Scotland on Sunday travel
Its reputation is as an Algarvian playground for the rich and famous, but even if you don’t play golf, Quinta do Lago is the perfect place for a luxury getaway with the family.
Just a 30-minute drive from Faro Airport, we based ourselves at the quirky – and très Instagrammable – Magnolia Hotel for our short stay in Portugal. Styled like American motels of the 1950s, with neon lighting, colourful prints and tropical hues, we stayed in one of the hotel’s equally photogenic bright pastel-coloured cottages. Spacious and comfortable, the self-catering option was perfect for my family and complimentary homemade lemonade, fruit and shortbread biscuits on arrival were a nice touch.
I travelled with two young children and found the hotel well-suited to our needs, with an outdoor heated swimming pool and a games room with ping pong table and games consoles. The Magnolia also offered us the use of complimentary bicycles, and there was a breakfast buffet with endless pastries and fresh fruit situated close to the resort’s main amenities.
Keen to take advantage of the sports facilities on offer, we booked in for a group padel class, at The Campus, a multi-sports complex just a five-minute drive away from the hotel, where Judy Murray runs a tennis camp during school holidays. Our enthusiastic instructor taught us the basics of the sport – best described as a tennis-squash hybrid – and the atmosphere was relaxed. Lunch at the family-friendly Dano’s Sports Bar and Restaurant was top-notch fresh calamari and salad.
We spent the rest of the afternoon trialling watersports on offer at The Lake, a small beach where we took the mini jet skis and paddle boats for a spin. The enclosed lake felt safe for children, with members of staff on hand to offer tips and safety advice.
For dinner on our first evening we went to one of the resort’s most well-known eateries, the Bovino Steakhouse. After a quick read on Trip Advisor before I arrived, I could already tell this was going to be special: “Wonderful experience,” “Superb menu”, “Best service I’ve ever had”, the positive reviews came in thick and fast, and we were not disappointed. After a starter of succulent langoustines we all enjoyed various steaks and fish from the menu. The portions were huge and the food delicious.
There’s no getting away from the fact Quinta do Lago is a millionaires’ playground, with some of the most expensive properties in Portugal. A family villa sells for upwards of £5 million, with the Beckhams, the Rooneys and Ant and Dec all fans of Portugal’s southern coast. It’s also one of Europe’s sunniest spots and has a huge number of top-rated golf courses.
Even the immaculate mini golf course was impressive, with famous holes, including Augusta, The Belfry and Sawgrass, replicated in miniature form, much to the delight of my children, who both proclaimed a round on the course their favourite activity of the trip.
After devouring wood-fired pizzas at family café Kokos, we took a short bike ride to spend some time in the unspoilt Ria Formosa Nature Park, with salt marshes, islands and lagoons. Endangered species including the seahorse and the European pond turtle thrive in the reserve, as well as more than 200 species of birds. Unfortunately, despite being the right season, we didn’t manage to spot any brightly coloured Greater Flamingos, but we all enjoyed our walk around the tranquil park.
Next we took advantage of the mild October weather to dine at The Shack, a laid-back restaurant with plentiful local seafood. Despite being more casual than some of the other options in Quinta do Lago, such as the Casa Velha, the eatery does have its own private beach – and is apparently a favourite of Coleen Rooney and her brood. The lake-side location let my children run free while we waited for our food to arrive on rustic decking by the water. We enjoyed fresh fish, tortilla chips with dips and meat skewers with salad. The perfect end to the day.
After an action-packed two days we decided to take a break and enjoy the hotel facilities. The outdoor hotel pool at The Magnolia was warm and we spent time relaxing on sun loungers and ordering some light bites from the retro snack bar. At my son’s insistence we spent an hour in the hotel’s games room, where the ping pong table and Xbox proved too much for a nine-year-old to resist. In the summer months The Magnolia also puts on popcorn and movie nights for guests.
Dragging my son away from the games consoles, we took a short stroll to a nearby shopping complex where we picked up local trinkets and snacks before eating our lunch on the pretty patio outside our cottage.A freak Autumn storm put paid to our plans for an evening cycle, but gave us the perfect excuse to chill out inside, ordering pasta and pizzas from the extensive room service menu.
The sun shone down on our last morning in Portugal, giving us time for a final dip in the hotel pool before dragging ourselves back to the airport.
Despite its well-earned reputation as a rich golfers’ haven, I found Quinta do Lago had so much more to offer us for a family-friendly mini break.
Clockwise from top left: The Campus; padel courts; sunset on Ria Formosa bridge; fine dining at Casa Velha; the Quinta do Lago clubhouse. Main photograph: Fernando Fragata
The Family Cottages at The Magnolia Hotel are available from €216/£188 per night on a B&B basis (themagnoliahotelqdl.com ; +351 289 390 705, 289 005 300).