When reaching for the heights of luxury, some destination hotels might lose sight of what really leaves a lasting impression for a guest; the details that bring joy to a stay; the experiences that enrich.
Yet that’s simply not the case with Anantara Hotels. At their European flagship Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort in southern Portugal, guests indulge in more than simply refined luxury – they experience Portugal in an intimate and thoughtful way, writes Andrew Forbes.
Fado, the unmistakably subtle, beautiful, and slightly melancholy music so evocative of Portugal, filled the lobby bar of the resort. Seated beneath the resort’s iconic ‘tree’ sculpture, of pine and acacia, in the hotel’s central atrium were two musicians. One was playing a classical Spanish guitar, the other a beautifully crafted guitarra Portuguesa – both accompanying the singer, whose soulful lyrics were filled with emotion.
This nightly ritual is just one of the many ways that the Anantara Vilmoura Algarve Resort takes its guests of a journey through the Algarve and Portugal. It is a journey that embraces all the scenes; from the authentic sounds of the country, the visual feast of local colours and art; to the aromas and scents of the seasonal foods, and the soft tactile properties of local artisan products.
The experience begins as soon as one arrives. Forget the formality of a front desk; here guests enjoy the tranquillity of check in in a private salon, welcomed with a refreshing artisan drink, with local carob, served with Algarve snacks of almonds and figs.
The local flavours and scents continue as one reaches the guest room – beautiful spaces that have plenty of Portuguese details.
My room key cards set the scene, one depicted the orange groves of the Algarve and another the intricate ‘azulejos’ tilework of Portugal. Once inside the light filled suite I couldn’t help notice the creative use of local artisan cork that blended with the warm tones of the room, contrasting with the brilliant white linens.
The welcome amenity was personalised and included traditional Dom Rodrigo sweet treats and marzipan fruit. The notebook was bound in local cork – a beautiful gift that will be a long lasting memory of the resort.
The proportions of the 280-room resort mean that the guest rooms are places where you want to spread out and relax. Our Deluxe Garden View room had the proportions of a suite and included a large bathroom that was ingeniously separated from the room by a series of sliding doors and screens, creating an open plan, bright space during the day, or an intimate mood-lit bathroom for a relaxing soak in the tub.
As a flagship luxury property expect:
- Private balcony with large daybed
- Lounge space with private bar, desk Nespresso coffee machine, Tea making facilities
- Bathroom with rain shower, bathtub and magnifying mirror
- Elemis Spa amenities, Hair dryer, Cotton bathrobes and slippers
- LCD TV with video channels and video-on-demand
- iHome with iPod hub & radio
- Fast Wi-Fi
- Impeccable Evening turndown service
- Telephone with direct outside line
Yet it’s not all Portuguese flair at the resort – Anantara has brought touches from its Asian roots too, like the bright yellow electric TukTuk buggies at the lobby entrance, waiting to whisk you to the coast, the beach and to local restaurants and bars. There is also the signature Anantara chime in the lobby, that as guests one gets to strike, creating a powerful resonance that is said to evoke the freedom, movement and harmony of the Anantara Experience.
One of the signature experiences from Anantara Hotels is their engaging Spice Spoons cooking classes. My morning with the sous Chef at Anantara was so much more than learning kitchen hacks, it was an immersive travel experience. The bespoke tour included a visit to a local farmers’ market with the chef.
There can be few better ways to get an authentic flavour of a destination than through local food. The market was a feast of colours and aromas reflecting the traditions, culture and environment of the Algarve. It’s also a wonderful place to find local handicrafts such as basketware, leather goods and charming items ad gifts crafted from local cork, harvested from the ancient forests in the south of Portugal.
As well as offering an insight into local produce, the chef also invited us to select the food we would use during the class back at the Anantara Resort.
There are a range of traditional recipes to learn and I was lucky enough to participate in the preparation of a Cataplana Portuguesa. This traditional dish of hammered copper is unique to the area and is perfect for preparing a fish stew – this time with exceptional seabass and meaty prawns from the market.
The Spice Spoons experience is informal, a time to learn, to practice, to enjoy great conversation, as well as a few glasses of bubbles whilst snacking on tasty cheeses, and spicy chorizo, flambéed with a local Algarve Castelo Silves liqueur made from strawberries.
Another highlight of the Anantara Spice Spoons experience is that one gets to indulge in the fruits of this combined effort – a sumptuous meal of local seafood served in the Algarve sunshine on the Ria Restaurant terrace.
In the main hotel atrium one will find one of Anantara’s experts on the area – the Experience Guru who can not only arrange your own Spice Spoons, but also private tours; horse riding in the countryside; bike riding in the natural parks and small towns; and of course, plenty of sporting activities including tennis or world-class golf.
If you’re happy to explore on your own, then I suggest you just ask the driver of the TukTuk to run you down to the beach; or maybe the marina at Vilamoura – enjoy a few cocktails at Pura Beach, or enjoy browsing the stores.
It’s no secret that cuisine is very much part of the Anantara guest journey. Each day that starts with breakfast in the Victoria Restaurant and a menu that encompasses international favourites, together with local cheeses and honey.
Lunch can be a picnic on the beach, or if you’re staying on resort a light bite of the freshest local seafood served beside one of the swimming pools.
The evening is a highlight – there is the EMO destination gourmet restaurant – and ‘Dining by Design’ option where the resort can prepare a special meal for you, complete with butler, served in total privacy on the resort.
Anantara Spa & Wellness
The beautifully designed spa has a spectacular setting overlooking the resort and the golf course. Facilities include:
- 6 treatment rooms and 1 salon room: manicure and pedicure
- Indoor vitality pool (for the exclusive use of adult guests in suite-category rooms)
- Turkish bath
- Vichy Shower
I opted for a relaxing head massage – embraced by the aromas of the Mediterranean, it was excellent, and so relaxing.
The Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort is large enough to comfortably accommodate families as well as couples seeking tranquillity. There is an award-winning kids club as well as family friendly areas and a huge family pool called Palms; whilst for those wanting less exuberance, then there are the adults only Cascades pool. Understandably is said to be one of the best family friendly resorts in the Algarve.
Portugal is calling
Portugal is the hot destination for 2018. Not only are Lisbon and Porto are attracting a new generation of curious, discerning travellers looking for great food, a rich culture and a cool vibe – so too is the Algarve reaching a new market of high end travellers – and the Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort is the place to stay.
Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort, Vilamoura, Portugal
Tel: +351 289 317 000