Portugal’s illustrious coastline just got a bit more upscale with the arrival of W Algarve, says Helen Dalley Portugal’s illustrious coastline just got a bit more upscale with the arrival of W Algarve, says Helen Dalley
Portugal’s illustrious coastline just got a bit more upscale with the arrival of W Algarve, says Helen Dalley


The Algarve is Portugal’s most popular tourist destination and a tourism hotspot since the 1960s, renowned for its rugged Atlantic beaches and challenging golf courses. Hole 6 at Pine Cliffs Golf Course in Albufeira is on the edge of a ravine and requires a shot over the beach, while the Vale do Lobo course features a Par 3 in which three cliffs stand between the tee and the green.

Wooed by the great weather (famously sunny for over 300 days a year), many A-listers own property in Portugal, including Madonna (Sintra), Scarlett Johansson and John Malkovich (both Lisbon), and Sir Cliff Richard (Guia, Algarve). Bordered by the latter’s vineyard, which produces grapes for Adega do Cantor (“The Singer’s Winery”) of the award-winning Vida Nova wines, the English star’s property recently went on the market for €5 million (US$5.35 million).

Portugal’s illustrious coastline just got a bit more upscale with the arrival of W Algarve, says Helen Dalley

W Hotel’s first location in Portugal, W Algarve (above) opened in 2022 in Albufeira, a former fishing village on the country’s south coast and one of the nation’s major holiday destinations, with long, sandy beaches, buzzing nightlife, and dolphin watching among its many attractions. Like its sister properties, the cornerstone of the hotel is its cutting-edge aesthetic, which incorporates Portuguese azulejos tiles in guest rooms and restaurants and hand-blown glass pendant lamps hanging above a 20m-long onyx counter in the W Lounge.

Vibrant Vibes

Featuring a curved feature wall adorned with infinity mirrors and a collection of handmade Portuguese ceramic plates – the staff tell me there are more than 600 pieces – the hotel reception area makes quite the statement. It may be 11pm when I arrive, but dance music is still playing, and a glass of sparkling wine is pressed into my hand shortly after, which feels true to W Hotels’ playful party going brand.

Inside my Spectacular Room (the top tier room, followed by Wonderful then Fabulous), I can hear the roar of the Atlantic Ocean and that distinctive chirrup of crickets as I step out onto the balcony, which overlooks the geometric swimming pool, with the sea tantalisingly close behind the trees. Inside, I admire the filigree bedside lanterns, mosaics made from Algarvian tiles, and crocheted patterns on the glass panel separating the bedroom from the bathroom, as well as the cool backlit headboards that modernise the local touches.

Breakfast at Market Kitchen is the picture of indulgence, with frosted pink doughnuts, bicolour raspberry croissants, Portuguese egg tarts, and local sparkling wine lined up alongside a wide selection of bread, muesli, and bowls of sliced fruit. But as with most W hotels, it’s the design that catches the eye; the bright yellow chairs and bar counters covered in blue-and-white geometric azulejos tiles are a vivacious ocular wake-up call.

Portugal’s illustrious coastline just got a bit more upscale with the arrival of W Algarve, says Helen Dalley

A tour with the W Algarve’s interior designer, AB Concept co-founder Ed Ng – whose projects include W Bali – Seminyak and W Xi’an – casts further light on the hotel’s design vision. Looking dapper in a yellow-checked navy jacket and chinos, the Hong Kong born, Japan-based designer is visibly impassioned by his latest project, pointing out details like the lobby’s infinity mirrors (“they create a sense of space”, he explains) and the fish tail effect of the building’s wavy, scale-like exterior inspired by the hotel’s coastal location.

As we take a stroll down to the beach, Ng reveals his firm is currently in talks with the hotel to design a seafood restaurant overlooking the sparkling blue Atlantic Ocean. As a long-term collaborator with W, he believes the brand is evolving. “It’s moving away from that party image to something more sophisticated and luxurious. It’s always been a radical brand and people expect something different from it.”

