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VISITING THE ALGARVE – VILA VITA PARC…


Tucked away amidst Portugal’s sun-soaked Algarve coast lies VILA VITA Parc, an indulgent resort hotel overflowing with genuine Portuguese charm, which recently hosted me on a supremely memorable wellness escape. Having visited the Algarve in the past, my mind was at once cast back to rich warm hues and golden light; honey-toned beaches beside the crisp inky-blue Atlantic Ocean, beautifully framed by limestone cliffs and the ever-changing opalescent skies. On this trip, however, I encountered an Algarve which offers some sublime fresh ingredients and amongst others, wonderful fish recipes. I also became better acquainted with a charming inland area (unusual as we Brits tend to languish by the seaside), met with locals living close to nature, and encountered so many very old and beautiful traditions that have been magically preserved. The Algarve is a superb ‘active destination’, with sweeping coastlines offering endless water-sports, (most famously surfing, given the Atlantic fetch) and countless beach-based activities too. Throw in the beautiful natural landscapes which make for great hiking and you have the makings of a healthy, comfortable and energising trip! Here’s a little of my experience…

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THE OVERALL EXPERIENCE

VILA VITA Parc is nestled in amongst the verdant greenery atop the gentle Algarve cliffs, surveying the ocean below. It’s vast grounds are teeming with character and surprise. Whilst it’s a ‘resort’ destination which was at 90% occupancy in this October ‘off season’, the feeling I had staying there was one of a smaller boutique hotel. It never felt too busy or corporate; instead, VILA VITA Parc boasts genuine Portuguese charm with its original inimitable style restored and its beautiful uniquely-furnished spaces which feel warm and welcoming. In the time that I stayed there, I had the opportunity to explore the incredibly beautiful coast, the beach, enjoyed a marathon of delicious, diverse foods in and around the hotel as well. It’s a part of the world which is brimming with outstandingly fresh, healthy and flavoursome foods, which is perfectly balanced off by its natural setup for fitness activities.

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THE FOOD

The site houses a vast *10* restaurants. That’s comfortably enough to stave off cabin fever on a fitness retreat of any length so that it’s easily possible never to flirt with repeating a single meal over the period of a week – unless of course, you want to! Here you can absolutely find fresh and healthy foods at all times of the day; a pre-requisite of anything I consider an ‘escape’. My favourite of the ten was my refuge after an early-morning power walk circumnavigating their lush green grounds, or along the hotel’s private beach; I chose to put down roots at the Atlântico Restaurant and order an ultra cleansing ‘ginger, mint and lemon tea’, sip that whilst I awaited a perfectly-executed egg white omelette with mushroom, spinach, basil and tomato to arrive, all along surveilling the views of the infinity pool below and the Atlantic horizon in the distance. The restaurant caters to healthy eaters who are seeking light but filling dishes, and the foods are super-fresh featuring seasonal, local, regionally and organically grown products. That’s a significant tick in my healthy retreat credential list.

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CAVE DE VINHOS

Since I believe a trip should be about balance, rather than a pursuit of monk-like abstinence, this experience was a pre-requisite. I’m not a big drinker, but this was a very special evening involving the opportunity to visit the ‘Cave of Wine’ for some tasting and sampling of local gems. Descending a romantic candle-lit stone stairwell, you arrive at the bottom to discover a dramatic wine cellar. There’s palpable wow-factor when entering this beautiful cellar, which is built with bricks that are over 150 years old, specially imported from Egypt, Austria and Greece. There’s a special cosy warmth to the light, the likes of which you can only quite simulate in a subterranean cellar! Of the 11,000 bottles on offer, we were never going to make a serious dent, but participated in several delicious national wines all unique to the country. Whilst I was there a couple were celebrating their 40th Wedding Anniversary, to give you an idea of what a special place it is, and the sense of romance that it engenders.

