The unusual five-star boutique Bela Vista hotel, not to be confused with the Real Bellavista in Albufeira, is one of a kind and is the only place worth staying in Portimao and neighbouring Lagos, budget-allowing. A stunning relic of the past that has been brought well into the 21st century, with fantastic views of the main beach, Praia da Rocha, and upmarket facilities like a L'Occitane en Provence spa. The only negative aspect of this hotel is its location; set amidst cheap hotels creeping in closer and closer. However, the Bela Vista is a good base to explore the rest of the region from and also a fantastic and intimate setting for ultimate lounging by the pool. The hotel clientele mainly consists of couples on a romantic break or small groups of friends looking for a bit of sun while relaxing in luxurious surroundings, so not recommended for rowdy children.
The Bela Vista is perched high up on the cliff that overlooks the main beach in Portimao's centre, Praia da Rocha, which is crammed with cheap hotels, bars and souvenir shops. The hotel isn't easy to find if you don't know what you're looking for, so look out for a small castle on the coastline as you approach. The street that crosses the small centre is pedestrian, but guests of the hotel can use their cars up to the main gates despite the 'no entry' signs. This is the only way to the hotel.
Portimao is one of the least picturesque areas in the Algarve due to its towering buildings of apartments and looks more like Dubai than Portugal due to the lack of vegetation. However, once in the hotel, the atmosphere is completely different. Guests wanting to explore the area should head to the western coast to spend the day in Sagres, a small sleepy fishing and surfing village. Neighbouring Lagos is also quite ugly as far as Portugal's scenery goes.
The capital of the Algarve, Faro, is about an hour and a half away by car on the N125 and about an hour for drivers with permission to use the A22.
There is complimentary Wi-Fi access throughout the hotel's interiors and exteriors. Guests have access to a private complimentary car-park to the left of the building. The hotel opened in July 2011 and closes from September to March (exact dates must be checked with the hotel directly as these vary from year to year). The rooms in the new wing and the spa have barrier-free facilities for people with restricted movement. The hotel has a no pets policy.
The Bela Vista is a gem in the hotel industry in its own right, and this, despite its unfavourable location for such a high-standard hotel. Originally a family home, the Bela Vista first opened as a hotel particulier in 1918. In 1934, it opened as a three-star hotel of 14 rooms until it was taken over by current management in 2011. The building's long-standing history and the changing surrounding landscape has been really well documented - original photographs tracing the hotel's development hang in the Blue House at the entrance of the property.
Once past the main gates and into the little haven of luxury sealed off from the bustle of the street outside, the hotel's main building, the original late 19th century castle complete with turrets, stands tall on the small site that also comprises a new accommodation wing to the right hand side and the Blue House close to the entrance gates, where there are an extra seven rooms.
The charm of the hotel is largely concentrated in its main building due to the original features and unique restoration by Portuguese designer Graça Viterbo. Clearly marked by the house's history and by the designer's flair, the Bela Vista is a stunning addition to the Algarve's hotel offering.
Up the main stairs into the reception area, the staff was friendly, lively and helpful. Through to the lobby area, where check-in is done with guests, we sat in high-backed Louis armchairs upholstered in heavy blue and yellow velvets, bringing out the colours in the Azulejos, which are elaborate decorative tiles depicting historical scenes and are a typical element of Portuguese culture.
The lobby is a multitude of navy blues and mustard yellows; the Baroque décor is so busy in this area that at first it is difficult to tell where the tiles end and the armchairs begin! However, the flamboyant surroundings grow on you as the elegance and strong character of the hotel unravel each day. The lobby area, complete with the original 19th century grand piano, and the living area with its beautiful fireplace, make the hotel more homely, and more like a wealthy family home, which was Viterbo's aim when it came to designing the interiors.
Cosy and sophisticated, the restaurant adjoins the lobby with interior seating and a large outdoor terrace that runs the entire length of the building. As the building stands on a cliff, the balcony seems to hang in mid-air above the large sweeping sands of the beach below. Stairs lead off to the right, down to the pool area. The pool is lined by a row of palm trees on each side and is surrounded by smart cabanas where guests happily lounge while waiting for the waiter to bring them fancy-looking cocktails. In the evenings, at sunset, a DJ plays what one might describe as a cross between lounge and electro music. For guests wanting to head to the beach, no need to mingle with other tourists outside as there is private access to the beach.
