Portuguese glow

by philbrotherhood

Walking through the orange and lemon groves we regained our zest for life in Portugal, which has more hours of sunshine per year than California.

Walking through the orange and lemon groves we regained our zest for life in Portugal, which has more hours of sunshine per year than California.

A sanctuary within 15 minutes of Faro Airport, the Monte do Casal is one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World with cascading gardens that unfurl from an upper villa to the main house. My wife and I had stayed at the Monte do Casal four years ago, so we were keen to see the changes that dedicated Managing Owner Bill Hawkins had made to the Hotel.

This year marks 25 years since Mr Hawkins purchased the 18th century farmhouse, now forming entrance rooms and part of the restaurant. We saw photographs showing the transformation from the early days to the Hotel’s magnificent current state with its 18 bedrooms and suites; since our last visit a luxurious Spa has been added and the botanic garden has been enhanced with a stunning lake; running water is a feature at the Hotel, from the infinity pool at the top level, which gives fantastic sea views to a fountain that spurts out a high jet of water, to the Koi carp that fill the lake, ornamental ponds and waterfalls.

We caught a taxi which took us the short distance to the bustling town of Olhao, which has the biggest fish market in the Algarve; there is a huge variety of fish, colours and aromas. You can see a Moorish influence on the design of buildings in the old quarter of Olhao, which is nearby the old city of Faro with its Cathedral and marina; there are outlying islands off Olhao which you can get to by boat, exploring the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve and beyond.

The Monte do Casal is a couple of miles from the historic city of Estoi. We walked to Estoi where there is a 19th Century Palace under restoration; you can also see mosaics and further Roman remains.

One day, we caught a taxi to Tavira, a pretty coastal town with elegant shops that is near to the Spanish border. We caught a ferry to a lagoon with outlying islands and joined young Portuguese who were relaxing on their weekend. When we reached the islands we were surprised to find a hive of activity with an LA-style strip of restaurants and bars before reaching a long swathe of sand. Swimming in the Atlantic was chilly but refreshing.

Every day we awoke to a continental breakfast that the maid brought in and set on our terrace at 9am. She placed the table-cloth and laid out croissants, homemade muesli and freshly squeezed orange juice. This was a unique highlight that we looked forward to; there is nothing more indulgent than breakfasting in your dressing gowns. Breakfast also included a daily weather report which was helpful to plan your day, as well as the dinner menu, which changed daily.

On one of the nights of our stay, the Hotel held a Manager’s Champagne reception before dinner, which is a regular occurrence and a chance to meet other guests, as well as Mr Hawkins. We walked through to dinner which was a seven-course feast. The food at the Monte do Casal is one of its outstanding features; we started with seared fois gras, followed by scallops, spinach and leek soup, fillet of sea bass, then cranberry and raspberry sorbet, to cleanse the palate. We then had the main of fillet of lamb, which was followed by ice-cream for dessert. Each course was accompanied by white then red wine, mostly from the north of Portugal.

After such a feast, on our last full day we were in need of a Spa treatment. The Sanctuary Spa at the Monte do Casal is an excellent addition to the Hotel, giving another option if you do have a rainy day, with the indoor Jacuzzi, Turkish steam room and Sauna. My wife and I both enjoyed a 60-minute luxury massage. The use of hot essential oils left us both totally relaxed.

The attention to detail at the Monte do Casal continues to be evident, with decorative Portuguese pottery and traditional blue tiles on the balcony from nearby villages. You would expect this from Mr Hawkins, who trained at The Savoy and Claridge’s in London from the age of 17. The Monte do Casal, which has special offers and Spa packages, also runs luxurious boat trips.

This was our first flight with Jet 2.com, which we found gave us more legroom than we were used to, as well as a comfortable journey.

If you want some summer sun then look no further than the Algarve, which is only a couple of hours flight from Manchester and if you are looking for a comfortable hotel just a short distance from Faro Airport we would thoroughly recommend the Monte do Casal every time.

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We stayed for five nights in a Junior Suite at the Monte do Casal, which cost 335 Euros a night.
For more details visit: www.montedocasal.pt
E-Mail: montedocasal@mail.telepac.pt Tel. 00 351 289 991503
Jet2.com provides a direct service from Manchester Airport to Faro in The Algarve, daily.
Flights start from £29.99 one way, including all taxes.
For more information please visit www.jet2.com