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Guest Blog: Garden of the Algarve By Sophie Hellyer

I don’t travel much these days as a decision to try and lower my carbon footprint, so for my one non-working holiday of the year I thought I’d better make it a pretty special one. I decided last minute to travel to the Macdonald Monchique Resort in the South of Portugal and heres what I found...

My sidekick, the beautiful Charlotte and I, flew Shannon to Faro, and it was too easy. Shannon is less than an hour from my new hometown of Lahinch in County Clare, Ireland, and the flight was less than 3 hours. Once in Faro the transfer was less than an hour on the other side too.

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When we arrived in Portugal we were met in the airport by a black Mercedes with Wifi on board. I was travelling with a shortboard so it was fine, but If you were travelling with longer boards I’d make sure to let the hotel know in advance so they can send an appropriate transfer.

On arrival at our peaceful country hideaway, we instantly absorbed the slower pace of life. Set in the idyllic mountains of Monchique, surrounded by pure green countryside and with views of the Algarve coast, this was a world away from the Algarve’s typical coastal resorts.

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Much to Charlottes delight and the horror of my quads, the gym was open 24 hours a day, with the option of booking personal training sessions. The first evening we were in for an hour and half session with the trainer, who set us up a programme for the week which Charlotte enthusiastically kept up while I opted to lie by the pool with snacks.

We made the most of the hotel, spending two afternoons in the Sensorial Spa, which make use of all the local raw materials, including the local thermal waters. To say the spa was luxury would be an understatement; I’ve never experienced anything like it. There is a sauna with Himalayan Rock Salt, a Steam Cabin, an Aroma Cabin, a Hydro Pool, a Relaxation Pool, themed tropical showers, an Igloo, marble heated loungers and 3 relaxation rooms, and this doesn’t even begin to explain it. The tropical storm scented showers with thunder and lightening and birdsong take you to another world, and the Siberian Blizzard in the igloo room was strangely addictive. We also had facial treatments that incorporated the natural products from the hills.

So, we could easily have spent the whole week without leaving the hotel, with 3 restaurants and plenty of veggie and vegan options in both, but we tried to make the most of our time their and made sure to see the local area too. One lunch time we walked 1km into the spa town of Caldas de Monchique, famous for its healing waters, and filled our water bottles up in the springs. It was so beautiful, quiet and relaxing, the scents of pine and eucalyptus made us feel a million miles from the sun-soaked coast line.

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On the second day some legend from Future Surfing School picked us up in the hotel and took us to Praia do Amado. Charlotte had a couple of surf lessons as part of our surf package, even though the surf was pretty big, she got up and riding pretty quickly and found the instructors coaching really useful. I had a little paddle around, enjoyed the beautiful beach, the local cafes and soaked up some rays. Future Surfing School is located 30 minutes from the west coast of the Algarve, and is perfectly positioned on the south-west corner of the Iberian Peninsula. The Algarve can pick up swells from almost any direction so the advantage with staying at the Monchique and surfing with the guys at Future is that you can go to whichever beach on either coast has the best surf on the day.

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The next morning our surf guide picked us up and took us down to Arrifana where the surf was super clean, fun and rippable. I spent all morning surfing while Charlotte relaxed in the café overlooking the beach with her book. She makes a pretty good surf widow. I was buzzing after my days surfing, and after some lunch went back to the hotel and hung by the pool for a swim and a nap.

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Overall, we found the whole experience exceptional. I found it unusual in such a big hotel to feel the staff were like a little family. From Miguel in the Pizzeria who recommended the best wines, to Joao in the restaurant, who took the time to guide us down to the Pizzeria on our first night and whose smiling face greeted us at dinner every evening, recommending local drinks and deserts. Lovely Carolyn from Loch Lomond in the spa, talking us through the treatments and making sure we got the best deals, and not forgetting Portuguese Paulo, the Irish speaking cocktail maker who surprised us with his Gaelic tongue.

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If you’re looking for a surf package holiday a little different from the most, with a focus on deep relaxation and wellbeing, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Macdonald Monchique.

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