Brigit Grant finds her own piece of paradise in Portugal
There is a moment just before I open my eyes on a cold winter morning in London when I picture myself in Room 97.
Throwing back the finest Egyptian cotton sheets and stepping on to the cool terracotta tiled floor, I walk down the two-step stone balustrade into the living area with its plush sofa and ornate ceramic mirror towards the balcony doors. Once the doors are open, the bird song is audible (no, really) and there ahead of me is the large azure swimming pool framed by scarlet hibiscus and, beyond it, the Atlantic ocean upon which the prerequisite yacht with white sails has been placed.
The view from Room 97, a deluxe junior suite at the Sheraton Pine Cliffs in the Algarve, is a scene that any art director would rush to lay claim to, but the responsibility for it lies with the late Jassim Al Bahar. Inspired by the cliff-top pine forest that sits upon Portugal’s dramatic southern coast, the billionaire Kuwaiti-born hotelier decided to build a property befitting the surroundings. Unusually for a business man, he also wanted to cause the least amount of damage to the indigenous plant life.
The care and caution taken during the building means guests can swim, dine, sleep or simply gaze at the magnificent pine trees which provide a lush heavily-scented natural parasol over the gardens. The beauty of these gardens is that though well-tended and religiously watered, they are not overly manicured. Walking through them therefore doesn’t feel like trespassing and in fact is positively encouraged, as there is a botanical trail and even a booklet identifying the exotic flora and fauna.
So much for the flowers, what about the kids?
Well, they grow too at the Pine Cliffs as they become better swimmers, footballers, cyclists and finger painters while in the care of the kids club, Porto Pirata – so named because of the life-size wooden pirate ships that stand in the 7,000-metre on-site children’s village.
The club caters for little ones aged six months to eight years, though you’re unlikely to see any babies climbing the ships’ masts. The well-trained and experienced staff are much too hands-on to let a toddler go exploring and there is more than enough to keep them occupied, what with the bouncy castle; mini-track for big-wheel scooters and bikes and a shallow pool just for them.
Older children have a basket-ball court to mess around on and we had some first-class family time on the 18-hole mini-golf course. In the school holidays there are football matches for the older ones every afternoon, and for those with would-be Andy Murrays in their brood there’s the Annabel Croft Tennis Academy.
The Academy has been open since September 2013, but our weekend stay at Pine Cliffs coincided with the “official” opening. While my husband and seven-year-old daughter went off for a lesson at the nine-hole golf academy, I went to watch Croft serving on court number one.
A healthy and youthful-looking vision in white pleats, she soon had those who would otherwise recline on loungers lifting racquets and from what I saw (I didn’t play) it really is possible to improve your game with this high-level of teaching and some very attractive coaches. “Did I miss Annabel?” inquired my husband who had been learning how to swing a club alongside our daughter, who was more of a golfer.
“You can see her next time,” I said, secure in the knowledge that there really would be a next time, as once you have entered the rarified word of the Pine Cliffs, it’s impossible not to want to return.
What makes the place special is that it manages to maintain an air of sophistication seldom found in a family resort. Children visit year-round, but for all the play, exuberance and noise it never impinges on the serenity of the place.
There is so much space and so many pools that even at the height of summer it is possible to find a quiet spot – I recommend one of the many courtyards with which like the rest of the hotel have been designed in tribute to Portugal’s maritime and Moorish history. Even in winter when other European coastal destinations have little to offer, Pine Cliffs is in full bloom with almond blossom and you can use the big indoor pool which is currently under renovation and then drink hot chocolate at the Corda Cafe.
Typically of a resort there are a lot of restaurants. Some are seasonal such as O Pescador , the seafood eaterie, and Yakuza, by resident chef Olivier, which is Japanese.
The year-round Jardim Colonial offers a breakfast and dinner buffet that caters to all tastes and is a great option for those who are kosher and eat only fish or vegetarian. ‘Spoilt for choice’ is inadequate shorthand for the multiple tables covered with every kind of cheese, salad, casserole, fish dish,vegetable selection.
As for the desserts – just ask my seven-year-old, who went back many times. The Beach Club is glorious and accessed by a panoramic lift that is manageable for those with only mild vertigo, but my personal favourite is the Mirador champagne bar on the cliff edge from where you can watch the sunset and pretend you are a millionaire.
If you are not really a hotel type and prefer the luxury end of self-catering, there is the Pine Cliffs Residence, which has 154 two- and three-bedroom suites set around the golf course and its own pool. The estate also offers other options from townhouses with private terraces to deluxe villas with their own pools and Jacuzzis. When I win the Lottery I fully intend to buy one of the village apartments. Or maybe I’ll just keep booking Room 97.
• There is a 15 per cent discount off Pine Cliffs accommodation for bookings made before 31 January 2015, valid for stays between 1 April and 31 October.
The hotel part of the resort is not available until 1 July 2015 because of interior renovation work.
For full details, call 0800 678 5106 or visit justresorts.co.uk
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For a Jewish/Israeli experience outside the Pine Cliffs estate, drive or take a cab to Albufeira old town nearby and go to the Shalom restaurant. There you will meet Yadin, Pauwelijn and their son Ido Isjy, who owns the shisha bar across the street.
Generous to a fault, members of the family (the son-in-law owns Shalom 2 in a parallel street) wander to and fro chatting with diners and demonstrating a fluency in multiple languages, particularly when it comes to recommending the hummus or ribs.
I’m a falafel fan, but everything is good on the extensive menu, which also has a Dutch section as Pauwelijn is from Holland. Mention you are Jewish to Yadin and if he can muster a minion he will invite you to his home, where he will host a Shabbat service – his grandfather was a chief rabbi of Iraq and it is his sefer torah that is now in the Algarve.
With an Israeli flag hung high outside the restaurant, Shalom isn’t hard to find – so go.
Shalom, Avenida Da Liberdade 7, Albufeira 0800 678 5106