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Paradise found as luxury and nature meet in the Algarve

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“Welcome to paradise.” It is the type of well-worn comment you’d expect when you are visiting a travel resort. But after the third person, someone completely unconnected to the place, volunteered the phrase with a broad smile, looking into my eyes to see if I truly understood, that it began to sink in that this was not just a throwaway line used on tourists – they actually meant it.

My family of four had just landed on a flight from Edinburgh to Faro, a three-hour journey that felt shorter, and we had been driven to the nearby Quinta do Lago, a sprawling luxury lifestyle resort set amongst Portugal’s Ria Formosa nature reserve. The sun was shining, the temperature a beautiful 26C as we checked into Quinta’s boutique Magnolia Hotel on a late-September morning. The Magnolia, with its 1950s-style neon sign, complete with a capped swimmer stretched out on top, is the epitome of retro chic. Inside the lobby, the theme continues, with stylish furniture putting you in mind of an upmarket Palm Springs motor hotel.

Beneath striped lollipop-yellow umbrellas, guests lazed by the pretty pool, sipping cocktails and chatting. It was 11am and I was beginning to get the feeling that this place was not quite like your normal hotel.

“You are just arriving at paradise, and I am leaving,” said a glamorous-looking guest when we crossed paths at reception. That phrase again.

After check in, we take a drive through the resort. Amongst the lush green lawns, palm trees and immaculate golf courses, little activity hubs appear, with people eating at luxurious restaurants, practising golf at a driving range or relaxing in a cabana after swimming in the lake. Further in we see spectacular mansions that wouldn’t be out of place in the Hollywood hills. Indeed, owning a home here, one of Europe’s most sought-after residential addresses, has become a smart move for those whose wallets are deep enough to afford the more than 
£2 million average property price tag.

We visit The Campus, Quinta’s high-performance sports complex. The perfectly manicured entrance leads us towards modern barn-style buildings that house everything from a spa and wellness area to ultra-modern gym and yoga studios and on to the outdoor football pitch, tennis courts and that latest craze of padel (which is very similar to pickleball). Here, tourists can mix with elite sports stars on a training camp or sport-obsessed locals out for their daily fix.

We have a family game of tennis before stopping for a fantastic lunch at Campus’ sports bar and restaurant, Dano’s.

The next day, we head to The Shack, Quinta’s most laid-back destination. The restaurant is a wooden beach hut style affair that juts out into the water of the lake that gives Quinta do Lago its name. After a lunch of fresh seafood we hang out by the lush beachside cabanas before walking a few short steps to The Lake, where the whole family don life vests and our two girls take on the inflatable obstacle course. Jumping in and out of the salty water as the temperature creeps up to 30C, the cold and wet days of September in the UK feel like a world away.

We dry off and drive to the bottom end of Quinta, where the Ria Formosa stretches out in front of us. The nature reserve is a giant network of islands that lead out to the Atlantic Ocean. There we meet Ricardo Correia, a biologist with conservation group Vita Nativa. He points to a long wooden bridge spanning the waters of the Ria Formosa. On it, beachgoers head to the golden sands and the shimmering sea. But below, sea life of all varieties dives in and out of the shallows. It is low tide, and a father and son are up to their knees in the rich dark mud collecting clams, among the best and most prized delicacies in Portugal, Ricardo tells us.

“To preserve ecosystem, they are only allowed to collect 150 grams a day each,” he explains.

Preservation is everything at the Ria Formosa. Indeed, when it was founded, Ria Formosa was Portugal’s first nature reserve. Ricardo explains the many initiatives Vita Nativa are involved in, from the drive to shelter migratory birds in the waterways to the efforts to protect the fragile and elusive chameleons that live among the bushes along the banks of the estuary.

“The chameleons are almost impossible to see during the day because they are so camouflaged,” Ricardo, a fountain of knowledge on all things nature, tells me and my young daughters. Being big fans of the movie Tangled, where Rapunzel has a pet chameleon, they get more than a little excited about the prospect of seeing one in real life. “At night, they rest in the bushes here and their bodies relax, so if you shine a torch, you will see them light up as a light green or yellow.”

At face value, Quinta do Lago and the Ria Formosa are an unlikely pair. One on hand, you have the hyper-luxury Quinta, on the other, the rustic environmentalist ideals of the nature reserve. But here in the sun-drenched Algarve, they have developed a unique symbiosis. Quinta devotes a huge amount of effort to ensuring its footprint on this fragile ecosystem is as light as possible. Indeed Quinta’s masterplan means that only 9% of the land will ever be developed, with the rest left to the bountiful nature.

Nowhere is this harmony more keenly felt than at Casa Velha, the traditional Portuguese restaurant that provided the location for the genesis of the resort. It was here that in 1970 property developer André Jordan in his own words “looked out across the marshlands and had a vision of what would become the Quinta do Lago”.

Just like the lemon and olive trees in the courtyard, Casa Velha has grown into something truly beautiful. The traditional farmhouse architecture is in perfect balance with the fine dining version of traditional Portuguese flavours.

After dinner, the sun dips behind the sand dunes separating the Ria Formosa from the crashing Atlantic and we are treated to a spectacular golden-orange sunset. As the light fades, we take a walk back towards the sandy waterfront and stroll along the boardwalk that lines the nature reserve. The temperature is perfect and as we walk, I pull out my phone and turn the torch on. There in the spotlight, a bright green spot flares on the fringes of a bush. My girls go crazy as they stare at a tiny green chameleon. We might not have millions to afford a property here but experiencing this moment of joy with my family is priceless and, to me, that is paradise.


The Magnolia Hotel (; +351 289 005300) offers a Standard Double Room from €157/£139 on a B&B basis. The Family Cottages are available from €309/£273 per night on a B&B basis.


Quinta do Lago is famed for its golf courses. The resort is home to three championship courses, the Laranjal, Quinta do Lago North and Quinta do Lago South as well as the nearby Pinheiros Altos and San Lorenzo. On top of that, there are excellent practice facilities. I had a lesson the Paul McGinley Golf Centre with professional Tomás Carlota. Tomás used the latest technology to show me areas of improvement for my game – there are a lot.