Britain may have lost an empire, but it’s gained the Algarve. Fifty or more years ago it was the British who led the way for tourism in the most southerly region in Portugal, and they’re still making regular pilgrimages there today.
It’s easy to see why. There’s an easy-going charm about the Algarve. Cut off from the rest of the country by mountains, it is different in character from the rest of Portugal. Life outside the main holiday towns moves at a slower pace and the lifestyle is more relaxed.
Head to the western Algarve and you discover wide, smooth beaches and rocky coves, backed by orange cliffs eroded into strange shapes by the sea. There’s a slightly otherworldliness about it all.
The tip of the peninsula, Cape St Vincent, is the most south westerly point of continental Europe and is effectively a nature reserve, with not a high-rise hotel in sight.
We arrive in the Algarve at Faro airport and, picking up a hire car, head for a boutique hotel near Lagos. Quinta Bonita began its life more than 30 years ago as a holiday villa, but in 2009 it was extended into an eight-room luxury hotel. The well-furnished rooms are large enough to be described as suites and come complete with flat-screen TV, tea and coffee making facilities and enough bathroom fragrances to keep Kate Moss happy.
Owners Chantelle and Fraser are perfect hosts: Chantelle runs the front of house, Fraser is a top-notch chef who, once a week, produces a dinner for his guests which would not be out of place in a Michelin-starred restaurant.
In fact staying at Quinta Bonita, the atmosphere of the place is so relaxed you feel more like a house guest staying with friends rather than a paying customer.
From the terrace, the views stretch south down to Praia da Rocha and Lagos and eastwards down the coast towards Portimao. Inland the Monchique hills separate the coast from Portugal’s rugged hinterland. In summer the town of Monchique is a cool retreat from the heat and if you head into the hills you eventually reach Foia, at 2959ft, the highest point in the Algarve.
You might prefer the village of Caldes de Monchique, where, in a handsome square dotted with a couple of small hotels and bars, you can enjoy a cool beer .
As public transport is virtually non-existent in the Algarve, a car hire is essential for getting around, not just for daytime exploring but for seeking out places to eat in the evening. Carlos, the owner of Cantinho Algarvio, said: “I got some of the recipes from my mother.” Like all good Portuguese sons he followed Mama’s advice - and created a successful business for himself at the same time. Which just proves that Portugal, and hotels like Quinta Bonita hotel are still attracting Brits today.
Several airlines offer flights from the UK to Faro, including easyJet (www.easyjet.com) with return fares from about £60.
Double rooms at Quinta Bonita (www.boutiquehotelalgarve.com) cost from €100 (£83) a night. The hotel currently has some special summer and autumn offers available.
7 Night Summer Stay & Drive Package – Stay between now and September 30, including seven nights in a double suite with sea view, car hire (collection from Faro or Lisbon airports or Quinta Bonita), buffet breakfast and afternoon tea daily and sparkling wine on arrival for 1680euros for two people. Conditions apply.
10% autumn discount offer – Book to stay a minimum five-night stay in October or November 2012 with car hire and receive 10% discount off the room rates below.
Algarve Car Hire - www.myalgarvecars.com