After the incredible and life-changing Everest Base Camp Trek, I felt in need of some rest and relaxation, so asked my Elegant Resorts Travel Consultant, Stephanie Evans, for ideas on where my friend Jill and I could go. We didn’t want long-haul, but did want sun, sea and relaxation. Stephanie suggested VILA VITA Parc Resort & Spa, on the Algarve in Portugal, so I booked for us to spend a week there in September.
We were both doing the 28-kilometre section of the Thames Path Challenge (TPC) on Saturday 10th September, so we timed our trip for the day after, which seemed the perfect time for us to take our aching muscles to VILA VITA Parc Resort & Spa.
On Saturday evening, I got a text from Elegant telling me that a representative will escort us through check-in tomorrow and are greeted on Sunday morning by a smiling member of the Elegant Resorts team. This is wonderful! We are whisked smoothly through BA check-in, guided to fast-track security and given directions to the lounge, where we relax before our flight. We try to step lightly onto the aircraft, but the TPC walk has been so tough, we hobble painfully on board and sleep through the short flight.
A typically smooth transfer to VILA VITA Parc Resort & Spa follows, and when we see the beautiful setting of
the resort, we step a little more gracefully and gratefully into reception. We had booked a Deluxe Garden View Room and I asked Stephanie to request a quiet location. The 'Elegant' magic worked and we were upgraded to a lovely room in ‘The Residence’, as opposed to the main building.
Before I describe our stay, I will mention certain key things now rather than repeat myself.
We chose half board, which worked well as VILA VITA Parc Resort & Spa is not close to local shops and restaurants. Going out for dinner would have meant at least a fifteen-minute taxi ride each way. Also there are seven restaurants to choose from there and all the food we had was excellent. VILA VITA Parc Resort & Spa is a large resort, on a variety of levels, so there are a lot of steps wherever you go.
There are lifts in the buildings, and golf buggies, which can drive guests around the resort, but some steps are unavoidable.
The lovely little beach at the hotel is down very steep steps and there is a lot of uneven ground to reach them. There are ropes to hold onto, but families with babies and toddlers, and those with mobility issues, may find this beach difficult to get to. It is also popular, and sunbeds can be in short supply after about 11am in the morning. Apart from on the little beach, there are sunbeds galore. We never had difficulty finding them in the gardens. They are in a variety of spots, and you will never feel cramped.
Without exception the staff are amazing. Nothing seems too much trouble, from extra beach towels, to advice on places to visit and smiling, helpful service.
The title of this blog, ‘Stepping Lightly Into White’, immediately came to me when we were shown into our stunning room. It was like stepping into an oasis of calm. It wasn’t all white, but a calming balance of soft cream, grey and white. Despite our aching legs, we really did step lightly into this gorgeous room.
Sunday 11th September
We are taken to our room in The Residence by buggy. The sun is beginning to set and the grounds are lit up with pretty lights that show the way and make it feel magical at the same time. Our driver points out various features and locations, which we know we will have forgotten by the morning. Thankfully, she gives us maps as well!
We both gasp at the room. A Deluxe Garden View Room is the most basic of VILA VITA Parc Resort & Spa's accommodation: well, if this is their basic guest room, I’d love to see the suites! The room is beautifully laid out and the sleeping area, with large twin beds, is dressed in crisp white linen. Down a step to a sitting area with comfy chairs and a sofa, then out onto the balcony with relaxing chairs and a table, fresh fruit, a complimentary bottle of wine and a lovely view across the gardens. There is also plenty of wardrobe space, umbrellas and even a beach bag, while the bathroom is achingly cool and chic with marble surfaces, a huge power shower and twin basins.
Our helpful guide reserves us a table at The Whale restaurant, as she realises that we are too tired and befuddled to make decisions for ourselves. Our waitress is lovely and when we ask for a gin and tonic, she urges us to try the local Sharish gin. This arrives with lots of ice, a cinnamon stick and thyme, and is delicious. After a lovely meal and the (very large) gin and tonic, we wobble slightly back to the room to get some sleep, or at least try. The lighting system is also very cool and chic, however, cool and chic does not mean it is easy to negotiate and after at least five minutes of lights on, lights off (in a variety of combinations), we eventually collapse into darkness. As I fall asleep, I reflect that it is lucky we do not have a sea view, or we could have lured ships onto the rocks with our increasingly frustrating light show!
