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Published by Harmonia Norah, 2017-11-03 07:31:23






Breakfast in the sky, exploring deserted
islands and taking up residence in a
stunning villa. This is where travel writers go
for a well-earned holiday and it doesn’t get
much better than this writes Norah Casey.

T he islands of the Ria Formosa are spending time with people I live with year
Portugal’s best kept secret. I’ve round there is quite a difference between the
been visiting the Algarve for some acquaintances I nod to in the supermarket on
years now and it’s taken this long a dull, drizzly day in Dublin and the bronzed,
to finally get to explore them. Even some of carefree fellow countrymen I encounter on
the Portuguese have yet to venture into the the Algarve. We travel well, perhaps.
ocean to visit these stunning little outposts. I spend a lot of time on adventure
I can promise, the Atlantic ocean has never holidays, they’re exhilarating and magical.
looked less like the version we get crashing But when I want to chill I love familiarity
onto our beaches and cliffs in Ireland. and I have always returned from this corner
My love affair with Portugal began only of Portugal relaxed and transformed. This
a few years ago when some good friends time, however we were spending ten days
invited my son Dara and I to join them and I wanted to explore what else the
for a few days. Being intrepid wanderlust Algarve has to offer.
travellers, my late husband Richard and I We headed out one morning with
had always ventured to more remote and Paulo Gonçalves, owner of Algarve
exotic locations given the chance so, apart WOW, and our skipper for a day’s The Ria Oysters, straight from the sea
from a conference speech in Lisbon, I had exploration of the Ria Formosa. Formosa is one
never explored Portugal. With only a few Top of my list was a visit to the of Portugal’s
days to spare from work and the advantage remote islands in this protected true gems and a
of a short flight, sunshine and great wildlife park. Over the years I had preserved wetland
company, Dara and I headed off to our first heard about Deserta (the Deserted
visit to the Algarve. And we have been back for wildlife
two or three times since for easy downtime.
Island also called Ilha da Barreta) and
Quinta do Lago and the surrounding remote settled islands such as Culatra and
area ranks among my top stress-free Armona rarely visited by tourists or even
destinations. Everything is so effortless. The locals.
beaches are great, the sun is almost always The Ria Formosa is one of the great
shining, driving is easy and the restaurants wonders of Portugal, a 60 kilometre stretch
range from hipster-casual to gourmet. It’s from Quinta do Lago round through Faro
hard to beat when all you want to do is and Olhão to Vila Real de Santo António.
spend lazy days lying by the pool buried in It is one of the most important preserved
a book and on fun nights with great people. wetlands for wildlife particularly birds,
marine life and fauna. The islands and
The Irish have been colonising Quinta “ilhas” (sandspits) dotted along the Ria
and the surrounding area for some Formosa are mostly deserted but closer
time and although I am pretty averse to to the mainland local fishermen have
made islands such as Culatra home. The


The vibrant colours and decorated houses surrounding waters are rich waters and vivid blue skies more
at fisherman’s village in oysters, muscles, clams and reminiscent of the Grenadines of
octopus. Farming and traditional the Caribbean than the Atlantic.
fishing methods ensure the fragile The sundrenched sea and sandpits
ecosystem is preserved and relieved occasionally by small fishing
respected. boats drifting lazily in the shallow
waters or the bowed silhouettes of
We boarded an eight-seater, men with a lifetime of clam picking
pristine-white speedboat, The etched on their weathered faces. I
Whistler, at Faro Island – a stretch was mesmerised by the panorama
of beach and marina next to Faro surrounding us even more so because
airport. Paulo is a passionate in all the times I had visited the
advocate for the protected wetlands, Algarve I’d never taken the time to
a knowledgeable guide of the bird visit this incredible paradise.
and marine life and, as his website
will testify, a great photographer. Further along the coast from Faro
This was a magical sea safari with is the less frequented town of Olhão
the expanse of these magnificent the largest fishing port in the Algarve.
and surreal wetlands stretching out Paulo docked at the busy waterfront
on either side. Impossibly turquoise in the late morning so we could enjoy
some coffee and Portuguese cake with
the locals at the pavement cafes. At
the marina stand two large market
halls, one is home to the best locally-
caught seafood and the other is
packed with locally-grown fruit and
vegetables. We wandered around the
market with the late morning bargain
hunters who took advantage of
cheaper prices towards closing time.
You could lose a few hours sitting
at the dock sipping coffee with the
beautiful vista of the islands of
Culatra and Armona in the distance
while the everyday hustle and bustle
of this characterful place settles
around you.

