run out of womb

... learning how to be a mum from scratch

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Review: family-friendly Algarve luxury at Anantara Vilamoura

With tiniest man born in May, we stayed put for most of the summer - playing in the garden, a few weekends at the beach, exploring London. It was lovely - but when the chilly autumn days started blowing in, we missed summer and wanted some sunshine.

And so we started hunting for that elusive thing: an affordable, luxury hotel that was still warm enough in October, but that didn't mean spending a very long time in a plane ... (you know those hate-filled stares you get when boarding a jet with a toddler? Times those by a million when you embark with toddler AND newborn).

It took a while, but we came across the brand-new Anantara Vilamoura in the Algarve: fab for kids, but still flying under the radar. So we thought we'd shout about it here.

The location..

Faro airport is about just under three hours' flying time from London airports; we flew easyJet from Luton and everything ran smoothly. The hotel is then about a 35 minute drive from Faro airport. Something that immediately impressed us: the hotel's transfer car not only had a clean, comfy baby seat for tiniest man, but another (or a booster) for his bigger brother. Every time we took the hotel shuttle thereafter (the hotel is a 10-15 minute drive from the Vilamoura marina and beach) the car seats were whipped out - and with really friendly and helpful drivers too. Super safe.
When to go...

We went in October, and couldn't have been more pleased with the timing. Temperatures in the Algarve at the peak of summer can be 40 degrees C... Too sweltering for me and the babes. In October, they average low 20s - although it was about 30 degrees for five days, and 24 degrees for the rest of our 8 night stay. 

Expect similar temperatures in April/May, whilst summer gets steamier. Travel in the official 'off season' and (obviously) it's also much less busy - no traditional towel battle at the loungers, no traffic to get into the marina (it took us 10 minutes but can be up to an hour in gridlocked summer). 
The facilities

The Thai Anantara brand took over the former Tivoli Victoria hotel, spent a whole lot of money on it and reopened it in April this year; its facilities really are five star. There's a big family outdoor pool, lined with palm trees and Insta-ready, next to a shallower one for older kids and a bubbling baby pool too. All are lined with comfy loungers, day beds and a bar; pools are heated from mid October but even without the heating we loved splashing around. There's also an adults-only 'Cascades' pool complete with Veuve Clicquot cabanas (€120 including a bottle of bubbly!), and another 'vitality' pool (adults only) in the amazingly calming Eastern-style spa. (I tried a Thai massage; the masseuse was from Koh Samui, and it was uber-relaxing).
Elsewhere, there are tennis courts, a kids' playground (surrounded by sand and stones so don't put them in their best clothes but the toddler LOVED it), and a big kids club. It's really well stocked with toys and games, and run by, when we visited, English nannies, but it's not 'stay and play' - you drop the kids off. It costs around €35 for a half day for under 3s, or is free for over 4s - more details here. There are lots of activities during school holidays and they'll even take your kids swimming.

Other facilities include golf - the hotel is surrounded by the course used for the Portuguese Masters and nearby lots of other courses, that spa complete with pool, sauna, steam room, and tropical showers, a well-enquiped gym (with personal trainers available), and there's a beautiful, long beach. The hotel isn't on the coast, but those free shuttles take you to the Purobeach Club in front of the Tivoli Marina hotel, where you can access loungers and towels, and use the hotel's pool and playground too if you want to.
The food...

For me, the highlight was the breakfast buffet. So. Much. Food. A whole table of smoothies and freshly-squeezed juices, an egg chef, a croissant butler (you thought fresh French croissants couldn't get any better.. then you met the Nutella Croissant..), waffles, pancakes, cheeses, meats, a hot buffet, gluten-free table... it was amazing.

Elsewhere there's a buffet dinner for half-board guests that's only open in high season (so check if you're going any time that's not peak summer, as some half-boarders in October were disappointed by the limited options). There's Ria, the mainly fish and seafood restaurant by the pool where lobsters eye you from their tanks and just-as-fresh fish is barbecued metres from your seat.

In evenings, there's upscale EMO, which we didn't sample, and the more casual Anantara lounge, where we experienced fab service (they always bought tiny man's food as soon as it was ready, and furnished him with crayons and the 99%-water "cocktails" that we requested alongside our tequilas!) and great, simple food - we loved the steak sandwich and the Thai menu, which includes vegetable fresh rice rolls and pad thai.
The rooms

The hotel is big, with long straight corridors and lots of room choices: for a couple plus a baby, the rooms will suit well, but with a toddler and a baby or a couple of kids the best option is a deluxe suite (with sliding door to separate out a living area where our toddler slept) or inter-connecting rooms. They're all in top decorative nick (the hotel was, after all, only reopened April 2017), with lots of wood, cork-effects, lovely beds and huge tubs in the bathroom. 

Extra touches

... that stood out included lovely (free) fruit smoothies and fruit kebabs poolside, smiley, helpful service all over the hotel, a bunch of inflatables poolside that the kids loved, the free shuttle to the beach, bright yellow tuktuks that can ferry you around, the safety of the resort - even the tuktuk had car seats for tots, and the local touches. 

Even if you don't leave the hotel much you get a taste of the Algarve as the restaurants are packed with doorstep-ingredients, the decor is typical to the region rather than international-could-be-anywhere-hotel-chic, you're surrounded by local cork and terracota, and there's a Fado singer in the lobby each evening (perfect accompanied by cocktails..).

*We enjoyed a couple of complimentary nights at the hotel but paid for the rest; we're seriously gobby and only rave about places we love.

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