A surprisingly sunny spring break in Portugal
PUBLISHED: 14:00 28 June 2019 | UPDATED: 14:00 28 June 2019
Alongside my quest for the perfect hotel in the perfect destination is my never-ending search for a good value short break with the family.
Once you reach the confines of the dreaded school holiday calendar is there such a thing as good value and holidays?
I start searching for summer holidays in January and weep when I see the prices compared with the September or June jaunts.
But I feel I uncovered a family short break in the sunshine secret. I'm happy to share. We took a four-night break to the Algarve and basked in the sun on blissfully empty beaches. I didn't realise how warm Portugal could be at the start of April. Temperatures varied between 18 and 22 C with a light wind and cool evenings. Sure, there was rain on the day we left, and I guess the rays can't be guaranteed as much as in the summertime but who cares? It was relaxing, the sea was blue and it was great value. Less than £200 for four return flights and family hotel rooms for under £100 a night. No chance of that in August.
Our first stop was Portimao.
About an hour from Faro airport, located in the estuary of the river Arade, Portimao is an old Portuguese city bordered by the beaches of Praia da Rocha. A stunning 3km of soft sand.
After a long, dark, UK winter I couldn't have felt more happy to breathe in the fresh sea air as we walked along the edge of the water.
A few unopened beach clubs and an endless run of bars and restaurants gave a glimpse into how busy the summer months would be. But for now, it was just the long, empty stretch of beach, and bracing but beautiful blue sea before us. A few brave swimmers were out and the odd runner, but few holidaymakers. I was in my element. No jostling for space and nothing obscuring your view.
There were plenty of restaurants open, just not all of them.
We stayed at the perfectly located Tivoli Marina Portimao Hotel. The collection of low- rise buildings overlook a marina and where the River Arade joins the Atlantic Ocean. It's less than 3 minutes-walk to the beach.
The rooms are equipped with a mini kitchen, bedrooms, living room and a room terrace. Watching the marina boats bob about on the water with the river and sea behind is the perfect backdrop for a sundowner. Or two.
The hotel Deck bar serves great cocktails and a daily changing menu. You can see across the river to pretty Ferragudo. There are plenty of taxi boats happy to take you over for a few hours.
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The Tivoli Marina accommodation is built around the marina and a huge swimming pool for guests. I don't have many gripes about Portugal, but one is reoccurring. Why do hotels in this country never seem to heat swimming pools? I've visited in scorching summers and still had to give myself a pep talk to build enough bravery to break the freezing waters of a Portuguese swimming pool.
From the hotel, it's about a 30-minute walk or 5-minute taxi into Portimao. Locals potter in the squares, cafes and shops. There's a laid-back, happy vibe.
I differ from most holiday makers in that after a couple of days of finding a great place I'm itching to move on to discover the next.
We took a 30 minute taxi to Vilamoura for a contrasting Algarve stay. Far from the traditional Portugal we'd encountered in Portimao, Vilamoura is a purpose-built leisure resort sprinkled with villas, golf courses and a 1,300-berth marina at its centre.
We drove through the wide boulevards and tried to peek through the landscaping to see villas of every size and style. Passing private tennis and sports clubs flanked by golf courses, Vilamoura is different to the rest of the coastal region.
Our home for the next few days was the imposing Tivoli Marina Vilamoura at the end of marina with views to the boats on one side and adjacent to a beautiful beach and the breath-taking gem blue sea on the other.
Welcoming staff directed us into the impressive reception area. The hotel buzzes with holidaymakers, some returning year after year and conference delegates from the adjacent Algarve Congress Centre.
This location felt less out of season as many guests enjoyed the facilities Tivoli Vilamoura offered. The gym, spa and restaurants are not just facility box tickers. Excellent staff make sure each destination in the hotel is a great experience for guests. The renovated Tivoli Spa offers traditional and modern therapies in surroundings inspired by Asia. I love to try out new spas; stepping through those tranquil doors helps with the transition of winding down from work and hectic trip preparations to embracing the holiday pace of life.
My children don't usually get to see behind those doors, a space reserved for grown-ups. At Tivoli they are welcomed to try out a treatment of their own. Accompanied by a parent, they can try manicures, pedicures or a relaxing massage. My nine and seven-year olds loved their treat. Most of all they loved to see what goes on behind those doors that mum disappears through for a few hours on each holiday.
Our room looked directly over the lagoon swimming pool and the endless, dazzling, blue sea. Other rooms sit atop the marina. There's no inferior view.
While there are many food options around the marina, the Tivoli houses one of the best restaurants in the area. While Pepper's Steakhouse is not the most imaginatively titled restaurant it does boast an excellent with an extensive, eclectic wine list. The quality and service surpassed all I've previously encountered in the Algarve. Overlooking the Marina in an elegant dining room, the dinner was a real highlight of our trip.
Now back to the sea. It was easy to get my fill of sea air and the sounds of gentle waves landing on the fine-grained sandy shore at the beach in front of Tivoli Marina. The recent addition of a Puro Beach Club made it even more alluring. Super comfy sun loungers face the mesmerising sea accompanied by chilled music, all white furniture and a super cool restaurant serving fresh fish, salads, smoothies and imaginative cocktails should you wish to be more adventurous.
Who knew such stunning sea-side sophistication was available just a short flight away in spring? While my quest for the new will never fade, I can see myself returning next year for the perfect blend of spring sunshine by the sea.
Fly to Faro with easyjet www.easyjet.com and British Airways www.britishairways.com
Rates at Tivoli Marina Portimao start from E56 per night and Tivoli Marina Vilamoura from E123 per night based on two people sharing. https://www.tivolihotels.com/en/