The perfect bar at Hangares


Traditional fishing boat at Olhão and
pictured left, the market halls at the
marina are packed with locally
caught fish and fresh vegtables

Eventually, though, we were enjoy a cold beer in the no longer Tá siad ag teacht (at Ilha da Culatra)
persuaded to get back on board deserted tin shack bar.
and continue our journey towards and sat gossiping in doorways and children
Ilha da Culatra. Our first stop was So far we had passed Deserta and in swimsuits raced around playing their own
the colourful village of Hangares. Armona, stopped off at Hangares, imaginary game. I remember summers like
The impossibly picturesque village one of three settlements on the that. Culatra has its own pace and way of life
was eerily quiet as we wandered Culatra Islands, and for lunch we and I hope it doesn’t change any time soon.
along the one street. A brightly were headed to the traditional
painted bar and café with makeshift fisherman’s village of the same name. On our return journey we watched
corrugated roof gave a hint of night- As we docked at the harbour a local men tend to the clam farms and, as
time banter when the locals were local oyster farmer and his son were the tide ebbed, we saw more and more of
left to themselves. This secluded cleaning the day’s catch and right the shorebirds that rely on this protected
fishing village, untainted by outside there on the spot we enjoyed the park. As wells as the gulls, sandpipers and
influences is an amazing sight to freshest oysters ever. Paulo opened oystercatchers there are over 200 species
behold. Time and technology have a bottle of vinho verde (green wine) that visit the Ria Formosa every year
hardly touched Hangares and despite and we washed down the freshly including herons, egrets, gulls, spoonbills and
the searing sun there were elements shucked shellfish in the midday flamingos. I know I will return again to the
that reminded me of summer days in sun at our makeshift oyster bar barrier islands of the Ria Formosa. Our day
the Ireland of my childhood. on the wooden deck between the with our expert guide Paulo was a fantastic
fishing boats. It was an unmissable introduction to this unique wetland park but
What immediately struck me experience. there is so much more to be discovered.
was the cacophony of colour To follow in my footsteps you can book Paulo
and tradition packed into this After our impromptu aperitif we Gonçalves via his company; Tel:
small collection of houses. The headed inland to Culatra village (+351) 289 397 268; [email protected]
whitewashed, low rise Moorish for a traditional lunch at Zarica,
houses boasted brightly painted one of the local cafes. The menu is
windows and doors with bold red mostly the day’s catch displayed in
and yellow flowers bursting out of a variety of fridges. We dined on
old ceramic octopus pots adding to huge portions of fresh tuna, shrimp,
the colour palette. It was as though grilled sea bream and cataplana
each home owner had deliberately (steamed clams). The bill for five of
chosen a clashing colour scheme us including drinks was just €64.
to neighbouring dwellings so that Wandering the streets of Culatra
purples, blues, reds and oranges afterwards was like stepping back
melded into a chaotic but strangely in time – you won’t find cars,
beautiful colour palette. I loved it supermarkets or wifi here. Local
and wanted to hang around long boys were kicking a ball around
enough for the inhabitants to come while old men smoked peacefully
home from a long day’s fishing to under a makeshift sun shelter,
women took a break from the heat


The villa’s elegant
and airy grand hallway

The VILLA early evening, with a takeaway option for
those who want to dine at home.
Richard and I often debated whether it experienced the owner’s original flagship
was worth investing in a home abroad as resort, Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel in Of course, the Martinhal brand is
so many of our friends had done. There is, Sagres (see for review). synonymous with luxurious, family-friendly
of course, the great advantage of returning resorts and Quinta is no different. The
to your own place with all the familiarity The brainchild of global entrepreneurs large Pool Hangout is a kiddie paradise
and local knowledge to ease you straight Roman and Chitra Stern the Martinhal with fountains, slides and water features.
into holiday mode. But then we saw brand has expanded significantly over the And wherever Martinhal is there is a VW
that some of our friends began to feel past year. Chitra is an amazing woman, camper van for kids and adults to play in,
guilty if they didn’t use their home-from- mother to four children, former engineer a witty touch that adds to the personality
home as much as they should. Then they and chartered accountant at PWC and of the place. Children from six months to
stopped exploring new destinations. They a visionary in this new world of travel eight are well taken care of at the Kids’
complained about the management and where family-friendly goes hand in hand Club and the Blue Room in the Clubhouse
bureaucracy of trying to rent out the place with luxury. She predicted that families has lots to keep the older kids and young
and the difficulty of family and friends were becoming more and more global adults entertained including PS4s, Xboxes,
asking to use it for free. So the wonderful (that is certainly true in Ireland) and that air hockey and table tennis with an
home-from-home dream often turned inter-generational travel would become outdoor trampoline.
into a burden. I’m glad now that we increasingly important. The resort at
never bought a place abroad because it’s Sagres was the first five-star family- But the people make the place special.
so much nicer to borrow someone else’s friendly resort in the world. Last year Chitra had told me before how important
beautiful home. Martinhal Quinta Family Golf Resort the Martinhal family were and the staff
became the second and now a further two are exceptionally pleasant and helpful. I
And on this trip we borrowed a palatial in Lisbon have been added. have a feeling that the Martinhal brand
one. A villa with a beautiful pool in a will continue to grow and push boundaries
gorgeous manicured resort right in the The Martinhal stamp was evident in the travel world. For me, I have just
heart of the great restaurants and beaches throughout our beautiful villa which discovered a new home from home.
at Quinta do Lago and just half an hour blends contemporary décor, traditional At the time of writing, Martinhal Quinta
from Faro airport. But I already knew features and statement pieces while was offering a special package for a two-
what standards to expect because I had splashes of art add personality and flair. bedroomed townhouse with private pool for
The main doors of the living room led seven nights including breakfast, use of the
The Pool Hangout is a kiddies out onto the tiled patio, garden and pool indoor/outdoor pool and complimentary kids
paradise where we lazed away for hours every club until March 2017 for €128.50 per night.
day. The daily cleaning service, the offer; [email protected]
of in-room massage and ready supply of
clean towels added to the ‘pampered house DECEMBER 2016 IRISH TATLER 157
guest’ experience.