Otherwise, the Bela Vista has a lovely L'Occitane en Provence spa, complimenting the rest of the hotel extremely well. The five-room spa looks fantastic and fresh, which makes a change from the conventional subdued lighting. There is a beautiful and bright relaxation area in turquoise tones with a dominant ocean theme, reflecting the spirit of the rest of the hotel. All products used here are of the high-end French L'Occitane brand and the treatments are excellent. We highly recommend one of the circulation-boosting body massages. Guests having a treatment can also use the indoor pool, steam and sauna in the relaxation area. Although the spa isn't busy in low season, booking at least 24 hours in advance is recommended to avoid disappointment.
With only 38 rooms, the hotel feels intimate while remaining lively enough to create an atmosphere. The rooms are split between the main building, or 'palace' (11 rooms), the new wing (20 rooms) and the Blue House (7 rooms). Our first choice, without a doubt is a palace room. Although the other rooms are beautiful, the atmosphere isn't the same as staying in the 100-year-old castle - especially with its beautiful sea views.
The rooms vary widely across the three areas in size and décor although the facilities remain the same. The new wing is more modern and was added in 2011, when the hotel opened under its current management. The rooms in the Blue House, unlike in the palace, are plainer with more even tones of sea greens. The design of the furniture, although simpler, is in-keeping with the rest of the hotel, giving it that same chic flair and impact. The rooms in the new wing are a lot more conventional in their contemporary design, but all have balconies looking out onto Praia da Rocha.
The bathrooms in all the rooms are spacious and although a few practical aspects like strategically-placed hooks, they are well appointed with a range of L'Occitane beauty products. All rooms have Wi-Fi access, a safe, bathrobes and slippers.
Although we liked the rooms in the new wing and the Blue House, the rooms in the palace have the 'wow-factor' for us. With their unusual décor of navy stripe and mustard yellow, original Portuguese tiling adorning some of the walls, the range of lighting and fabrics used, the rooms have a strong pull and are sure to make an unrivalled impact. These rooms used to be the original master bedrooms, and due to the building being listed, very few changes could be made to the original structure, which gives the palace its unique charm.
Everything, from the creaking floorboards to the restored glass stained windows helps in distinguishing this hotel from any other we have had the privilege of staying at.
The hotel doesn't have an enormous choice of restaurants, but the two options that it does have are worth staying in for at least once during your stay. Breakfast and dinner are served on the terrace (weather-allowing) and there is also indoor seating for guests wishing to stay out of the sun (or wind). Breakfast is a buffet of fresh fruit, cereal, cold cuts and cheeses, while including table service for hot food and freshly-squeezed fruit juices and smoothies. Having breakfast out on the terrace looking out to the sea as far as the eye can see was a great way to start our day, not to mention that the food was delicious.
In the evenings, the restaurant's ambience changes entirely to a more hushed candle-lit affair with an à la carte menu. There is a choice between a menu and à la carte dishes. There is an elaborate international wine list, with an extensive section of Algarvian wines, which come highly-recommended.Although the cuisine here isn't of Michelin-star standard, it is close and deserves a mention for its original combinations and quirky influences. The service was also unusual indeed! Smart, with good postures, the staff surprised us by being forth-coming, friendly and funny! The chef, of Portuguese origin but having lived several years in London, pops out of the kitchen at the end of the evening service to have a casual chat with the remaining diners, which seemed to be greatly appreciated by the clientele.
Although the hotel does not have a private beach, it does put out a few sun-loungers and parasols in the summer months to accommodate its guests, however the beach remains public. It is fairly clean, wide and sandy (as opposed to a shingle or pebble beach). Peak season brings flurries of tourists to Praia da Rocha, meaning that it is a bit crowded, especially with the enormous bar pods that line the beach. To find less crowded spots, the easiest is to follow the coastline and explore the coves along the way! Better to go by car though, as walking around some of the area's built-up areas is tiring and not particularly pleasant.
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