Spa Valley, Portugal
Located amongst vineyards, high on a hill overlooking the River Douro, the Six Senses Douro Valley is in the rustic north of Portugal. In front of the entrance, we meet Agua, a beautiful dog curled up in her basket who, we later learn, turned up one day and, as the owner could not be found, was allowed to stay on. I’m soon wondering if I can pull the same trick.
Inside, the hotel has a lovely, welcoming energy. Floor-to-ceiling windows invite the light in and the decor is modern and colourful with an impressive selection of art. It’s a visual feast, but every sense is catered to – that’s the Six Senses’ ethos. So you’ll find the sheets on your bed are made from the finest eco-cotton and feel like silk. The scent of lemongrass lingers in the corridors. Every meal, including the plant-based detox programme, gives your taste buds the full dance party of flavours and your massage begins and ends with a chime of a Tibetan bowl.
The Best Hotel Spa in Portugal Photo Gallery
What really sets Six Senses apart from other luxury spa hotels is just how deep its commitment to wellbeing runs. When they took over this hotel, not only did the owners fully remodel the interiors of the original 19th century manor house with earthy sustainable materials, they ‘The spa is sensational – the ceiling soars high above the indoor pool and the room is flooded with light” converted the tennis court into an organic vegetable garden. It’s perhaps no surprise the hotel has become a magnet to stylish spa aficionados from around the globe.
We begin our spa trip with yoga nidra a meditation requiring nothing more of you than to lie still and fully relax, focusing on your breath as you’re led through a visualisation in an incense-infused room. The rewards are deep and long lasting. After yoga, I explore the spa, beginning with the reception area, which doubles as a shop filled with elegantly rustic cashmere, sunglasses made from local stone and eco body lotions. Flickering candles cover every surface. From here, you descend the wooden staircase past a lush living wall covered in tropical plants to the Alchemy Bar, where large pestle and mortars sit on a table surrounded by shelves of oils and bottles. Here, we take a class to create a natural citrus body scrub, grating the zest of locally grown lemon and orange info the salt before adding drops of essential oils and almond or olive oil.
The spa itself is sensational. The ceiling soars high above the indoor pool where terrazzo tiles shimmer like the scales of tiny fish and the room is flooded with light. The ‘tropical rain’ shower in the sauna area offers big pregnant droplets splashing over your body. There are a number of saunas: one with a glass wall overlooking the forest, a cooler one with herbs presented on trays, another with a rainbow of soothing lights and a satisfyingly hot steam room. Then there’s the infra-red sauna, which promises to burn 600 calories in half an hour…
Sara Miller Flamingo Silk Eye Mask, £25; daisypark.co.uk
Know someone who doesn’t sleep well? Or perhaps they travel a lot? We have just the gift tor them!
Sara Miller’s beautiful silk eye masks are lightly padded for comfort and come in a pretty presentation box, making a luxurious treat. If pink’s not the recipient’s thing, there’s an equally beautiful Swans design, with a background of dark grey/brown, which comes in a coordinating box. The covered elasticated strap’s kind to hair, while silk is gentle on skin and helps retain moisture around the delicate eye area. The eye masks measure 21cm x 9.5cm, so work well to block out light. Can you feel that restorative afternoon nap beckoning?
The Vale d’Abraâo Dining Room, the hotel’s main restaurant, specialises in traditional Portuguese dishes, but if you’ve come to shape up on the Trim & Fit programme, or to off-load pollutants with the Cleanse & Detox, the food is just as delicious. The first night, we dine on vegetarian sharing plates offering avocado guacamole with garden herbs, goats cheese, raisins and seeds through to a puffed-barley risotto with truffles and mushrooms, so extraordinary I beg for the recipe. Lunch the next day is from the detox cleanse menu, low on calories but high on flavour, offering dishes such as a deliciously punchy beetroot carpaccio. The dietary programmes are based on the principles of Dr Stephen Gundry, one of the world’s experts on the Exercise may be good for the body, I but it’s not always kind on the feet = and it’s shameful how little TLC = we give them. Enter Margaret Dabbs = Medical Pedicure, a saviour of a A treatment combining medical = podiatry with the finishing touches Fi of a pedicure.
‘Reclining on the luxurious = treatment couch in a private = consultation room, I hold my breath = as I reveal my hoof-like feet to podiatrist Paula. Fortunately, Paula I – an experienced practitioner with a _ wealth of handy tips – has seen it all = before. Expertly examining the dry = skin and discoloured nails, she announces that trauma (from injury = or badly fitting trainers) has damaged “ my big toenails, allowing infection to = creep in. This potentially requires microbiome, and a strong advocate of eating seasonal, organic produce with good tats and, controversially, excluding lectins, plant proteins found in tomatoes and peppers, said to cause inflammation.