Monday 12th September
We are still stiff, but the hobbling has been replaced with stepping gingerly! We decide to collapse on the beach, and pick the, adults-only, Atlantico restaurant for breakfast. The buffet has everything anybody could possible want. We have fresh fruit, which makes us feel very virtuous.
The little beach at VILA VITA Parc Resort & Spa is lovely, but quite a trek down a rough path and steep steps. The sunbeds are luxurious, there are plenty of umbrellas and towels, and water is available. I realise I am going to have to be more careful about packing my beach bag, as within thirty minutes I am trekking up the steps again to our room for everything I have forgotten. I count 130 steps from the beach to the room. Well, at least we will stay fairly fit!
Jill is braver than me when it comes to swimming in the sea. It’s cold! I eventually (after much complaining) have a quick dunk, and then collapse for a day of total relaxation. We wander up the steps at about 4pm feeling relaxed, muscles soothed by the sun. We order gin and tonics (Sharish, of course) and sip them sitting in a lovely shaded area in the garden. We stagger lightly to the room and relax on the balcony before heading to Adega restaurant for dinner. The dress code for dinner is ‘resort chic’. My resort chic consists of light summer dresses (all of which have done the rounds in Barbados many times). Luckily I have a pashmina with me, as the evenings can be chilly and dining is mainly outside. Jill’s resort chic is genuinely chic (along with everything she wears) and her classy cardigan keeps her warm. The meal is local Portugese food and delicious. We head back to the room to have yet another fight with the lights. This time I somehow manage to turn the balcony lights on and off a few times, before finally plunging us into comforting darkness.
Tuesday 13th September
We decide the indolence of yesterday must stop and plan to walk to the other beach, where
the resort has a restaurant, sunbeds and watersports. There is a regular shuttle bus, but we decide to make the two-kilometre stroll along the coastal path. I wear shorts, a t-shirt and sun hat and take my rucksack, which contains everything I might need for a camping trip, let alone a day on the beach. Glancing in the mirror, I remind myself that I’m not on the way to Everest Base Camp, and with a sigh I see that I am ‘trek chic’. Jill wears a sundress, smart flip flops, cool sunglasses, carries a beach bag and is definitely ‘beach chic’. The cliff walk gives gorgeous views, with occasional heart-stopping moments when the path gets very rocky, rough and close to the edge. We flatten ourselves against the bushes and shuffle around warily. Jill starts to regret her flip flops, but we make it to a wide pedestrian walkway with a few shops and cafés. The beach stretches for what seems like miles. It’s lovely, a mix of sunbeds, fishing boats and little beach cafés. We come to VILA VITA Parc Resort & Spa’s lovely beach restaurant, Arte Nautica. They have a large area of sunbeds, with masses of room, lots of beach towels and umbrellas and I notice plenty of equipment for watersports nearby. We start with a coffee before settling down for some serious relaxation. The sea is rough, but the incoming tide has created a large shallow pool, which is lovely for wading. Sardines leap from the sea into the pool and locals come to catch them for lunch. Jill braves the cold water in the sea, while I brave Arte Nautica for a cold beer and sandwich (delicious)! By 3.30pm we decide to take the shuttle bus back. Lazy, but we are relaxed, contented and don’t fancy braving the cliff edge again. We slip into our new routine of Sharish and tonic by the Oasis Pool, before wandering back to the room. The huge shower in the room is lovely, but we have had a problem with the shower cubicle door, finding it very stiff. Tonight, Jill discovers that we have been opening it the wrong way! Clearly, we are still rather mentally challenged from the TPC. Cocktails at the bar follow, before a wonderful dinner at Bela Vita. We don’t step lightly back to the room, but stagger in a happily tipsy way and start the light show all over again. Unsurprisingly, it goes on for longer tonight.
