B&B and Beyond: Vilacampina, Portugal
This Moorish-style guesthouse is a sophisticated base for exploring the region's natural delights, says Katie Monk
Saturday 20 April 2013
The eastern stretch of the Algarve's coast is blessed with year-round sunshine, stunning beaches, delicious seafood and unspoilt nature. A short drive from the pretty town of Tavira, between the hills and the sea, is Vilacampina – a dazzling white, Moorish-inspired villa that combines contemporary cool with rural seclusion. Built in 2005, on the site of an old farm, it's a peaceful spot, and perfectly situated to take advantage of all the area has to offer.
The house has something of an Ibizan villa aesthetic – whitewashed walls, archways, Moroccan lamps, colourful paintings and bright cushions. An open-plan living/dining area has comfy sofas, dark-wood tables, an honesty bar and a log fire that's a blessing on cooler nights. To the front are two decked areas for al fresco breakfasts or post-beach beers. At the end of the garden is the pool, with shaded terrace and white drapes. Massages can be arranged, as can lunchtime baguettes.
The nine rooms – three ground-floor doubles, five first-floor doubles and a suite – each have private bathrooms with power shower only, satellite television and French windows leading on to a terrace. Two of the rooms are slightly smaller, but this is reflected in the price. Those at the front face the garden and pool; those at the back overlook the hills and are best for sunsets. The decor is stylishly simple, with modern furniture, neutral colour schemes, padded headboards and Portuguese cotton bedlinen. Robes, slippers and little chocolates by the bedside are nice touches.
Owner Sofia Borges used to be a stylist on an interiors magazine in Lisbon and worked with Brazilian architect Angelo de Castro to realise her vision. Sofia is exceptionally friendly and welcoming and is happy to give advice on where to go in the area, or leave you to your own devices. She doesn't live on site, but comes to the house each day and has two helpers, Katerina and Adriana. Vilacampina draws a loyal following – the very first guests from 2005 were staying when I was there and come back each year without fail.
Around 15 minutes' drive from Vilacampina, and running parallel to the coast, is the Ria Formosa Natural Park – a protected area of low-lying islands, salt marshes and lagoons. It's wonderfully undeveloped and contains some of the country's best beaches – Barril, Armona, Ilha de Tavira and Fuzeta – accessible by local ferry or tourist train (visitalgarve.pt). Birdlife here is prolific, especially during spring and autumn migration.
Sofia recently bought a boat, which is moored nearby and available for guests to go out and explore the beaches and Ria Formosa.
The towns of Faro, Olhao and Tavira make good day trips for pottering and eating out. There's windsurfing, fishing, walking in the hills and golfers have seven excellent courses in the vicinity. The hotel has bikes you can borrow. I cycled everywhere (the beaches take around 25 minutes), picking oranges off the trees and exploring at a leisurely pace. Spa buffs should visit the newly opened Conrad Algarve for some A-list pampering (conradalgarve.com).
A buffet of fresh fruit, brownies, boiled eggs, homemade yoghurt, creamy local goats cheese, smoked salmon, croissants, jam, rye bread, freshly squeezed orange juice, sparkling wine and homemade lemonade, is all set up on the sideboard each morning. You can choose to eat in the dining room or out on the terrace in the morning sun. A selection of leaf teas is available and there's an espresso machine for proper coffee.
Fresh fish and seafood abound in this part of the Algarve – crabs, clams, oysters, prawns and squid, and of course grilled sardines in summer. Nearby Santa Luzia is famous for its octopus (polvo), best sampled at O Capelo on the waterfront (Avenida Duarte Pacheco 40; 00 351 281 381 670). Olhao is a bustling port with an endless array of seafood bars along its harbour and a seafood festival in August (festivaldomarisco.com). Or head to Tavira for delicious pizzas at Aquasul (Rua Doutor Augusto da Silva Carvalho 11; 00 351 281 325 166). Further along at Cabanas is the family-run Noelia e Jeronimo (Avenida Ria Formosa; 00 351 281 370 649). Gourmets should book a table at Vila Joya near Albufeira – a two-Michelin-starred restaurant (00 351 289 591 795; vilajoya.com) – or the closer Michelin-starred Gusto by Heinz Beck in Almancil (00 351 289 350 700; conradalgarve.com).
Vilacampina, Sitio da Campina, Luz de Tavira, Tavira, Algarve, Portugal (00 351 281 961 242; vilacampina.pt). Doubles start at €120 (£102), including breakfast.
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