As we crossed the wooden bridge, the soothing sound of the Atlantic Ocean slowly filled our ears. Then I finally blinked at something I had been waiting a while to see.
I have been to countless beaches, but this one was special. It was the pristine Praia da Quinta do Lago beach in Portugal, and more importantly, it wasn’t just any day – it was Christmas morning.
My wife Rachel and I decided to get away from the seasonal stress and, with our daughters Isla and Evelyn, swapped sleet and snow for sand and shells, and battered brollies for umbrella pines. Our destination was the seaside resort of Quinta do Lago, a 20 minute drive from Faro airport on the sun drenched Algarve.
Quinta was founded half a century ago by real estate developer André Jordan. Rumor has it that he sat on a hill near an old stone farmhouse one sunny day and dreamed of a place where velvety green golf courses were woven between white villas immaculate overlooking the Atlantic and the Ria Formosa lagoon.
Half a century later, Quinta represents one of the three corners of the “Golden Triangle” of the Algarve, together with the seaside resort of Vilamoura and the village of Almancil. A playground for the rich and famous, the area is regularly visited by sports stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Rory McIlroy, and celebrities such as Niall Horan and Madonna.
Nestled in the heart of the Quinta development is Four Seasons Fairways. Combining the space and privacy of a self-contained apartment complex with the luxury of a five-star resort, FSF prides itself on “home from home” hospitality. Over the past two years it has undergone a complete refurbishment, the results are spectacular – sunset colors and a cool minimalist style complement the traditional Portuguese architecture.
We settled into a family apartment with two large bedrooms, three bathrooms and an open-plan kitchen. When we arrived the groceries we had ordered from the mini market before leaving England were in the fridge. On the terracotta terrace we made a gas barbecue. One afternoon, we ordered sausages and burgers from the restaurant to sauté them on the grill.
Our large hot tub was ideal for a dip, and there’s a full list of English, Irish and sports channels on the TVs inside.
The newly renovated clubhouse features indoor and outdoor heated pools, sauna, steam room, gym and kids club. Meanwhile, the pool hall is a great place for kids like Isla and Evelyn.
You’re probably thinking this all sounds pricey, but with a family break at the FSF less than an equivalent holiday park break in the UK, it’s a cinch. The resort is also ideal for health and well-being. Amy Williams took over from Helen Glover as the resort’s Active Living Ambassador last year, and guests can join the Olympic skeleton gold medalist for select weeks for lessons and training.
Breakfast is served at Fairways’ Vivo restaurant, which also offers poolside snacks, lunches and cocktails. Its evening menu is more extensive, with specialties of homemade pizzas over a wood fire, sea bass and fillet of beef. There is live music almost every night. We had a delicious Christmas lunch at the a la carte restaurant, Amara. Gazing out over the golf course through floor-to-ceiling windows, we enjoyed a buffet of salads, soups, roast turkeys and desserts, washed down with bubbles.
Beyond the FSF grounds, there is plenty to do. Public transport isn’t much of an option in Quinta, but most places are within walking or biking distance. Just up Avenida André Jordan is Quinta Shopping, a mall with fashion boutiques and restaurants, including the gourmet/Irish bar Cheeky Pup. Walking down Avenida Ayrton Senna, past some of Quinta’s most spectacular villas, is The Campus sports facility, with Dano’s sports bar on site.
Our morning walk took us over the spectacular bridge and boardwalk spanning the marshes of Rio Formosa. After the girls bathed in the ocean, we returned to the hiking area of Passadico do Ancao. For those with a car, Vilamoura and Almancil are excellent outings, as is the ‘Pearl of the Algarve’, Faro.
You can’t really visit southern Portugal without a bit of golf. After hitting a few balls on the Paul McGinley Academy course, I played a round at Quinta South, included in the ‘Best Courses in Europe’ lists. Its breathtaking signature hole, the 15th, is one of the most photographed in the Algarve and requires players to hit a challenging tee shot 200m above a lake onto a pine-shaded green and palm trees. FSF residents receive discounts on green fees at local courses. During our stay, the Four Seasons Fairways Masters was taking place, we were invited to the gala dinner following the tournament.
Our family trip to Portugal left us with unforgettable festive memories. On our last day the temperature was in the 20’s, I watched from the terrace over the manicured lawns under the umbrella pines, the peace only broken by a chirping sparrow. As I took a sip of my most famous seasonal port in Portugal, it felt like all my Christmases had arrived at once.
* Richard Jones and his family were guests at the Four Seasons Fairways at Quinta do Lago in southern Portugal (fourseasonsfairways.com). It’s offering seven nights in a three-bed villa (sleeps six) with private pool, self-contained, from £1,086, based on travel in November 2022, excluding transfers or flights. Head to jet2.com for flights to Faro, from November from £112 pp return.