Instead of harping on about what is wrong with the global tourism industry as we usually do, this week, we have chosen to focus on a positive aspect. More and more tourists holidaying in the Algarve, south Portugal, are starting to realise that with 90 euro a night (rack rate), they don't have to share their swimming pool with 400 other tourists and their screeching children.
Perhaps a by-product of the recession, perhaps just a change in what people need, but during our last visit to the region, we were surprised at the steady rise in numbers of British holidaymakers moving away from resort hotels found in certain regions of the Algarve like Albufeira and Vilamoura. The latter areas are still extremely popular; it is here that mass tourism thrives throughout a good part of the year. However, smaller environmentally-focused guesthouses are starting to give resorts a run for their rates.
Resorts have felt the repercussions of the financial crisis in bookings, and this, despite a seemingly never-ending reduction in room rates. While rates have fallen, the Algarve's more rural guesthouses are seeing a surge in popularity with holidaymakers. An increase in Britons seeking an alternative to lying around a crowded pool all day long while ingesting huge amounts of free maple syrup drenched pancakes and watered-down cola from the all-day snack bar, is being felt by independent hotel owners.
These quaint and more intimate guesthouses might not have a gym, a spa, sauna, Turkish bath or a kids' club and there certainly won't be an all-inclusive formula, but one cannot argue with the irresistible draw of there ever only being a maximum of 10 people at the pool, or of being surrounded by orange and lemon groves, having breakfast in bed with the sliding doors thrown open looking over rolling green hills as far as the eye can see. Add the fresh homemade products at meal times, good wine, and the ultimate tranquillity reigning in the well-planted wild gardens, and you've got a winning formula. The Italian, Dutch and French are already firm followers of this more relaxed type of holiday, but it is taking time to catch on with Brits.
Lately however, it seems that the crisis is pushing Britons to explore further than the resort stay, which let's admit, can more often than not, be more hectic than if you had stayed at home in your back-yard! With endless queues for mediocre food at 'international' buffets, fully-booked spas, crowded pools, a lack of sun loungers, noisy neighbours, rowdy children and hollow repetitive dance music blaring over the speakers all day long, it's a wonder that we are only just clocking-on to what our pound sterling could buy in the Algarve. And with Brits being able to afford less holidays a year, quality seems to have a stronger pull over bargain prices for some.
An upmarket selection of converted farmhouses, or quintas, are popping up all over the region, like Vilacampina (Tavira de Luz), Casa Beleza do Sul (Tavira), Vila Joya (Praia Galé), Quinta da Cebolha Vermelha (Boliqueime), and the list is endless (see a non-exhaustible list here). All offering a high-quality 'lifestyle' product that comes at very good-value especially in low season - September is the best time to make the most of the region; rates are low, the weather is warm and the sea has had all summer to heat up.
Often set in a dream location, a week at any one of the Algarve's guesthouses is a week well spent - the impact on guests' mind-set is incomparable to that of the guests' mindset staying at a resort by the end of their holiday.
Not only is the entire experience more pleasant, but travellers can leave feeling that they have interacted with the local scene. With most guesthouses only offering bed and breakfast, guests venture outside the hotel into the surrounding village or town for lunch and dinner. Not only does this expand tourists' horizons beyond the hotel pool, but it also boosts the local economy, which is something money-hungry hotel developers often sacrifice for a higher profit margin.
Our final word to you is whether you have a family or you are looking for somewhere to spend quality time with a partner, try the alternative to resort hotels - if the bulk of your holidays have been spent at resorts, you are in for a surprise.
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