My family has recently returned from a trip to the Algarve and don't get me wrong, we did have a nice time but that in itself was the problem, it was just nice. Somehow we all seemed to miss out on the amazing experience shared by so many others. Yes we had sunshine, yes our villa was nice, the food was good and the people were friendly but the resort in itself seems to lack a little soul.
The four of us travelled to Vale do Lobo a beautiful resort just 25 minutes from Faro airport, which was extremely convenient as myself, husband and children all dread another long journey once the plane has touched down. Before we left the UK we had downloaded a map Portugal so we were fully prepared for the car ride to our villa. During our short journey the road layout was great and the traffic minimal which made a pleasant change from the gridlocked roads of our hometown Bristol.
Vale do Lobo itself is an extremely attractive "holiday suburb" the tree lined streets are lined with tidy villas, apartment blocks and many of the larger houses would not look out of place on MTV cribs. The main draw of this development is the golf and tennis facilities which are some of the best in the world. But as we were travelling with a toddler, these were not facilities we got to experience.
We travelled around central Algarve visiting a number of places recommended by friends who had stayed in the area. Some of our day trips included Vilamoura which is a beautiful marina but we were ready to leave after a 30 minute post lunch stroll. A slightly mediocre ZooMarine that was amazing value for what it was but somehow seemed to lack the wow factor offered by similar shows we have seen in other resorts. If Marineland in Mallorca was the Manchester United of the Dolphin show world, Zoo Marine should be regarded as a hard working but rather unsuccessful Bristol City.
The shopping in this area is good, but then again so is the shopping at home.... The forum Algarve is worth a visit on a wet day. It includes Zara, Massimo Dutti and MAC.
One positive I must add about this exclusive but slightly disappointing destination is that it is great value for money. We found the supermarkets far cheaper than those in France and it was easy to find restaurants serving great food at reasonable prices.
We love to explore on holiday and did venture into the nearby towns of Almancil and Quarteira. Whether it was just our misfortune on the days that we visited both destinations, but on each day we were greeted by local drunks passed out on the street, old men begging and a feeling of desperation and poverty by many of those walking around us. What we witnessed so near to Vale do Lobo was a completely different end to life's spectrum and this is what I think sits most uncomfortably with me about this holiday destination.