The trip south
Peniche to Vilamoura
Our last day in Baleal dawned slightly overcast and windy as we waited to return a wetsuit to the owner of Baia De Peniche. We had attempted this the evening before but by our arrival at 5:05 he was well and truly packed up and gone. After he had not made an appearance at 10am we could not afford to wait any longer as the drive to Vilamoura was likely to take all day. My first impression of Silvarno was that he was a decent bloke but as it turns out, after our trying to return the wetsuit twice and attempting to get his phone number from the bar, of which we were given the incorrect number, he attempted to charge us an additional 3 days. Needless to say we sacrificed the licence he held hostage and he got the wetsuit anyway, I would recommend finding someone else to rent from.
We finally managed to leave at around 10:15 and decided to avoid the motorways, making the trip 5.5hrs but a much more enjoyable experience. It was a relief how enjoyable the buggy is when it is not freezing cold and raining, and as the morning progressed I thankfully now had a sense of how enjoyable the next 6 months were going to be.
We ambled off track slightly into Alcácer do Sal for lunch, my realisation that there would not be another town for some time made this more of a demand than option for Richard. Alcácer do Sal was a complete surprise, sleepy and bathing in the early afternoon sun, the town centre hugged a slow running river that meandered under several bridges. Al fresco dining lined the banks with a combination of authentically Spanish and a more modernised version of that. We settled on Quanto Baste which served a wonderfully cooked, simple steak sandwich and freshly squeezed orange juice.
We arrived in Vilamoura around sunset and straight away it was as though we had been transported to a holiday village in Florida.
Vilamoura, like much of the south of Portugal, is filled with holiday resorts taking up prime locations on the beach, over priced yachts and restaurants which for some strange reason all taste the same, I am not sure how they achieve that. Needless to say this is not a location Richard and I would normally visit but the purpose of this visit was to see two of closest friends who had flown in from the UK and we had an amazing time with them! The location was easy for them with a newborn baby girl. Staying at an imposing resort the TIvoli Marina resort worked well with a small child. Vilamoura is made up of beaches and a marina which are standard fare for the Algarve, what I am going to focus on is what I would recommend seeing if you are in the neck of the woods because there are certainly some redeeming features.
Quarteira is a short 20 minute walk east up the beach from Vilamoura and a much more lively place. With the remnants of carnival still in the air the place had the feel of a collective town hangover with a few people starting to raise their heads into the brilliant sunshine. As you walk into town the promenade is sadly run down between the two areas. The most exciting element being some basic gym equipment. In the centre though you will find an array of local coffee shops costing a much more respectable price than Vilamoura. Older Portugese people sit and discuss the world and put it to rights, alongside the younger generations doing the same. That is a truly special thing about Portugal, the community that is established in the town square between all ages and types of people. The town had the requisite food market and small boutique shops which are worth a look until you come back onto the promenade where it is clear this area still plays host to the more pasty coloured Europeans all years round for their two week vacation.
A short stroll from Quarteira along the restaurant and resort clad promenade complete with more leopard print then you care to see in any lifetime is a beautiful beach which filled my soul with hope again. The sand is a golden/white colour and the water the azure blue which really does belong on a postcard. This is not a surfers paradise as there is no swell to speak of so don’t hold your breath waiting for a wave. However if you prefer the more chilled water experience this is for you. As you walk down Vale Do Lobo there are beautiful red toned slopes to the left which create an illusion of being further from civilization than you are. It would be a perfect place to spend a couple of hours and the weather in winter is flawless.
BJ’s beach bar
Tucked away about 1.5km up the beach is BJ’s. This bar/restaurant is truly awesome with an expansive deck that overlooks the beach and a delightful shaded area if the sun is just a little too much for you. It looks like a bar that belongs in the Hamptons with the sheike beach decor, complete with yellow and white armchairs that would encourage you to stay with a margarita all day long. The menu, which is heavily seafood is fresh and light which is just perfect for the environment. To top it all off the staff are friendly and fun, joining in with the jokes and banter as the wine goes down easily. The best bit, no shoes required.
Quinta da Tor
Quinta da Tor is a small, family run Algarve region vineyard about 15 miles from Vilamoura out into the spectacular countryside. The road out is easy to follow although the driveway is slightly hidden and if you end up down the road to the horse riding school you have gone too far. As you enter a beautiful open plan building showcasing the best of both between the stone, wood and glass combination you find your way into a dark and welcoming tasting room to the side of the building. A few steps further on you spill out onto a patio, complete with olive trees and an infinity pool looking over the rolling countryside.
The wine tour is simple and intimate with a stroll around the production area, which is smaller than expected given the amount of wine they produce. The staff are as passionate about the produce as if they were family and this is definitely the vibe they give off, that they are indeed family. After the tour you can choose where to locate yourself and pick between a range of very affordable tastings; from the vineyards standard range to the more premium choices. The red highlight was the Grande Reserva algibre Sryah which packs a punch at 16.5%. The content was clocked when the winemaker almost laughed the owner out of the room claiming it would be unsellable. The owner wasn’t going to waste it so shared it amongst friends. The wine happened to be so good that it is now their best seller, proves we can all be wrong. The white chardonnay equivalent is extremely Californian in its complexity and flavour and by far the white stand out.
A final note, Rare steakhouse was the redeeming restaurant of the marina with a delicious charcoal BBQ and an amazingly talented chef serving up one of the best steaks I have had in some time. Do yourself a favour and mix it up amongst the golfers, there are alot of them around, and northern European resort holiday makers and treat yourself to this delicious meal albeit a little overpriced.