especially the Irish,
though sunshine and golf are probably at the top. It has a well-
earned reputation for being the Shangri-La of golf, especially
the Quinta do Lago development, owned by Denis O’Brien.
Last year, Paul McGinley, captain of the winning Ryder Cup
Team, joined forces with a US course architect Beau Welling to
revamp the North Course at Quinta Do Lago with a rumoured
investment in the region of €9 million. It opened in October
and a month later took the title of Europe’s Best New Golf
Course at the World Golf Awards. I have never played, but golf
lovers rave about the quality of the courses (and rant quite a
bit about the high prices!), so it looks like Quinta will continue
to be a golfing mecca for some time to come.

There isn’t much you can’t do at Quinta do Lago, even if
you’re not into golf. Tennis, water sports, horse riding, fishing,
cycling, squash and, of course, walking the beautiful beaches –
especially in the early morning – are just some of the activities
on offer. And, if some of it feels man-made, then that’s because
some of it is, including the lake. However, the surrounding
countryside of olive groves and vineyards, the tranquillity of
the palm trees and the beauty of the Ria Formosa, a 2000-acre
nature park, add a degree of organic charm.

Regulars at Quinta drop names of the rich and famous into
conversation – usually a spotting or a tale of when they were
last in the area. I heard about Chris Evans who was often seen
on the Pinheiros Altos Golf Course, about Alan Shearer, and
Michael Owen, now the owner of a house that once belonged
to Ayrton Senna. I heard snippets about Nasser Hussain,



Monte da Quinta Resort

Monte da Quinta Resort

“Regulars at Quinta drop names of
the rich and famous into conversation
– usually a spotting or a tale of when
they were last in the area”

some outside space. I love sitting outdoors in the early was always pleasant and the service was friendly. We ate at the
evening or last thing at night sipping a glass of wine when Starfish restaurant the first night because we arrived late – it
the heat of the day dissipates – it’s a luxury you can rarely was fine, but it’s quiet and there are so many restaurants in the
enjoy during the precarious Irish summer. So these were all area, it pays to be adventurous. We ventured forth to explore
on my wish list for the perfect place to stay – and I found it other places for the rest of the week, but we ate lunch at the
in Monte da Quinta, a five-star all-suite resort. Much like resort every day. The Grill was just a short stroll from the pool
the Algarve itself, this resort just worked. And it was also the to the table. It was a perfect holiday for effortless relaxation,
best value proposition by far. book reading and enjoying the simple pleasures of eating and
drinking lovely food and wine in great company.
The apartment was perfect – comprising two bedrooms
with en-suite bathrooms, a sitting room, kitchenette (well- And the best part was the price. At the time of writing,
stocked) and outside balconies. It also had free WiFi and the Monte da Quinta was offering a one bedroom suite for
cable TV for Dara, and a walk-in wardrobe, a hairdryer two people plus a spa experience for €116 in total per night,
with some decent power and a great makeup space in the and two bedroom apartment from €126 per night. Check
bathroom for me! The suites have all the amenities of a the website for special offers, and I promise you will not be
hotel, but with all the privacy and space (99m2) we wanted. disappointed – I would return here in a heartbeat, and if I can
It had some surprising extras too – all of the toiletries are escape in the summer, I quite possibly will.
from Prija, a hypoallergenic botanical range with wonderful,
earthy scents. The décor is contemporary and relaxing, and it Monte da Quinta Resort, Avenida André Jordan, Quinta do
was a pleasure to return in the late afternoon to the cool air- Lago, 8135-998 Almancil, Portugal; Tel: +351 289 000 300;
conditioned rooms for a few hours of downtime. There are
132 suites on two floors, so no lifts required. The resort also
boasts a kids’ club, a spa, gym, sauna, Turkish bath, indoor
heated pool and, of course, an outdoor pool.

