Mary Gostelow visits Portugal’s Algarve Coast

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Thomas Schoen, complex GM for Luxury Collection’s three hotels at Pine Cliffs Resort, eight kilometres east of Albufeira, is understandably happy that he is likely to close September 2017 at 90 percent occupancy. The whole of Portugal’s Algarve is extremely popular right now: Faro airport saw 2016 arrival up 18.5 percent over 2015, to 7.6 million, and this year, and next, should be even busier.

Pine Cliffs remains supreme in the area’s offerings. It was lovingly conceived, master-designed and expanded by a Kuwaiti entrepreneur, Jassim Al-Bahar, who saw this 29-hectare, pine-studded site clifftop above the Atlantic, and bought it. Over the years it has, now led by his son Talal Al-Bahar, expanded to a total of 733 units ranging from single rooms to three-room apartments. The three Luxury Collection properties are the doyen, 217-room Pine Cliffs Hotel, and, slightly younger, 155-unit Pine Cliffs Residences and the 2016-vintage top-end 150-unit Pine Cliffs Ocean Suites. I stayed in suite 401 at the far end of the Suites and it was totally gorgeous, almost Beverly Hills with no need for opulence because of the all-wall windows over big terraces to pines below, and blue ocean beyond.

Hugo, the charming head concierge, came in especially on a Sunday morning to drive me around the whole estate in a buggy, and we then went on to a tile tour. Yes, a TILE tour! Pine Cliffs Hotel is literally a gallery of Portugal’s gorgeous tiles, which apparently were copied from pictures made up of smaller tiles, in Spain. The Portuguese tile industry, sadly, is in decline – here, every one of the hotel’s bedrooms has a tile bedhead and there are 40 tile pictures, on corridor walls, showing regional dress around Portugal. All the tilework here came from C. Constancia, which has now gone out of business. At least the pieces that are here will not go out of use: the colours are baked in, forever, and being fixed to walls means they are not likely to get broken.

The facilities here are really outstanding, with a nine-hole golf course, an Annabel Croft tennis academy, a soccer field that sometimes hosts pop-up conference tents, lots of swimming pools, indoor and out, and masses of eating and drinking venues, plus a minimart for those who want to self-cater. My room – sorry, suite – had a Siemens kitchenette leading off the eight-seat dining end of the massive living room. Like all the units in this particular luxury hotel, and those in the Residences, it is owned, which means that the clever investor who bought suite 401 has 25 weeks a year of its use, for free. Go cruising for the other half of the year and you would not need a home anywhere else… and, when you are here, you have THE BEACH.

There are over 150 beautiful beaches to choose from in the region and Jassim Al-Bahar fell in love with one of the most breathtaking of the lot. An elevator can take you between beach and cliff top, but it is still 112 boardwalk steps from elevator base to the actual sand – if you forgo the elevator, as I did, and you have another 80 steps up to clifftop level. Down on the beach it is lazing-or-activity, all day long. There is also a beach-set café, run by Olivier, from Lisbon

Other Pine Cliff habitués spend all day up at the top of the cliffs, enjoying everything from activities to hours of sunbathing. There is also an impressive Serenity, The Art Of Well Being Spa, where I had an 80-minute Senses of the Algarve experience. First, Catarina did a hearty scrub, using Fleur-de-Sel from Ria Formosa National Park blended, here at the spa, with Falésia Beach sand and orange oil. After a shower, I was wrapped in chocolate-smelling (and looking) carob, which apparently is rich in selenium, and good for antioxidisation and fighting bacteria. Another shower, and I was massaged with local orange oil, and I finished with lemongrass tea. Then it was time for lunch, outside under a Zest umbrella.

I was really impressed by the eating opportunities throughout the entire complex. I particularly loved Zest, which is open from 9 am all day long, offering food for Mind, Body & Soul. I had a tray of dips and vegetables, with crudites set vertically in an ice-filled glass bowl (loved the eggplant spread!). My main course was superb, a bowl of toasted quinoa topped with harissa chicken, grilled halloumi and just-right avocado, all of which, according to the menu, offered 250 calories, 150mg sodium and nine grams of carb. Zest has a small to-go counter, too, which supplements what you can also buy at the resort’s minimart. Sadly, in my short stay there were many restaurants I never had time to visit.

My evening started with cocktails at Mirador Champagne Bar, outside at the clifftop, which sensibly starts its sundowner offerings at four o’clock, extremely civilized for anyone still on, say, a Perth time zone. There was a gin-and-tonic promotion, which proved to be an introduction to a Portuguese gin, Big Boss, from the long-established Nato Costa distillery: Big Boss uses 11 botanicals and, certainly, it is a distinctly dry gin, which some say highlights angelica and cardamom. It was served in a big tulip glass, with lots of ice and that now-universal tonic, by Fever-Tree.

As the light faded, we walked across to O Pescador, choosing our enormous seabass, to be shared, from a display outside, by the cooking station. Inside, the fish was later presented, grilled with marvellous local vegetables. Yes, I ate well, in fact very well, while staying at Pine Cliffs Ocean Suites – and in the morning, at the enormous buffet, Le Jardim displayed a marvellous array of best of local produce. With a big smile, a chef in pristine whites threw away my first plate of eggs because he was not 100 per cent happy with them – always a sign of a passionate culinarian. There are a lot of smiles at this lovely place.

Mary Gostelow travels over 300 days a year, doing one-night stands in top hotels around the world. Read her daily travelogue, www.girlahead.com

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