Vilamoura Marina, the crown jewel of the Algarve
As a first time visitor to the Algarve, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, I was expecting warm weather, clear skies, beaches galore and a sunburned tourist or ten. But maybe what I wasn’t expecting was the town of Vilamoura, let alone its breathtaking marina.
Staying close to the sleepy Portuguese town of Lagoa and the tourist hotbed that is Carvoeiro, with its cheap bars and beautiful beach, I first thought I was in the perfect position to splash around in both sides of the same Algarve . One, a more authentic insight into life in southern Portugal, the other, an image of what many people across Europe conjure up when they think of the word ‘holiday’. But little did I know there was a third option: a chic, quaint coastal town with some of the richest and most opulent patrons in the Algarve.
This is where Vilamoura comes in. Lined with trimmed hedges and trees in Mediterranean (or maybe Malibu) fashion, the streets of Vilamoura are in pristine condition, and so are the cars that pass through them. We no longer drive next to the regular old cars from the 90s, 00s and beyond that most of us drive around in, but rather Teslas, Porsches and Mercedes – all of which are chiffon and have maximum three years. .
Once in the city proper, the sun shines between the multi-story luxury hotels, many of which are rated 5 stars, including the Hilton, Tivoli and Crown Plaza hotels, which seem like juggernauts compared to anything else. found in Lagoa or Caroveiro. For those less prone to tanning, like myself, the blocky shadows cast by said hotels provide excellent relief from the sun.
We park the car in a modest McDonald’s car park before driving down to the marina, past Casino Vilamoura, before finally arriving at our seaside destination. The marina is full of yachts and boats of all shapes and sizes sitting in a tightly enclosed space that opens onto a sparkling and tranquil Atlantic Ocean. The yachts are mostly pearly white in color, but some come in shades of black and gray, making them look a bit like spaceships. At the top of each ship are the flags of their undoubtedly wealthy owners: Portugal, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, among others.
We pass a plethora of businesses which, somewhat surprisingly, are not unlike those you might find in any other tourist town in the Algarve: outdoor restaurants, ice cream parlors, souvenir shops and of course, Irish pubs.
Then we come to Sunseeker, a yacht charter company with a marina storefront and minibar. The company is preparing for the next (at the time) Vilamoura Boat Show, an annual event where a number of boat and yacht companies display their stock to eager spectators. Each company has its own white tent, which is erected as we pass through the marina. But then I was able to experience something that I had never experienced before and certainly did not expect when I arrived in the Algarve. I have the chance to take a ride on one of Sunseeker’s luxury yachts.
The DILLIGAF San Remo 485, to be more precise. It’s beautiful and immaculate, a standard they uphold by asking all of us to board to take off our shoes and leave them at the marina. The interior of the yacht contains a descending staircase which leads to a beautiful kitchen and a living room, next to which there is a bathroom and a double bedroom.
We leave the marina and set sail. The roof is open and the sun is dazzling us. Some parts of the yacht are hot under our feet. We travel along the incredible coastline of the Algarve and witness a full view of one of its most beautiful beaches: Praia da Falésia. Its radiant sands are backed by sheer cliffs a vivid rusty red color – it looks like Martian.
After a cool and refreshing ride in the yacht, we arrive at the marina and are given our shoes back before heading back to the car. While the Covid-19 pandemic may have had a devastating effect on tourism in the Algarve, leaving the future of the region in a precarious position, one thing is certain: Vilamoura is back in full swing.