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Armação de Pêra beach, Arte Náutica

This wonderful restaurant is situated on the golden beach just 1.2 miles from the main grounds; a swift shuttle bus later and we were making the sumptuous traditional Portuguese dish Cata Plana, involving monk fish which had been caught fresh from the sea just a couple of hours earlier that day. That is a level of freshness and local sourcing that’s hard to beat! Aside from Cata Plana there’s a cavernous selection of the freshest fish and seafood, as well as sandwiches, snacks, salads. As a card carrying pescatarian, this restaurant was of particular note. I find that light white fish is something I enjoy more and more, as it’s filling, has a wonderful texture, and never weighs me down. The cuisine here executed on that perfectly.

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THE ROOMS

My room for the time there was a not so little semidetached house! Whilst there are c.170 rooms, I maintain that the resort feels more like a boutique hotel.  The rooms are generously sized, airy and fresh, which promotes a state of cognitive ease. My room looked out over the golf course and Atlantic sea and had its own living room and generous balcony, of which I made superb use! Whilst the rooms have been recently refurbished to a super comfortable standard, the traditional details have been preserved – pottery and the large stone slabs on the floor. It still feels authentically Portuguese, but embellished with modern flourishes. You can choose from sea-inspired rooms and suites with ocean-view terraces to spacious whitewashed villas with private pools. And there’s plenty of space to roam on 54 acres of subtropical gardens. Aside from the rooms there are several spaces and rooms around the hotel where we could lounge or just hang out; there’s even a huge library in which to get lost!

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THE SPA

After a day of hiking the rugged coastline, I would have been keen to soak away any trace of soreness at their spa; due to a major refurbishment taking place this year, I’ll have to pay another visit when it’s unveiled! They were still running several superb treatment rooms though, and as is my usual custom, I opted straight for the signature sports massage – it’s a challenging treatment, that doesn’t simply deliver a saccharine massage experience. It purposely verges on uncomfortable, which felt amazing! The results for my muscles were quite transformative!

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INFINITY POOL

Whilst I do love kids, their wonderful energy tend to be at odds with the tranquility of an infinity pool! For that reason, I was thrilled to hear children are only allowed in certain areas of the hotel, and the adult-only infinity pool is not one of them! The pool observes a canvas of lush green grounds beyond, as well as the Hotel’s own private beach cove below. It’s a powerfully peaceful place to breathe deeply and relax.

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GOLF

The Algarve has ever been a popular spot for golfers the world over. Its fertile lawns are aerated and cooled by a gentle Atlantic-coast breeze, so the experience isn’t deadly hot. There’s a 9-hole Pitch & Putt at Vila Vita (a par 3 course) but you’re also totally spoiled for world-class championship courses around here – a personal favourite is the South Course in Quinta Do Lago for those who fancy a little journey! Or there’s always the hotel’s clifftop driving range, where a fabulous ocean backdrop awaits if you just fancy hitting some balls out there…

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HEALTH CLUB

After my swimathon experience, I’ve gotten to quite enjoying swimming laps in an indoor pool, which in this case includes an open-air section too. There’s also a well-equipped Technogym training zone, including the usual array of machines and free weights.

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VILA VITA Yacht

I had the wonderful opportunity to go for a ride and the waters did not disappoint. Seeing the coastline from a boat is breathtaking. There are so many beautiful beaches which are only accessible by boat and plenty of hidden coves formed by oceanic weathering over hundreds and millions of years.

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Water sports & activities

They host water-skiing, windsurfing or jet-skiing, Stand-up paddle-boards, canoes and kayaks. There’s also a big game fishing expedition, which isn’t my cup of tea. More my kind of thing is discovering Portugal’s largest natural reef close to the resort; snorkelling / scuba diving enables a more in-depth exploration of the Atlantic seabed and is a superb workout! If something more land-based such as tennis is your sport there are two clay courts and one artificial AstroTurf court. It really is hard to get bored here.

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IN SUMMARY

This retreat is but a short plane journey away, yet it boasts a blend of crucial ingredients; lavish sunshine, a fresh coastline, an immaculate landscape and mounds of authentic Portuguese character. The food is world class, and the impeccable service is imbued with the national warmth of personality. It almost feels as though you’re checking into a little country villa for the time you’re away! There aren’t many places so close that can offer this combination of factors, and for that reason, I will be returning!

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