The Algarve region of Portugal attracts British and European holidaymakers by the plane-load, but although it’s a popular destination for tourists, the majority make their way to the lively resorts of Albufeira and Praia da Rocha and avoid the quieter areas of coastline. On our last trip we ventured in the opposite direction, heading just east of Faro to the lesser known fishing town of Olhao, curious to see what it had to offer instead. The area has that distinctive run-down European feel that you often get in underdeveloped towns; a mass of construction work in the background, dried ground where the sun has burnt away the remains of the grass, and old men with pipes and creased, tanned faces, whiling away the hours on dockside benches.
Our hotel for the short break was the Real Marina which sits on the water’s edge, overlooking the masses of yachts bobbing away quietly in the protected harbour in front of us. The hotel is very new. So new, in fact, that the trees planted out front are yet to grow. It’s actually two buildings; the main building forms the hotel, with the restaurants, bars, pool and spa facilities, and the building next door provides residence-style accommodation for travellers who prefer to go self-catering. The hotel appears a little out-of-the-way, but in fact it’s just a short walk into the centre of town where boutique shops abound, and a taxi ride to the hotel is thankfully quick.
It’s modernity does somewhat mask any traces of Portuguese life. The modern glass and marble decor is a far cry from the warm terracotta we’d normally expect from anywhere within a stone’s throw of the Mediterranean Sea. But what it lacks in traditional appeal, it more than makes up for in elegance and sophistication. We checked into a large corner suite that came with an enormous bed, two bathrooms, three showers and a sitting area with a sofa bed. It was tastefully decorated and well thought out. Outside, a long balcony wrapped itself around our room on the corner, and afforded us fantastic views across the marina towards the nature reserve beyond.
We tried the restaurant on the first evening, the Restaurante Do Real, and were so enamoured by the service and quality of the food, that we tried it every evening after that as well. Fresh seafood featured heavily, but that wasn’t surprising considering the market was just a five minute stroll away. The hotel pool is somewhat unusual – a balcony pool built over a car park – but while you’re lying back on a lounger and relaxing in the Portuguese sun, it’s easy to become oblivious to the comings and goings beneath you.
The Real Marina is indeed a superb hotel. If I’m being honest, we picked it entirely by accident, but for believers in serendipity, this certainly fits the criteria.
By: Fiona Galloway, Editor