From whitewashed villages to amazing waterparks: Discovering the other side of Portugal’s


Sir Cliff Richard has achieved a lot in his 82 years. Global fame, 250 million-odd record sales, endless awards and even a fleeting relationship with the then tennis star Sue Barker.

But if that wasn’t enough, it now turns out it was he who jump-started the Portuguese tourism industry in the wake of the bloodless revolution of 1974.

‘No one wanted to come, but he always did and told everyone it was fine,’ says Matthew, our jeep tour guide, as we bop around on rocky lanes in rural Algarve, admiring 100-year-old cork and almond trees and sweeping orange groves. ‘He was even given a crystal award by the tourist board. Cliff made it all happen.’

By all, I assume he means the beach clubs on the white sand, the best water parks in Europe, the immaculately maintained golf courses, the seafood restaurants selling €80 paella portions and thousands of gallons of local rosé. Not forgetting the mad strip in Albufeira’s new town, awash with Irish bars, sunburnt chests, laminated menus and vast fry-ups.

Lord knows if the luxury Anantara hotel group was influenced by Sir Cliff when, in 2017, it opened its first European hotel in Vilamoura, just 20 minutes from Faro Airport. But I bet he’d love it.

Jane Fryer checks into Anantara resort in Vilamoura, just 20 minutes from Faro Airport

Jane Fryer checks into Anantara resort in Vilamoura, just 20 minutes from Faro Airport

Calm, stylish and sprawling, it has 260 rooms without feeling either big or barny, and is full of endless local touches – gorgeous tiles, intricate carvings and hand-woven bowls. It is family friendly, with a kids’ club and teenage room packed with everything from PlayStations to air hockey.

My husband and I and our two sons, Freddy, 11, and Sandy, ten, are in the new family wing, in a ‘swim-up’ room that we couldn’t quite envisage until we arrive and see that, from our private terrace, we can open a lockable gate, jump into a clean, clear channel and literally swim towards the breakfast buffet. Or the black-and-gold spa. Or one of the superb restaurants where the food is so good it astonishes us and the service is out of this world.

Even so, we wanted to explore, so we do a deal with the boys in which half the first day is spent in the gorgeous old town of Loule, eating tapas in the famous market, devouring coffees and pasteis de nata (Portuguese egg custard tarts), visiting the 13th Century Sao Clemente church and buying a lot of linen clothes. That’s followed by an afternoon at Aquashow where we hurtle down some of the most brilliant and scary rollercoasters imaginable, race each other like screaming loons on the water slides, smash our coccyx, briefly fear for our lives and then race back for very strong cocktails at the hotel.

Sunny outlook: Anantara Vilamoura has 260 rooms that are 'full of endless local touches'

Sunny outlook: Anantara Vilamoura has 260 rooms that are ‘full of endless local touches’

Jane says that 'the service is out of this world' at Anantara Vilamoura

Jane and her two sons, Freddy, 11, and Sandy, ten

Jane says that ‘the service is out of this world’ at Anantara Vilamoura.  Pictured right is Jane and her two sons, Freddy, 11, and Sandy, ten

Perhaps, as a result, the next day is lower octane.

A family golf lesson with Tomas, the very tall pro at Quinta Do Lago golf course (which would give the Augusta Masters course a run for its money in maintenance), followed by an afternoon on the spectacular – and largely deserted – Quinta Do Lago beach.

There we launch ourselves into waves until we’re dizzy, and we promise to return to Gigi’s expensive fish restaurant when we don’t have children in tow.

May, June and September are the best months to come. In the height of summer, this coast can sometimes feel like one long, hot queue – for parking, restaurants, sun-loungers, loos, everything. And, sadly, it is not always populated with the most thoughtful visitors – particularly in the party hotspots which act as magnets for boozy Brits abroad.

‘The drinking, the lager, the behaviour!’ says Matthew. ‘I saw someone mooning an 80-year-old lady. That is not nice.’

Not nice at all, and it must be hard for locals to stomach the uneasy relationship between jobs, income, tourism and development.

But, of course, the Algarve is not all like Albufeira or Portimao and, lately, there’s been a push to show there’s far more to the country’s most southerly region than just beaches, lager and golf.

The Anantara Vilamoura golf resort is family friendly, with a kids’ club and teenage room packed with everything from PlayStations to air hockey

The Anantara Vilamoura golf resort is family friendly, with a kids’ club and teenage room packed with everything from PlayStations to air hockey

Jane says that May, June and September are the best months to  experience the region away from the crowds. Above is Falesia beach, which lies near the hotel

Jane says that May, June and September are the best months to  experience the region away from the crowds. Above is Falesia beach, which lies near the hotel 

TRAVEL FACTS 

Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort offers deluxe rooms from about £285 per night B&B, based on two sharing (anantara.com). The nearest airport is Faro.

Which is precisely why we’re here, bouncing about in the back of Matthew’s jeep, spotting shimmering kingfishers and short-toed eagles, breathing in the smell of lavender and eucalyptus and marvelling at the carob trees – the beans are used for everything from sweets to medicine, and their price has increased ten-fold in recent years. Not forgetting the majestic cork trees, shorn like sheep every nine years to produce the finest corks in the world.

Meanwhile, up in the hills, the whitewashed villages boast beautiful churches and shady squares in which to enjoy a chilled Sagres beer.

On our flight home, restored and relaxed, I sit next to several members of a badly frayed hen party. ‘It was brilliant,’ says one. ‘We were literally dragged into clubs where we had bottles of spirits poured down our necks.’

And I tell them about the other Algarve – with its flinty Albarino wines, the freshest of fish, gleaming kingfishers, amazing pastries, fantastic markets and a wonderfully warm welcome at the Anantara – and they look completely staggered.



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