While Portugal is of course famous for its fortified wine, Port, there is also plenty of great vino to be found all across the country, Algarve being no exception. I head over to family-owned vineyard, tapas bar, and tap room Quinta dos Santos in Western Algarve for lunch, where I drink a white Tesouro (Portuguese for “treasured”) in the courtyard overlooking the vines. The blue skies and September sunshine only add to the sense of occasion, and the tapas puts an upscale spin on rustic farm fare — there’s oven-baked cheese with almonds, honey, and toasted bread; grilled butterflied tiger prawns; and mushrooms in garlic-infused olive oil with lemon zest. The wine is thoughtfully poured out in small measures, encouraging us to savour every mouthful. I resolve to try the Dos Santos craft beers next time, with pilsners, amber ales, and IPAs available at the taproom.

Quinta dos Santos

Portuguese Artisans

If ceramics are your thing, then don’t miss Porches Pottery, situated about 20km outside of Albufeira. Established by Portuguese artist Lima de Freitas and Irish artist Patrick Swift in the 60s to revive the Algarvian pottery scene, striking, rustic-looking pieces are painted on site. There are gorgeous tiles everywhere, including a striking bench in traditional Portuguese white and blues by the entrance that serves as the perfect backdrop for a selfie.

Inside the main building, you can watch the painters dipping their brushes into water before swirling them round on palettes as they paint bowls, jugs, and vases in Porches’ signature revivalist designs, with freehand paintings of deer, long-tailed birds, fish, griffins, and hunting dogs. Sideboards display lamp bases, jugs, teapots, and colourful serving plates, while the fireplaces are filled with vases and plates, and the pottery’s Bar Bacchus is surrounded by bas-reliefs and a tile mural hand painted by Patrick Swift depicting the life of the Roman god Bacchus. If you’re looking for something more personal, Porches takes commissions for everything from dinner sets to house name plaques.

Part of the new generation of environmentally conscious Portuguese designers, Vanessa Barragão is a local textile artist who recycles unwanted yarns from rug factories and transforms them into underwater landscapes. I call into her studio in Albufeira (it’s not open to the public but she offers commissions via her Instagram @vanessabarragao_work) and am impressed by her tapestry crochet, with colourful yarns woven into three-dimensional representations of coral colonies living on the ocean floor.


When asked for the source of her inspiration, she says, “When I first saw coral reefs, I fell in love with them, and I’ve always been inspired by the sea. All the materials in my studio were set to end up in the bin, and it’s my mission to save them from that fate.”

As we head back to the hotel, our driver Oleg recommends catching the sunset at Ponta da Piedade in Lagos, where yellow limestone cliffs soar 20 metres high and the beach is accessed by descending a steep scenic staircase.

Beach Life

I don’t have time to take up Oleg’s recommendation, but late afternoon, I stroll down the hill from the hotel to Praia da Balbina, where the waves smash against the rocks in dramatic, mesmerising fashion and sunseekers lie supine under rustic beach umbrellas. This is not a beach for swimming – one kid dares to venture into the waves with his stick but is quickly beaten back – but there are plenty of people sunbathing, taking photos, or watching the waves while drinking vinho verde at Castelo Beach Club, where plates of harissa mussels, whelk salad, and garlic shrimp await. It’s a wilder, more secluded alternative to the larger and more popular beaches in the area like Praia Sã o Rafael and Praia da Faleésia, which stretches for 6 kilometres, flanked by red- and orange-coloured cliffs.

I head back to the hotel to meet general manager Cajetan Araujo, who relocated to the Algarve from W Goa, sitting and chatting underneath the W Lounge’s centrepiece installation that takes its inspiration from Moorish jewellery and sea bubbles. It’s clear that he enjoys being here and loves exploring the quieter side of the Algarve on his days off. Araujo, who is of Portuguese and Indian descent, singles out Sagres as one of his favourite places.