Wednesday 14th September
Jill decides we will ring the changes and have breakfast at Bela Vita, which we prefer. This is the family restaurant for breakfast, and even very young children seem lulled into calm by the food and surroundings. The buffet is even more extensive and I replace my usual fruit with delicious pancakes, crispy bacon and maple syrup. We decide on a short trip out to visit the local pottery. Porches (where the resort is located) is famous for its pottery and one of the concierge team arranges a taxi. She is incredibly helpful, advising us on the right time to go and the best pottery showroom to visit. She is right. For an hour we lose ourselves completely in the showroom – gorgeous tiles, bowls, plates and dishes, all handpainted on the premises. Walking through the rooms is like walking in a sea of different blues. We could go mad here, if space and finance allowed, but we settle on our purchases and retire to the little café, beautifully decorated with pottery tiles, and sip iced coffee while we wait for our taxi.
Back in the room, while we prepare to spend the rest of the day on the beach, Jill suggests that it would be nice to take the boat trip around the bays and caves along the coast. I hide my surprise and quickly call the concierge to arrange it for the following day (which they do with their usual cheerful speed and efficiency) before she changes her mind. Jill hates boats. Her last experience was on a RIB in Cornwall, where conditions were so rough they cancelled all trips in the morning and warned afternoon passengers they were in for a dunking and a rough ride. Jill told me she would never go on a boat again. She always says that, but for some reason keeps coming back for more, even after being bounced about in a speedboat when she spots for my water-skiing. I love boats (especially speedboats), hence the minute she unexpectedly suggests a trip, I book it as fast as possible, and make no mention of it again until we are on the boat and it’s too late to cancel.
We get the same friendly greeting from housekeeping when we request their ironing service. Jill is in no rush, so requests next day service. We trek down the steps and are welcomed with extra towels, umbrellas and water. The team of staff here is extraordinary. The level of service is amazing and always delivered with a smile and helpful suggestions – usually, just at the right time.
4pm: You’ve guessed it; it’s Sharish and tonic time again! This time we choose another lovely spot in the gardens and the barman and I have a serious discussion on different types of gin. He passes me a pen and paper to jot down the names of our local gins and tells me he’s impressed with my gin knowledge, which I think is a compliment, but does make me wonder if I know slightly too much about the subject. Relaxed by the sun and gin, our muscles finally recovered from the walk and we stepped lightly back to the room to find Jill’s ironing has been done (in less than four hours) and is beautifully laid out on the bed.
Adega has a ‘Portugese Cook Out’ tonight, so after a quick detour via the cocktail bar (please try the Pink Panthers and Singapore Slings!) we tuck into a superb meal. After a cold buffet starter, we have local roast suckling pig, which is wonderful. The nightly light show is not getting any easier, but once in darkness we sleep well in the comfy beds and quiet room.
Thursday 15th September
After breakfast, we head down to the beach for our boat trip. It is a beautiful day and the sea is like glass – perfect for even the most nervous boaters. Our vessel is a little Portugese fishing boat, cheerfully painted in blue and yellow. We sit in the front and as the boat chugs out of the bay, the water is so calm and clear we can see to the bottom. As we round a corner, we find that we are not the only ones going on a cave trip. An assortment of boats bob in and out of the coves and caves, and the odd powerboat flies along past us. This does create some waves, but Jill copes bravely and we are definitely on the nicest boat. The little coves and caves we explore are lovely and we get a beautiful view of the coastline.
The trip lasts two hours (a little long for Jill’s liking), but she clearly enjoys it. We head up to yet another spot in the lovely gardens for a well-earned afternoon of serious relaxation. Hungry after our intrepid trip, we order a portion of chips to share. They are beautifully served, delicious and disappear very quickly. We are glad we didn’t discover them before, as they are clearly destined to become as big a part of our daily routine as the Sharish and tonic. Speaking of which, we head to the pool for our 4pm gin and tonic, and I actually brave a lazy swim. We opt for cocktails before dinner at Bela Vita and step happily and lightly back to our room for the nightly tussle with the lights.
Friday 16th September
We decide to venture out to a local town, Silves. We chat to one of the concierge team, who helpful as ever, arranges our taxi, gives us maps, advises us on where to start our tour of the town and the best places to see. They are so well-informed about trips and visits that I’m sure I could ask for a trip to the moon and they would do their best to organise it. Silves is a fifteen-minute taxi ride away and, as recommended by the concierge, we ask to be dropped at the castle. It’s right at the top of the town and worth a visit. Walking around the battlements gives lovely views all over the countryside. We head to the square for coffee and those delicious little Portugese custard tarts before strolling down through the town, checking out the little shops, traditional buildings and well-preserved Roman bridge over the river as we go. As we wait for the taxi I admire the buildings’ faded grandeur. They are all in need of renovation: original windows bowed and bent, rusty wrought iron balconies and peeling paintwork. I imagine how impressive they must have been, and I hope they will be renovated back to their former glory.
