Luxury in Alentejo and the Algarve with Tivoli Hotels
Words by Amira Arasteh
Growing up, my association with Portugal was that all my classmates who didn’t drive down to Cornwall with Nanny and Grandad for the summer holidayed there. More specifically, the Algarve. I had never been but fifteen years later and I was en route to the Algarve itself.
I think the Algarve is a great introduction to the country; good food, good wine, sunshine and beautiful landscapes. I was staying with the Tivoli Hotel group in their Carvoeiro resort. I had it on good authority (from my Portuguese friend) that Carvoeiro is one of the less touristic towns in Portugal’s southernmost region.
Tivoli Carvoeiro’s foyer was a bit of an oxymoron. On the one hand, it was impressive; a grand entrance with light spilling in from outside and a screen of blue, visible from the glass windows at the end of the room. On the other hand, there was a sense of simplicity about the large central space; its white walls emphasising its size but maintaining a minimalist setting.
The grandeur did not stop there; upon walking out onto the terrace and seeing the private beautiful grounds and the cliff drop leading down to what I imagined to be an equally beautiful private cove. I say imagined because it was not visible from where I was standing; only the deep blue of the sea with pools of sunshine highlighting the waves.
The grounds at Tivoli Carvoeiro are stunning. The hotel is curved towards the sea so almost every room has a gorgeous view of the ocean and the pool area is interwoven with trees and greenery. Tivoli host several wedding services throughout the year, not to my surprise, and although I contemplated crashing the one that was being held during my visit, watching it as the sun set from the Sky Bar gave me an even better view.
The passion fruit and pear cocktails go down quite the treat too. After a hard day of lounging by the pool, soaking up the sun’s rays, a relaxing massage was exactly what the doctor ordered. Tivoli Carvoeiro’s spa is tranquil and serene, mirroring the decor of the rest of the hotel but with a calmer atmosphere. My massage was heavenly and afterwards I enjoyed a green tea with dried fruit and nuts as I sat in peace in the ‘quiet room’.
Food in this region of Portugal is spectacular. You’re as close as can be to the ocean; fresh fish is a staple on the menu and all meals are accompanied by some of the best wine. No one really speaks of the Portuguese and their wine but I definitely left the country with more of it running through my veins than when I arrived. Dishes such as seafood cataplana at the Med Food and Wine was a colourful and tasty delight and the fresh fish was also delicious, the sea bass being memorable.
The Portuguese also seem to like their mousse for dessert, as I sampled chocolate and mint, strawberry and lemon. No complaints from me. There is also The One Gourmet restaurant which offers a slightly finer dining concept; we had to balance it out of course so during our meal here, we had our fancy duck magret and gin and tonic granita before playing a round of Heads Up. If you fancy a casual poolside lunch, head to the Mare Bistro where said famous sea bass was eaten and a bowl of bottomless clams were thoroughly enjoyed.
One might worry about being cut off in this part of the Algarve but it’s only a ten minute stroll into the nearest beach town, where you can find a myriad of cork-made goods (native to the locals and more so to the neighbouring region of Evora, where the other Tivoli hotel is located) and more beaches and boardwalks and, most importantly, bakeries for pasteis de nata. I must have eaten a hundred of the Portuguese custard tarts this trip and I have no regrets.
On the subject of cork goods, it really is worth making a trip to Evora. Whilst not on the coast, it does not stop you enjoying the gorgeous weather Portugal has to offer, with temperatures hitting high 40s in the middle of summer. I visited slightly before this time so avoided the scorching hot sun, but you can visit the region of Alentejo throughout the year as it is inland so visitors are not dependent on sunshine and the beach for a successful holiday.
We stayed at Tivoli Evora, an ecoresort. The entire central building is made from cork, a natural material to the area, and perfect for ensuring insulation. The hotel is eco-conscious as well, providing glass bottles (something I immediately noticed) for at bedtime and advocating the use of local resources and craftwork. For example, the hotel walls were adorned with local cowbells – a boxy type that is signature to the region – and next to the physical items are framed photographs of the products being made.
In Carvoeiro, we were taken on a tour of the Seven Hanging Valleys and our tour guide, Fabio from Alagarfun, truly made the day. Such stunning views, I must have taken a thousand pictures and still was in awe as we turned the corner to see more beautiful landscape. A leisurely walk around the cliffs, I never tired of seeing the golden rocks and turquoise waters. I’d have loved to kayak further down but it’s nice to have something to save for next time.
In Evora, the activities were slightly different, including a tour of the city centre, which allowed us to see sights such as the cathedral and learn interesting facts for instance, the markings you sometimes see on stone buildings are not random; they used to be how workers would ensure they got paid for their efforts. One for your next dinner party, thank me later.
We also visited the shop-lined streets, soaking up the local culture, which bring some back to those cork bags. Cork is native to the Alentejo region, particularly in Evora, and much of the local goods produced as souvenirs and trinkets for tourists are made from the natural material too. I didn’t really believe that cork bikinis existed when our hotel concierge told us, until I saw them with my own eyes. Unique, for sure, but I opted for a lovely cork bucket bag instead. Slightly more practical, I felt.
I was advised on eating meat dishes, being away from the sea. There was a traditional egg and sausage dish to start the meal before I tucked into pork cheeks and a rack of lamb – choosing on holiday is pointless. But the real star of the show was the pumpkin fondant. You know when someone raves about a dish and it’s underwhelming at the first bite because they’ve overhyped? Not at all the case with this pumpkin fondant.
A soft, sweet cake with a pool of pumpkin syrup pouring onto my plate as my fork pierced the sponge, as if a floodgate had opened. I’d have happily drowned in this sauce. A scoop of olive oil ice cream sat on the side and the contrast in flavour was very welcome, complementing the richness of the pumpkin fondant sauce. Is there any better marriage than a hot sponge cake enriched with a syrup or sauce and cold, buttery ice cream? I can’t think of one but I’ll wait for you to try. The hotel prides itself of sourcing its ingredients from local farmers and producers, as well as growing their herbs and spices on site.
Thoughts from my first trip to Portugal? Gorgeous weather, stunning views and I’m leaving 10kg heavier and happier.
Nightly rates at Tivoli Carvoeiro Algarve Resort start from £89 for a double room on B&B basis.
Nightly rates at Tivoli Evora Ecoresort start from £64 for a premier suite on B&B basis.
For more information, visit tivolihotels.com