As a first-time-visitor to the Algarve, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, I did expect hot weather, clear skies, beaches galore, and a sunburnt tourist or ten. But perhaps what I did not expect, was the town of Vilamoura, much less its breath-taking marina.
Staying in the vicinity of both the sleepy Portuguese town of Lagoa and the in-your-face tourist hotbed that is Carvoeiro, with its cheap bars and beautiful beach, I at first thought myself in perfect position to dabble in two sides of the same Algarve. One, a more authentic insight into southern Portuguese life, the other, a picture of what many people across Europe conjure up when they think of the word “holiday”. But I wasn’t aware there was a third option: a posh, picturesque coastal town with some of the Algarve’s wealthiest and most opulent patrons.
That’s where Vilamoura comes in. Lined with trimmed hedges and trees in Mediterranean (or perhaps Malibu) fashion, the streets into Vilamoura are in pristine condition, and the same can be said for the cars that traverse them. No longer are we driving alongside the plain old cars from the ‘90s, ‘00s, and beyond that most of us get around in, but rather Teslas, Porsches, and Mercedes – all of which are in sparkling and a maximum of three years old.
Once in the town proper, the sun blazes in between multi-story luxury hotels, many of which are 5-star rated, including the Hilton, Tivoli, and Crown Plaza hotels, which seem like behemoths compared to anything in Lagoa or Caroveiro. For those less inclined to a tan, such as myself, the blocky shadows cast by said hotels provide for excellent relief from the sun.
We park the car in a humble McDonald’s carpark before heading down toward the marina, past the Casino Vilamoura, before finally arriving at our seafront destination. The marina is chock full of yachts and boats of all shapes and sizes sitting in a tightly enclosed space that open up onto a glistening, tranquil Atlantic Ocean. The yachts are mostly a pearly white colour, but there are some that came in shades of black and grey, which make them look somewhat spaceship-like. Upon the top of each vessel are the flags of their no-doubt wealthy owners: Portugal, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, among others.
We walk past a plethora of businesses which, somewhat surprisingly, are not unlike those you might find in any other tourist-friendly town in the Algarve: open-air restaurants, ice cream parlours, gift shops, and of course, Irish pubs.
Then we get to Sunseeker, a yacht chartering company with a shopfront and minibar on the Marina. The company are preparing for the upcoming (at the time) Vilamoura boat show, an annual event in which a number of boat and yacht companies show off their stock to avid onlookers. Each company has its own white tent, which are being pitched as we walk through the marina. But then, I got to experience something I have never experienced before, and most certainly did not expect upon my arrival in the Algarve. I get the chance to take a spin on one of Sunseeker’s luxury yachts.
The DILLIGAF San Remo 485, to be more specific. It’s stunning and immaculate, a standard which they keep by asking all of us climbing on board to take off our shoes and leave them at the Marina. The interior of the yacht contains a descending stair that leads into a beautiful kitchen and living room, adjacent to which are a bathroom and a double bedroom.
We pull out of the marina and out on to the open sea. The roof is open and the sunshine glares down on us. Some parts of the yacht are hot on the soles of our feet. We travel along the incredible Algarve coastline and get to witness a full view of one of its most beautiful beaches: Praia da Falésia. It’s radiant sands are backed by steep cliffs in a vivid rusty red colour – it looks Martian.
After a breezy, chill ride in the yacht, we arrive back at the marina and are given back our shoes, before walking back to the car. While the Covid-19 pandemic may have had a devastating effect on tourism in the Algarve, leaving the future of the region in a precarious position, one thing is for certain: Vilamoura is back in full swing.