Bela Vista Hotel & Spa
Google ‘What to do in Portimão’, and it’s apparent that it’s not a destination for the sun-shy. This lively slice of the Algarve is first and foremost a montage of photogenic beaches. Praia da Rocha ranks top of the above-mentioned search and for good reason—it’s stunning. Its broad flank of silken sand is fringed by crystalline waters, with civilised boardwalks along the entire 1km stretch, and handsome ochre cliffs soaring up behind it. Crowning the cliffs is a thicket of dated sky rises, which cramps the idyllic vistas somewhat—but zoom in a little closer and, right in the centre, set entirely apart from the flotsam, is a jewel-box Romanesque mansion. It’s the Bela Vista Hotel & Spa, a statuesque Relais & Chateaux hotel, blonde and buttery against the lilac sky. It’s this chic enclave, we suspect, that seals Praia da Rocha’s superiority among the Algarve’s shores.
Ascend the winding steps from the beach towards Bela Vista to discover that this hotel far out-gleams its five stars. Despite its 101-year history as Portimão’s oldest hotel, it’s utterly contemporary with primary nautical colours set against the original blue and yellow azulejo tiles and Brazilian wooden beams. The hotel’s lobby and bar are cool and quiet, replete with a grand old piano and stocked with a worldly selection of spirits. But of course, the décor and deep history play second fiddle to those broad ocean views. Beyond the impossibly chic lounge, Restaurante Vista presses up against the edge of the cliff, with spectacular views across the entire stretch of Praia da Rocha and beyond. The restaurant is starkly pared back and wears its Michelin star modestly, but the Sea and Sustainability tasting menu absolutely dazzles. It’s an exquisitely presented compilation of 11 all-too-brief ‘moments’. Think fresh clams with celery pearls and a tiny apple macaron in a flurry of dianthus petals, washed down with beautifully paired local wine.
The accommodation is as sumptuous as the main house. The sea-view rooms are infused with light glancing off the Atlantic, a nautical theme continuing with crisp Breton stripes and clean primary colours extending out onto the balcony. Pop a cork on a bottle of sparkling QMF wine for a scenic toast. With those balmy views, there’s really little need to leave. Apart from the spa, which lures us away from our own private sun trap with its dedicated L’Occitane treatment menu. The therapists here know very well how to knead out any residual knots from the flight over, a rejuvenating mix of citrus and bergamot essential oils reviving and refreshing the senses. This is a very civilised start to a beach holiday in the sun-soaked Algarve… although the beach, as beautiful as it is, can’t really compete with Bela Vista Hotel & Spa perched high above it.