Holidays that combine the finest things in life with local experiences are on the rise as travellers seek more from their getaways. Opulent spas and five-star service are no longer enough for today's globetrotters who are seeking luxury combined with the authenticity of a destination to experience a place like the locals, and Europe's most famous secret, the Algarve, is the perfect place to soak up the best of both worlds on a luxury holiday.
As Portugal's best-known beach resort for well-heeled travellers and golfing aficionados, luxury abounds in the sunny Algarve and with visitors in search of more from their getaways, hotels are keeping up with the growing trend and offering local experiences.
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At the five-star Conrad Algarve, you can immerse yourself in the 'real' Algarve - from the food to the culture - while lapping up the extravagance of a world-class resort. Located in the home of sprawling golf courses, Quinta de Lago, the modern and sophisticated hotel has everything you want from a high-end holiday: the fine dining brought to you by a Michelin-starred chef, one of the most desirable spas in the country and an array of impressive swimming pools.
Golf at Conrad Algarve is a splendid experience as the hotel has access to one of the region's best golf resorts. Quinta do Lago offers three outstanding 18-hole championship courses, with exceptional practice and coaching facilities. PGA golfing pro and the Algarve's very own Ricardo Santos is often spotted teeing off at Conrad Algarve's neighbouring courses, which feature pristine fairways reaching to the Atlantic coast. For the golfing novice, the hotel offers the services of PGA-qualified golf pro Fernando Nogueira, who will give you professional, personal coaching, or can assist seasonal golfers in making reservations on the region's best golf courses.
For intrepid travellers after a truly local experience, you can explore the Algarve that its own people know and love - whether you would like to tour the lesser-known countryside or get to know the region's fascinating traditions. Conrad Algarve's Clam Picking Experience is one of the most unique and exciting adventures in the south of Portugal.
The activity takes place in the heart of natural lagoon Ria Formosa after arriving on a marsh in a deluxe, leather-clad speedboat donning wellington boots and once you have learned the techniques to coax clams out of the sand. It is an incredibly satisfying experience that is fun for guests of all ages. Upon your return to the hotel with a basket of clams, a Conrad chef will demonstrate how to cook the region's famous spaghetti clam dish or a cataplana, a typical Portuguese seafood stew, for you to feast on the day's catch.
If getting out onto the water floats your boat, the hotel can arrange bespoke tours taking in the most unforgettable sites, such as Ilha Deserta, a remote island with some of the Algarve's quietest beaches and just one restaurant Estaminé, which serves up terrific seafood. Culatra is another must-see island where just 400 families reside and the wildlife is abundant. There are no roads on the island but some good restaurants and glorious beaches. Be sure to speak to the hotel concierge about exploring nearby Faro, too. The underrated city is worth visiting for its distinct Portuguese feel, historic old town and bustling restaurants.
While staying at the stylish hotel, you can enjoy a taste of the mountains on a Cork Route Jeep safari as the perfect way to discover parts of the Algarve that you would never find on your own. On a full day excursion, you will cruise past white-washed villages, ancient cork trees and orange groves that are untouched by tourism. A local guide will take you through the history and culture surrounding cork, followed by a visit to the Serra do Caldeirão cork groves, and with knowledgeable guides available to offer you a bespoke experience, you may stop at a river for a swim, or visit a local distillery to taste the famous drink Medronho.
Quinta do Freixo is also an excellent place to visit and sample the array of jams and honey produced on a family farm. As you arrive in the traditional villages, including the Algarve's most typical village Alte, you will spot the intricate chimneys on the houses which date back to the Arab occupation of Portugal, see charming windmills and observe the region's unspoilt scenery.
After a day of exploring, Conrad Algarve is a wonderful place to return and indulge in sophisticated spaces. The spa is an utter sanctuary that offers outstanding treatments, a soothing relaxation room (with WiFi as some guests wish to stay connected wherever they are) and some of the best spa facilities we've come across.
The amazing wet spa features beautiful heated loungers, a vitality pool with individual massage stations and a spacious sauna with natural sunlight. Try the Conrad Signature Aromatherapy Facial, a blissful treatment that gives you a great glow. The facialist uses lymphatic drainage, relaxing massage and shiatsu techniques to improve blood circulation, with rose and lavender oils for their renewing and calming properties.
Gourmands will love dining at the hotel, where authentic and creative culinary experiences are not to be missed. At Gusto, there is modern Mediterranean cuisine inspired by Michelin-starred chef Heinz Beck and a lively, vibrant setting. The innovative dishes include Beck's signature Fagottelli Cabonara and passata of tomato with carabineiro prawn and quinoa, plus there is a unique selection of Portuguese and international wines to try. Louro serves typical Portuguese dishes, including piri piri chicken and cataplana, while Lago Lounge is a relaxing place to enjoy afternoon tea, with Sri Lankan teas and delicious patisserie delights available.
The rooms at Conrad Algarve are also divine. Contemporary, light and airy, with fine, elegant touches, the Grand Deluxe Rooms provide a heavenly night's sleep. They feature decadent brown marble rain showers, separate bath tubs with televisions and a sliding door to separate the bathroom or have it open plan, if you prefer. His and hers sinks in the bathroom add the perfect touch for couples, while the comfortable bed is ideal for sinking into after a day of golf or exploring the Algarve. To ensure you benefit from the beautiful weather, there is a large balcony with seating to enjoy an al-fresco breakfast or relax with a coffee from the in-room Nespresso machine. And the super-soft cotton robes and slippers allow you to enjoy a taste of the spa in your room.
Book it: Rates at Conrad Algarve during high season start from 440 euros per night in a Deluxe Room. The Conrad Signature Aromatherapy Facial costs 89 euros.