Bordered by sensuously swaying palm and cypress trees and a fiesta-like cluster of red and pink roses with a long, narrow water feature between, the boulevard led in a beeline to a white stone cupola supported by twin pillars entwined in gleaming, lace-like chrome beside a circular driveway.
Inside, the lobby was equally impressive – airy and spacious with a high dome decorated with a floral design and – high above – all six floors encircling the lobby, rising to a cupola above. I was not surprised to learn that the hotel was built to look like a contemporary palace, incorporating distinct Moorish design elements.
Within minutes, the formalities of check-in were completed and, to add a personal touch to the professional, general manager, Austria-born Joachim Hartl, who has supervised the opening of seven hotels worldwide, stepped out of his office to say hello before proceeding to inform us about the highlights and history of the area.
Now that’s what I call service.
While a hotel of such architectural high quality made me feel reverential, any suggestion of formal stuffiness was eradicated by the friendliness and enthusiasm of the young staff, keen to show off their hospitality skills and local knowledge. When it came to local sightseeing over the few days we spent there, such input was most helpful.
As befits the caliber of a Conrad, especially one that is the first European Conrad Resort, guests are not short of choice when it comes to leisure activities. During our brief stay, we participated in two excellent one-hour yoga sessions but there are also daily classes such as pilates, aqua fitness and core and cardio and fusion strength. If that is not enough, there are also four varieties of pools including infinity and lagoon-style ones plus tennis courts and a gym and a spacious spa. With so many championship golf courses in Quinta do Lagos, it’s no surprise to find the hotel also offers a simulation play area to help guests work on their handicap.
In effect, hotel guests have the choice of the ‘high ground’ or the ‘low ground’ for relaxation purposes. The former is on an upper floor where the spa treatment area is located and also a steam room, sauna and heated bathing pool with jacuzzi jets, a cold plunge pool and hot reclining beds, all decorated in an attractive mix of blue and gold mosaic.
Two funky side-by-side showers added to our bodily pleasures – one, the Swiss version, featured 13 multi-level, alternatively hot and cold jets while the second, the Jamaican variation, was complete with birdsong and thunder with a light spraying motion. Not surprisingly, we spent several hours here recovering from a day of travel before moving outside on to a terrace beside an infinity pool, with lounge chairs offering fine views over the surrounding countryside. Swimming across the clear pool, majestic palm trees either side, I had the distinct feeling of flying towards the towns of Almancil and Loule perched on the opposite hillside.
Here, we also enjoyed a special ‘distress muscle relaxation massage’ at the hotel’s 19,000-plus square foot spa. Upon entering the spa, we were offered a choice of thirteen different natural oils provided by Aromatherapy Associates, our choice dependent upon our mood.
On the ‘lower ground,’ meaning on a manicured garden area below, replete with generous foliage of palm and pine, are several more outdoor pools with chaise longues and umbrellas. It is extensive enough for leisurely strolling, with bare-stone pathways, rough-hewn block walls either side, winding through the demesne, their borders laced with rosemary and lavender.
Here, on Sunday afternoons, an open-air barbeque takes place with live jazz. From the balcony of our grand deluxe suite, we enjoyed the musical delights of a skilled saxophone player. Later, just before leaving for a short drive in the countryside we were regaled with the sound of childrens’ laughter. Gazing down, we noticed a family group enjoying an outdoor picnic, a special service provided by the hotel for guests and non-guests for birthdays or other special celebrations. The Conrad also has its own beach, Ancao Poente,a 10-minute drive away, with a stunning ochre cliff backdrop, beside which is a restaurant, Maria’s, serving hot food and drinks. The hotel provides transport to the beach throughout the day.
Our room, one of 154, including suites, was spacious, with a high ceiling and floor-to-ceiling sliding doors with silver bands decorated with spotted rock-rose flowers, a light motif throughout the hotel.
Dinner at Gusto, the hotel’s signature Scandinavian-inspired design restaurant, was a sensual delight, seated as we were close to the open kitchen, with delicious aromas flowing in our direction, and mesmerized by the meticulous way the food was being prepared for plate, like models before emerging on the catwalk. With oversized lighted papier-mâché balls hanging from the ceiling and a metallic structure glimpsed through large floor-to-ceiling windows that looks peculiarly like a space ship, I was left to wonder if I was still on planet earth or floating out in the galaxy somewhere. Such a dreamlike notion was enhanced by the brilliance of the food items on the menu designed by 3 Michelin-starred chef, Heinz Beck, with superb starters being the fuel that launched the ‘culinary capsule’ into orbit.
The first course, tonno tonnato, a delectable slice of tuna tartare decorated with angel wings made of tuna snow might convince anyone fish can fly. The highlight, however, was the fagotelli carbonara, the signature dish of Chef Beck. I could swear there was nothing but compressed air in the pasta capsules infused with the most delectable taste of pecorino cheese. Pastry chef Giacomo Troisi then treated us to what could only be termed ‘an ode to chocolate,’ complete with ‘poppers’ that exploded with taste like fireworks in my mouth.
The drinks menu was also impressive, with the back wall of the restaurant designed as a gleaming, chrome-framed glass cave, with hundreds of wine bottles leaning tantalizingly on the shelves. We enjoyed a diverse range of wines with our tasting menu, including a zesty, tropical Soalheiro, a Melgaço-based vineyard in the Vinho Verde region, specializing in the Alvarinho grape variety and a. But the coup de grace was when Antonio Lopes, our sommelier, with the tinniest of suggestions from Yours Truly gleaned from a bout of bartending in a previous life, created a unique cocktail – which he promptly named ‘broccolito,’ made from broccoli juice, vodka and gin. Without doubt, the healthiest drink on the menu.
Guests who prefer al fresco can eat poolside, from the comfort of private cabana at Dado restaurant or on the terrace of the Louro which offers modern Portuguese cuisine and also doubles as the breakfast room. It extends to a small outdoor seating pergola, with fireplace.
With its own private beach, multiple swimming pools and restaurant selections and a convenient location just 20 minutes from Faro international airport and close to the idyllic scenery of Ria Formosa Natural Park, Conrad Algarve is a luxury hotel fit for a President.