Quinta dos Santos

Located in the extreme southwest of continental Europe, the small parish of Sagres (population: less than 2,000) in Vila do Bispo, represents the Algarve’s more rugged side with towering, ocean-battered cliffs. Visitors come here to walk, hike, and enjoy the more isolated beaches, including Praia do Martinhal and Praia da Mareta. The nearby headland of Cabo de São Vicente is also commonly referred to as “The End of the World”, as it was acknowledged for millennia by the Eastern Mediterraneans. At this windswept cap fi ve kilometres west of Sagres, there’s a lighthouse with a maritime museum, plus a bar with a terrace (only open during peak season). Surfers love Sagres for its fishing town vibe and you can hang ten on wide, open beaches or small coves. Best for beginners is Castelejo, Cordoama, and Borderia, while Praia do Zavial can satisfy more experienced surfers when the swell comes from the northwest. If you’re there to eat, try A Sereia Restaurante. Situated atop the fish market, the dishes are as fresh as it gets, with the selection including turbot, squid, and prawn grilled with lemon and herbs. You can even watch the fi sh auctions from inside the restaurant.

“Sagres is at the southwestern tip of the Algarve and feels like you’re at the edge of the world, or on the moon,” says Araujo. He agrees with Ng that W Hotels is evolving – alongside fashion, design, and music, one of their new passion points is “loud and proud”, in terms of dedication to promoting equality.

Sustainability is also key; at W Algarve drinking water is provided in glass bottles and they use as many local ingredients as possible in the kitchen. “We do import a few, but not many – you won’t find any avocado dishes on menus, for example,” he says. While W Hotels has long been associated with the party crowd, and still is to an extent – Rita Ora played at the hotel’s launch party with the likes of Brazilian supermodels Cindy Mello and Isabeli Fontana in attendance – that is changing. “We have everyone from Gen Z to baby boomers checking in here,” the GM observes.

Quinta dos Santos

Dining at a Milanese Legend 

The elegant, traditional Italian restaurant Paper Moon, which first opened in Milan’s fashion district in the 70s and expanded to include stylish and prestigious addresses in global cities like Hong Kong and Doha, is now also the W Algarve’s signature restaurant. The buzzy atmosphere is underpinned by discreet, friendly service with waiters turned out in white shirts and black waistcoats.

The sleek, understated theme extends to the décor, with monochromatic soft and hard furnishings, light timber floors, and black ocean-facing window walls contrasting white walls adorned with black-and-white photographs. We start off with burrata and grilled octopus, then order the spaghetti vongole and ravioli in Piedmont truffle cream for mains. Local produce is also celebrated on the menu, with grilled Portuguese squid and grilled monkfish available as secondi.

Keen to have the beach to myself, I rise early and am beside the waves by 7:30 am, happy to make the first footprints. Having explored the yellow rock formations on the left yesterday, where a small group were fishing, this morning I venture right, to an even more secluded section of beach. I walk on cliffs and through pines before engaging in yesterday’s ritual of admiring waves slamming onto the rocks in all their glorious ferocity.

Quinta dos Santos

W Hotels’ Away Spas include quick, targeted solutions in addition to lengthier treatments, the 30-minute Instant Radiance exfoliation treatment being a case in point, and the reception at the W Algarve is fittingly decorated with Portuguese green bobbin lace lamps and a feature wall of white buoys. I’m booked in for the 60-minute Unwind massage, which combines moderate pressure with aromatherapy and is a great way to start the day before checking out. Facilities include a sauna, fire tub, ice tub, and steam room that allows you to choose from four scents: Cedarwood, Lemon Garden, Provence Lavender, and Eucalyptus.

My visit to the Algarve has been too brief, but true to my “Spectacular” Room, and with over 130 beaches covering nearly 125 miles of coastline, there are plenty of reasons to go back.

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