Back at the resort, we choose another lovely place in the gardens to sit and chill. High on the grass above the pool we can relax on our sunbeds and see the sparkling sea below. I have never stayed in a resort with so many sunbeds in so many varied and thoughtful locations.
We nobly forgo the chips, but not the 4pm Sharish and tonic. Each day it is served differently. Always with loads of ice and tonic, but either with thyme, rosemary or basil and a swirl of lemon or orange peel. Today, it’s orange peel, carved into the shape of fish.
We have been here for five days and feel relaxed and contented. We have decided to stick with Bela Vita for dinner as its lovely surroundings and food suit us well. Later on, the light show takes on a new dimension as Jill manages to get the lights on, lights off in a totally new combination.
Saturday 17th September
Our last day!! We can’t believe it and decide we want ‘the works’. Total chill out on the beach, chips for lunch, ‘Sharish time’ at 4pm, cocktails at the bar and dinner at Bela
Vita. The only fly in the ointment is the packing, which we must do before dinner. We head for breakfast early, then straight onto the beach. To our delight, the tide is incredibly low, revealing rock pools and little sandbanks. The sea is like glass again, and is a ‘Caribbean’ blue. The beach attendant tells us the low tide is due to the Harvest Moon. Night after night we have admired it as it heads towards Full Moon. Last night it was full, huge, and seemed suspended in the sky. We settle our things on our sunbeds, as towels and umbrellas are set up for us and wander down to the exposed rock pools and sand. For a while, we are the only ones there. I gaze into rock pools, look for shells and lose myself in the quiet calm of the beach, that lovely sea smell bringing back evocative memories of my childhood.
We do, indeed, have the works and make the most of our last day here. The last Sharish and tonic, the last relax on the balcony looking out onto the gardens as the sun goes down and the last cocktails and dinner. How apt it would be if we finally get the lights right, but sadly it’s not to be. The light show continues to the very end of the holiday.
Sunday 18th September
Sunday brings an early departure for us. We have enough time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and are waved off with the same warm efficiency that greeted us on arrival. Totally recovered from the walk, relaxed and calm, we step lightly, but sadly, into the car for our trip back to the airport and home.
Things We Didn’t Do (and probably should have done!)
1. Make use of the sports facilities. The only activity we did was walking up and down the steps and the stroll to the beach. Jill did at least manage to swim. One particularly lazy day we worked out (via an app on Jill’s phone) we had only managed to walk 1,000 steps!
2. Visit the spa. I kept promising myself a massage, but never got around to it.
3. Eat at Ocean or Atlantico restaurants. The setting for Ocean is spectacular and everyone we spoke with said the food was amazing, but we found the food in Whale, Adega and Bela Vita was so good that we decided not to pay the supplement for the other restaurants. I also felt my ‘resort chic’ was not quite up to the lovely setting of Ocean. Jill’s ‘resort chic’, on the other hand, was classy enough for anywhere!
4. Do the wine-tasting. This was recommended, but again we were too busy!
5. Go further afield. We only had a week and wanted to relax. However, we both decided if we were there for longer, we would hire a car and explore more of the Algarve.
6. Watersports. I love watersports, but the sea was quite rough most of the time and it was coming to the end of the summer season.
VILA VITA Parc Resort & Spa really does have something for everyone. Whether you want to be active, enjoy a spa break, relax in the sun or wish to have fun in, on, or under the water you will find it all at the resort. If you want a family holiday, a romantic getaway or a break away with a friend, VILA VITA Parc Resort & Spa is for you. Elegant Resorts can arrange any sort of holiday you want, so book your break and step, run or skip lightly off to VILA VITA Parc Resort & Spa…oh and don’t forget to try the Sharish gin and tonic!
If Wendy’s blog has inspired you to visit the Algarve, please call 01244 897 530 for further information or to book your luxury holiday to VILA VITA Parc Resort & Spa.