Some of the features we enjoyed at
Martinhal’s resort at Sagres have also
been installed at Quinta. The handy on-
site Mercado Deli & Bakery where you
can stock up on vegetables, fruit, fresh
bread and all the provisions for a holiday
kitchen. At the pool area the O Terraço
restaurant is now serving an excellent
buffet breakfast and light dinner in the


DINING IN THE SKY 1Bovino Steakhouse opened last year and we enjoyed
a fantastic night there with great steak, wonder-
I’m not one for heights as most staff said there was a handle at the ful service and the best cocktails of the holiday. It
of my friends know. I have in recent side that would bring it upright, takes the number one spot for scoring high in all areas.
times tried to confront my fear by but I was so afraid I would pull The décor and mood is New York steakhouse with brick,
doing some crazy things. Despite the wrong handle and find myself wood, butchery and a great cocktail bar with studded
various vertiginous challenges unbuckled (or worse) I didn’t red leather high chairs adding to the retro vibe. The staff,
including flying a plane, I still dare touch it. The more I tried not dressed in bow ties, braces and jeans look like they sprang
have a fair degree of height fright. to look down the more my eyes from the same era. We had magical sunset cocktails in an
So I am not sure why I thought it betrayed me. “Better to look out ecelctic mix of bottles and jars at the pool side. My dining
was a good idea to have breakfast over the lake,” said a staff member. companions consider themselves to be steak aficionados
strapped to a chair on a platform She was right and unbelievably I and we had tried various options at other restaurants –
suspended 50 metres above the lake started to relax, enough to leave the verdict by a long shot was that Bovino beat the others
at Quinta do Lago. There’s a bit of just one hand clenching the table hands down. Email bovino@quintadolago
a daredevil in me that doesn’t stop while I shakily toasted my fellow
to consider the reality of doing it, passengers with juice. “You can 22 Passos takes the top spot
rather than bragging about it. I let go and swing the chair around for fabulous seafood, great
was the first to get strapped into if you like,” they told me. Bad sunset but above all the best
the chair so had plenty of time for and all as it was to face inwards service on the Algarve (by a mile
the stress to reach peak levels as imagine facing outwards with your or more). The front of house team
I constantly checked and pulled legs dangling over nothingness, at here might have every reason to
on the strap, asked the staff for least with the platform in front of rest on their laurels as many others
the umpteenth time how me I felt I could grab it if the chair do at the height of the season but
often they had flown instead they are the epitome of
(alarmingly it was the broke. In between my heart efficiency and friendliness. 2 Passos
first time for most of fluttering and tummy flips
them) and inspected the I could appreciate how 3has it all.
hinges and pulleys of beautiful the view was. It Casa do Lago, also
the wires. In front of me was a glorious, sunny day, at the lake has been
was an enticing pre- the lake was sparkling below a favourite of mine
packed breakfast from us. I have never dined in since I began to holiday
the restaurant, Pure, such spectacular settings and here. The seafood is great,
which I suspected wasn’t going my companions were having I love the décor but above
to go down easily. Finally, everyone a ball. When we eventually all the front of house team
was strapped in, the staff were began to descend I found my inner are superb. I always see it
harnessed and the platform began smile and joined them in taking as a special treat during our
to rise slowly. I noticed that I was photos and selfies to prove I had been stay. Book in advance and
leaning back further in my chair there and done that. Not a bad way arrive early to make the
than my companion and one of the to start the day. Check quintadolago. most of the view. casado-
com for regular updates on events.

TOP 3 FOR CASUAL DINING 4Restaurante Alambique at Almancil is
consistently good. I love the ambiance and the
1 We had breakfast at Pure regularly which has great outside space. The service is charmingly old style
smoothies and tasty superfood salads. You can also buy and the menu features traditional portugese dishes as
takeaways which is handy for lunch or BBQs. 5well as great lamb and fish. Tel: +351 289 394 579
Maria’s at Dunas Douradas
2 Casavostra Pizzeria is buzzy and has great pizza, book takes a spot because
in advance and ask for an outside table on warm nights. the location is great and
For great burgers try its more casual sister restaurant. I always book it for the first; night we arrive. Arrive early
for sunset with a cocktail on
3 The Shack at Quinta do Lago lake was a firm early the roof overlooking the beach
evening favourite. Rock up in beach wear and enjoy a and let the sea breeze ease you
cold beer. [email protected] into holiday mode. Book early.


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