In the mornings, we walk off breakfast with a hike through the beautiful vineyards. In the summer, you can kayak on the river topical and laser treatment to cure £ but, for now, Paula gets to work, F cutting and cleaning my nails with T super-effective tools. She removes dry skin with a scalpel (for targeted F precision) and diamond foot file. She E then buffs everything up using an -electric sander. Problems such as = bunions, verrucae or gait issues would also be dealt with here. It’s all done = on dry feet as soaking them makes the skin too elastic and increases chance of cross-contamination.
The next day, we head to The Campus, an H&F art director Lucy Pinto gets a taste of the latest sports facilities in Portugal’s stunning Algarve.
Arriving at the hotel, I spot the beautiful array of bikes at the front and ask the hotel if we can hire them. You can – free of charge – bonus! The hotel is both vibrant and elegant, with a clean, contemporary design, heated saltwater outdoor pool and a spa and wellness centre where you can choose from an array of treatments, including tennis- and golf-specific massages. There’s also a well-equipped gym. After dropping our bags in our room, which is small but with everything you need, we get our bearings and sit down for a light bite in the restaurant area, gazing out to the pool in the sunshine.
That evening, we head to the top-notch Bovine Steakhouse, just a short drive away in the Quinto do Lago complex. I’m pescatarian, but the reviews made it a must-visit and, afterwards, Giles tells me it’s the best steak he has ever eaten. My grilled grouper fillet is equally divine. The setting and service is second to none and it’s a very special experience.
Riving through Faro on our way to our hotel, fond memories of past trips to this beautiful country pass through my head. Having travelled here many times to surf, I climb and bike ride, my partner ^iies and I know Portugal well – or so we think… This time, we’re on our way to The Magnolia Hotel tor a much needed break. Set in a leafy area near Faro, this relaxed,1950s America-style hotel is handily placed, t turns out, just outside the private esort of Quinta do Lago, and a mere 5km from Faro Airport.
The nearer to the hotel we drive, the more lavish the area becomes. Gone are the more traditional wood and tiled houses and small village stores with the owner relaxing outside that we’ve seen st visits to the country. Quinta is tamed tor its luxurious residences and mat; golf courses as well as the beautiful Atlantic coastline, and we can see why. ‘Weiccme to Quinta do Lago,’ our taxi centre aims to offer professional-level training and coaching to everyone – no matter your level. With a high-performance gym, aquatic centre, rehabilitation area, tennis and padel courts, plus The Bike Shed, from where you can head out on guided road rides and longer tours, it covers a lot of bases. The facilities are jaw dropping, not at all intimidating and very welcoming. Judy Murray now runs tennis camps here, we’re told.
We’re booked in for a game of padel, and meet our coach, Pedro, who leads us to the amazing outdoor courts. A padel racquet has a solid head with holes in it, rather than strings, and you use a depressurised tennis ball. The court is smaller than a tennis court and you can use the walls to bounce the balls off, a bit like in squash. Giles and I both play tennis and have played a bit of squash, too, and find that padel combines the two, making it extremely fast and exhilarating. After a game that gets slightly competitive in the morning sun, we sit back and relax at the bar with a chilled local beer.
I scout around the corner at The Bike Shed because we’ll be heading back here tomorrow for a guided bike four. I spot one of the staff and strike up a conversation about the incredible kit they have on offer. He also fells me that they’ve created Portugal’s first triathlon (October 21,2019) starting and finishing here. If makes perfect sense: the roads are ideal, the weather couldn’t be better and the swim will take place on the lake overlooking the sea. What a place to set some personal bests!
The next day, we’re back to try an early morning bike ride. We meet up with Natalia, a local marine biologist, who takes us on a guided bike tour around the Ria Formosa Natural Park, which is known as one of the seven Natural Wonders of Portugal. At low tide, you can see the vegetation of the marshlands and the wealth of fauna – we spot flamingos and fiddler crabs in the salt marshes.
We enjoy the scenic, leisurely cycle and breathe in the fresh air as the trail continues through areas of pine woodlands past passerine birds and aromatic plants.
We stop off to refuel at The Shack bar, a small eatery right on the lake. Due to celebrities posting on social media, it has become somewhat of a hangout. The food is basic, but it’s great if you have children as there’s a small area where the kids can play safely by the lake and the adults can relax with a cocktail or two without losing site of the family.
ANYONE FOR GOLF?
Our final day kicks off with a tour around one of the three incredible golf courses. Although not much of a golfer, I hear they’re some of the best courses in Europe and I can appreciate the manicured grass and challenging-looking layout. I’m also amazed at the stunning architecture of the stylish modern complexes that are built in and around the courses – think infinity pools, verandas and balconies with sea views. People travel from all over the world to play a game here, and why wouldn’t you, if you’re up to scratch? We, however, try the mini golf, which is so much fun.
I even get a hole in one!
After heading back to the hotel on our hired bikes, we manage to squeeze in a last-minute yoga session in the wellness area. The class is packed with locals – a mixture of Portuguese and expats, all beaming with energy and good vibes.
We leave with a different view of Portugal this country really does have it all: adventure, nature, relaxation, but also luxury and amazing sports facilities. Until next time, Portugal!
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