The location was great. I try not to hire a car when we are
on a real chill-out holiday because I usually feel I have to
drive it places because we’ve paid for it! Monte da Quinta
is in Quinta do Lago, so we had all the amenities right on
our doorstep. Good restaurants were a short taxi ride away
and local shops were walkable. Breakfast at the poolside


Gusto by Heinz Beck “Gusto has a other six courses and settled down to a
certain panache bowlful of this on its own. The tasting
that makes you feel menu changes all the time, but the
like you are on a very fagottelli carbonara is a firm staple.
special night out”
Part of the experience of dining at
A THEATRE of Gusto is the hotel itself, which is well
FOOD AT GUSTO worth a visit. The Conrad Algarve is
T here are some great palatial, and created quite a stir when it
restaurants near Juniper-infused G&T matches with the seven-course opened in 2012. Palm trees, fountains
Quinta do Lago, Creative plating tasting menu, then sat back and flaming torches line the avenue
but Gusto was the Delicious dessert and enjoyed a wonderful meal leading to the gleaming white and glass
highlight of the holiday. Named with the attentive service of a façade. A cavernous light-filled atrium,
after Conrad Hilton’s father knowledgeable and unobtrusive clean lines, white marble, imposing
Augustus, it’s lead by Michelin- waiter. This was an epic feast pillars and minimalist muted furnishings
star chef Heinz Beck at the featuring wonderful flavours and add to the opulence. The interior is
five-star Conrad Algarve. In the twists from the imaginative Beck cool (in décor and temperature), and
world of gastronomy, Heinz kitchen – prepare to be amazed the turquoise infinity pool provides a
Beck is held in high esteem by some of the extraordinary dramatic centre point as you emerge into
having earned his Michelin combinations as you settle in for the sun-drenched terraces opposite the
credentials at La Pergola a few hours of gourmet heaven. entrance. The hotel has 154 guest rooms
restaurant at the Waldorf The theatre of Gusto adds to (if you ever come into money, splash out
Astoria, Rome Cavalieri. I the spectacle. Prior to the meat on the stunning roof garden suite with its
had read that the bar at Gusto course – number five I believe – own private pool). The hotel also has five
boasted the best barman in our waiter arrived with a flourish restaurants and lounges, several pools,
Portugal. His name is Wilson to present us with a choice of tennis courts, a wellness centre with a
Pires and he made me an beautiful handcrafted Laguiole Technogym, and a golf concierge.
incredible gin and tonic with a knives, each one unique but all
large juniper-infused ice cube (according to the well-informed Gusto by Heinz Beck, Conrad Algarve
that created a blue glow as it waiter) put through over 100 Hotel & Resort, Estrada da Quinta
processes by a French artisan. do Lago Quinta do Lago 8135-106
In the same way that sipping Almancil, Portugal; Tel: +351 289 350
slowly melted. He has a great wine from a beautiful glass 700;
cocktail menu too. enhances the experience,
Gusto has a certain panache choosing and using those OTHER RESTAURANTS TO TRY:
which makes you feel like you A QUINTA
are on a very special night out. Tasting menu treats beautiful knives added to our
It has a water menu – yes, it enjoyment of the meal. The One of my favourite restaurants in the area, the
really is a listing of bottled Some culinary highlight was undoubtedly the menu here is classic while the atmosphere is
water complete with pH ratings. delights from Gusto fagottelli carbonara, Beck’s homely and friendly. Starters include chicken liver
We laughed like drains and By Heinz Beck, signature dish, which is unique pâté, Provençal fish soup and staples such as rack
wondered whether it would the Conrad Algarve in that the carbonara is inside of lamb and grilled Argentinian steak. Booking
travel to Ireland. We thought Hotel’s signature the pasta parcels. A simple but ahead is essential.
not. Then we had a choice of six gourmet restaurant. sensational dish, I could have
types of salt. We opted for wine happily dispensed with the Rua Vale Formoso, Almancil, Loule, Algarve; Tel: +351
289 393 357;

Izzy’s Beach Restaurant; Vale do Garrão, 8135-000
Almancil; Tel: +351 289 396 984;

Hamburgueria Casavostra; Avenida 5 de Outubro
360, 8135-103 Almancil; Tel: +351 289 391 104;

Pizzeria Casavostra; Avenida 5 de Outubro, nº
302, 8135-103 Almancil; Tel: +351 289 397 565;

Maria’s Beach; Praia do Garrão Poente,
8135-170 Almancil; Tel: +351 289 358 675;

Restaurante Casa Do Lago; Quinta do Lago Norte,
8135-024 Almancil; Tel: +351 289 394 911;

Restaurante Alambique; Poço Barreto, 8300-042
Silves; Tel: +351 282 449 283;

Gourmet Natural Restaurant, Apartado 3954,
8135-018 Almancil; Tel: +351 289 355 271;


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