Planting a strong foundation to grow on
Explore the rural beauty of the Algarve with luxury agritourism
Article by Louise Gillespie
Stretching 150km along the southern coast of Portugal, the Algarve proudly boasts more than 100 beaches; from long stretches of white sand to hidden coves that are reached by steep steps carved in to the cliffs, this coastline has to be one of the most beautiful in the world.
Whilst many choose villa holidays or head to the famous resorts of Val do Lobo or Quinta do Lago, those who are in the know head to the Algarve’s boutique rural hotels which showcase the very finest Portuguese produce, the exceptionally friendly service the nation are renowned for and a much needed retreat away from the crowds.
Quinta dos Perfumes is a hidden gem tucked away to the east of Tavira and champions agritourism through its 36 hectares of herb gardens, expansive citrus orchards and array of avocado trees. A former perfume distillery, the building has been transformed into a spacious hotel of just 15 rooms. Complete with Scandinavian style interiors that embrace clean lines, exposed wood and a white and grey colour palette that perfectly contrasts the bright blue of the sky evident from the hotels’ floor to ceiling windows. The aromas of the perfume distillery have been replaced by the heavenly scent of the surrounding orange groves which provide the fresh orange juice that is in abundance at the hotel.
Guests meander their way through the orange groves to the pool which is surrounded on all sides by trees hanging heavy with fruit. The honesty bar provides the perfect spot for grabbing a glass of something chilled as you relax poolside listening to the sea breeze rippling through the trees. For dinner, Tavira is just a short drive from the hotel and is a bustling town filled with riverside restaurants, bars and spectacular tile decorated churches. Overlooking the beach, the small village of Cacela Vehla is a must for watching the sunset and joining the queue of locals as they wait for a table at the rustic restaurant Casa da Igreja. The restaurant’s small kitchen features a compact menu that includes fried prawns with garlic and plates piled high with fresh oysters and clams, all washed down with Vinho Verde. Arguably, this has to be one of the cheapest and most delicious meals to be found in the Algarve.
Quinta dos Perfumes has bicycles for guests wanting to cycle down the country lanes to the nearby estuary where a small ferry boat (costing €1) will take you to the long stretches of golden sand dotted with little beach bars offering fresh seafood. For those wanting to explore further afield, ferries from Tavira whisk guests across the waters to the Ilha das Cabanas which is like entering a time capsule, and features old fisherman houses, wooden walkways and charming beach-side restaurants.
Heading west along the coast towards the impressive waves of the surfing domain of the Algarve, lies the area’s first five-star rural hotel Vila de Valverde Design & Country Hotel; a luxury boutique property set in beautifully landscaped gardens and featuring incredible gastronomy. The lobby of the hotel features a vast space filled with art, sculptures and upholstery. As the name suggests, this hotel wants to be known for its design and whilst this is certainly a great aspect, it is the cuisine that truly puts this property on the map and was unlike anything else we had in the Algarve.
More akin to a restaurant found in a cosmopolitan city, the menu at the hotel’s restaurant champions local produce and features flavour combinations such as octopus with creamy pistachio and basil oil dreamt up by Chef Luis Maciera whose résumé includes working alongside various Michelin Star chefs throughout Europe. He returned to Portugal to bring his culinary expertise from the continent to the delicious produce of the Algarve. The dishes are a masterpiece of design featuring grouper tartar that encased a sumptuous pool of cucumber vinaigrette. Dining al fresco on the hotel’s terrace the noise of the cicadas and the palm leaves rustling in the wind provided the perfect orchestral accompaniment to a feast of delicious dishes.
For those wanting to experience the best cuisine the Algarve has to offer, the hotel is hosting a unique culinary event on 27th July where guests can enjoy a gastronomic journey curated by four renowned Portuguese chefs: Vítor Matos (Michelin Star), Luís Macieira, Luís Brito (Michelin Guide) and Andreia Cabrita. The experience created by four top chefs will feature eight sumptuous dishes each perfectly paired with an accompanying wine.
Aside from the exceptional food, the hotel pool is the perfect spot for whiling away an afternoon. It’s reached by a short walk through the grounds and unusually surrounded by sand, meaning that for those who can’t be drawn away from the hotel’s tranquillity they just have to step from their sunbed in to the sand to have the essence of the beach between their toes.
A short drive from the property we arrived at our favourite beach, tucked away near the town of Burgau. Featuring a sweeping cove of white sand and with a beach bar serving up dishes such as tuna steak with beetroot, orange and quinoa, this was a truly idyllic spot. The sea was certainly refreshing, and we were told by locals that the water is unseasonably cold this year, but as we basked in thirty-degree heat, we found the cool of the blue waters to be a welcome respite.
The Algarve is a popular destination for those seeking exceptional food, service and beaches but certainly the best way to enjoy all these elements combined is to visit a boutique property where the personality of the managers, chefs and staff ensures a truly authentic Portuguese reception. Whether its beaches, orange groves or history the Algarve has surely got to be one of the most beautiful places in Europe.