I have just spent three energising days at the Vila Vita Parc. Do hit that link and check out their website also, there are some pretty awesome pics and videos on it too. We left Gatwick airport at a rather unfavourably early hour of the morning headed for Faro airport. At least the early three hour flight meant that there was a full day to explore when we arrived in Portugal.
Spain, Italy and France have always been on my hit list for short distance European travel and this was only my second time in Portugal. I have wanted to come to the Vila Vita Parc nestled in the South of the Country right on the coast for many years and was so excited to finally get here. I have handpicked what I found to be the 10 best things (and that list could have easily been extended to 100 best things!) about my stay.
Being a country girl at heart the first thing I wanted to do when I arrived was explore the grounds. I underestimated just how big the place was. The resort is set in 54 acres of lush undulating grounds perched on a hill right by the beach. The greens the blues, the incredible foliage and the well kept gardens could keep a person occupied for weeks. With each new outing I stumbled across another gem, from soothing waterfalls, to different bridges spanning across the waterways, to very cool nooks and crannies to enjoy a drink or just read the latest novel on the ipad. Being early October there were a few showers which did not last longer than a few minutes.
2. Lunch at the beach restaurant and the cooking class
The beach bar is not actually on the hotel grounds but a very short hop away from the main hotel. We were whisked away to the Praia dourada restaurant and bar which sits on the beach at Armação de Pêra
We began the afternoon with a cooking demonstration of a Cataplana. This dish is named after the copper, clam shaped dish in which it is cooked and consists of things like local fish, seafood, white wine, garlic, peppers and onions. The base is made and then the seafood added. A lid is placed on top and the food is left to steam and for the flavours to develop until the big reveal. If you would like me to do my recipe for Cataplana let me know in the comments below.
The restaurant is open from the morning through to the late evening. During the Summer season at the weekends, DJs play cool tunes so you can sit on the many sun loungers in front of the restaurant and sip on a sundowner or have a pick me up Portuguese coffee to see you through the day. The manager of the restaurant ordered most of the food for us to make sure we could try as much as possible. It is rare that I like most things on the menu which was the case with this meal. Here are a few of the dishes that we tried; Ceviche blanco with passion fruit and plantain fritters, Grilled Octopus with red pepper piquillo, Razor clams, swordfish steaks with cherry tomatoes and capers, and Panna cotta. Oh the tropical Panna Cotta! They have food for vegans and vegetarians also such as Tempeh burger (soy beans) and a lot of fresh pressed cleansing juices which, you can have virgin or of course made in to one of the many cocktails which they offer. And imagine my delight when me, the avid gym goer, saw a drink called ‘the hulk’ on the menu which was a fresh banana drink with added protein! Praia Dourada Restaurant, you just won my heart for ever.
3. The wine cellar
One evening before dinner we had a wine tasting in the resort’s wine cellar. If you are all about the wine then their 1100o strong collection should see you right. We feasted on olives, local ham and almonds as the wine expert talked us through some of his favourites. One couple were tucked away in a side room celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Gorgeous.
I fell in love with Green wine, or Vinho Verde. Which is not actually green in colour but is a young wine. The one we tried was white fresh and perhaps a little bit too drinkable. I am thinking that this new find may even be a contender for my usual summer tipple of Rose during the Summer months. Do look out for it and give it a try.
4. The beach
After wandering around the grounds. I popped on my beach gear and headed to find the waves. I walked through the grounds and every so often saw a pop of turquoise ocean. I then arrived on the cliffs edge which I sensibly stayed back from being somewhat clumsy at the best of times. There are signs around telling you to be extra cautious as the drop is quite a sheer one. You can either walk up and go for a cliff stroll or turn slightly down to the right and you will find the staircase with its roped bannisters, leading you down to the hotel beach. And then…well what can I say.. Tremendous.
5. The spa
We were given a spa treatment for this trip and I needed my well weight lifted muscles to be soothed. I chose The deep tissue massage from one of the many on offer which lasted an hour. Initially I thought that the petite masseuse was not going go be strong enough but how wrong I was. She used just the right amount of pressure to ease the tension and knots in my body.
6. The rooms
I enjoyed my room which had a view of the gardens and lots of places to sit. There was a little sofa with a coffee table down a couple of stairs which lead out to the small balcony. I found myself sitting out there a lot admiring the surrounds and slowly eating my way through the mini bar (standard). The second picture on this blog post is the view taken from my room. I had a decent size bathroom with a shower which you had to step in to the bath to use. I was in the main building but the rooms, and villas are scattered around the property. Some are quite a distance from the pool and restaurants but a quick phone call to the front desk results in a golf buggy to take you to your chosen destination.
7. The day trips
We did not have woodwork for girls at school which I would have done given the chance. So I loved visiting the work shop where the older members of the community were making wooden toys and games for children. I have written a separate blog post on this along with the basket weaving class and the amazing food and CAKE that we ate on that day here. Such fun! On the last day we explored the caves and the coastline around the hotel. Before turning the small speed boat around towards the end of the ride, the captain showed us The Benagil sea cave. You may seen this ‘Portuguese Cave with a hole’ as its scattered all over social media.
8. The gym
A hotel gym is important to me. It is one of the things I check before I book anywhere. I look for hand weights which go up to at least 8kg, a couple of benches and then I am good to go. This gym goes way and above what you might expect with a bunch of cardio machines, and machines for both upper and lower body including a stretching area. I worked out here three times in the mornings and got a really good sweat/pump on each time. I like.
9. The chill spaces
In between running around the beach, the grounds, cookery lessons, woodwork lessons and a basket weaving session there was not an awful lot of time for us to relax. However I did find the odd 15 minutes here and there to relax the weary legs, including an indulgent 20 minutes of stress-busting afternoon meditation.
10. The two Michelin Star restaurant
On the last night we got to eat at the fine dining restaurant Ocean which, has had 2 Michelin star status since 2011 under the careful guidance of Chef Neuner. I took oodles of pictures as each dish was a masterpiece. The portions were quite small which I liked as we had so many courses. The restaurant has that telepathic service, when the moment you think about something that you want, or for the next course to come, it magically appears. Elegant, seamless and indulgent. I have eaten at a fair amount of Michelin starred restaurants and what stands out with Hans Neuner’s work were the surprises with the presentation and interpretation of familiar dishes. Things like Chicken Piri Piri, Portuguese Taco and Octopus came plated like works of art. There were so many ‘oooos’ and ‘ahhhhh’s and camera snaps coming from our table of 5! The last picture is a lemon meringue pie. Divine.
The three days went too fast and it was soon time to kiss goodbye to my new found love, Portugal. I feel like there is so much more to say about this place and I have so many more pictures to show you. But I know you have lives to be getting on with and so I will leave it here along with a big thank you to the Vila Vita Parc Hotel for having me along as their guest.
Have a great day.
Ps. If you see any typos let me know and I will correct. Thank you