A milestone in the history of what’s arguably Thailand’s most stylish resort brand, the Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort marked Anantara’s first foray into Europe in 2017. It was a gamble that’s clearly paid off, with the sprawling 280-room hotel having been warmly welcomed as a new – and enduring – hotspot on Portugal’s golden coast.
Past its high-lustre lobby with a tree at its centre and down a long hallway to the left is what arguably forms the epicentre of this vast hotel outside the town of Vilamoura: two enormous adults-only pools, fringed on either side by palm trees, cabanas, white parasols and, at the very end, a DJ playing the latest Peggy Gou or Klangkarussell summer jam from behind a booth. If it sounds a bit like Miami or Phuket, that’s because it is. The Anantara Vilamoura is a ‘proper’ resort of the type you know from exotic destinations, where contemporary architecture meets neatly arranged sun loungers, pedicured landscaping and near-endless views – in this case, of the Victoria golf course, the home of the Portugal Masters, which is immediately adjacent to the hotel grounds, serving as a serene backdrop to all the poolside lounging and Porto spritzing happening at the hotel.
If, however, you turn right in the lobby, you’ll enter the family wing of the resort, which isn’t all that different in terms of feel or design, yet does an excellent job at separating two very different types of holiday experiences (and holidaymakers). This division invites guests with different needs to vacation here, brilliantly with neither having to compromise, thanks to the sheer size of the Anantara Vilamoura, but also because like the adults-only side of things, the family-friendly areas are downright amazing, featuring fun overwater restaurant ‘Cascades’, which is set above a large pool, plus a separate paddling pool for toddlers, kids and teens clubs as well as a number of 2023-opened swim-up suites. The loungers beneath a row of trees in the children’s pool area looked so inviting, we briefly found ourselves wishing we could age backwards, Benjamin Button-style, and plant ourselves there for an hour or two.
Our 93 sqm/1,000 sqft Golf View Suite, one of 280 rooms in total, came with all the luxury conveniences you’d expect from an Anantara: a king-size bed, JBL speakers, two flatscreen TVs, butler service and ample storage space made our stay all the more comfortable, while local touches like Claus Porto bathroom amenities, a large-scale artwork depicting a Mediterranean beach and even specially designed cork sleeves for remote controls added a strong sense of Portuguese pizzaz. We also really appreciated having our own, private outdoor seating area all set with two sun loungers overlooking the adjoining golf course.
The ‘suitest’ perk of all, however, was having access to Infindo, an exclusive-use lounge reserved for suite guests (of which there aren’t many, as most accommodation here consists of regular rooms). A proper ‘destination’ within the resort, Infindo is where you’ll find healthy snacks and drinks readily available to enjoy in a private outdoor area throughout the day, while guests are also invited to savour wines and chocolate-covered strawberries in the afternoon: you won’t need asking twice, and neither did we, especially as Infindo was a welcome respite from the much busier adults-only pool, where music is played throughout the day, giving it a distinctively club-like feel that many (though not all) will enjoy.
Something else the Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort does well is to immerse guests in the destination they’re in. Bar the corporate-looking hallways (which at times reminded us of a convention hotel), the resort’s interiors elegantly nod to local arts and aesthetics, from the playful tiles in the Botanic Bar to blue-and-white floral-print cushions in the Anantara Lounge. The hotel’s gastronomic offering plays a big role in this, too, although the diverse blend of restaurants and bars – coastal cuisine at poolside Ria, international flavours at Victoria, pan-Asian delights at Sensai, Italian bites at La Cucina and lunch classics at Palms Pool Bar – is representative of the brand’s global ambition, going far beyond the Algarve. The same rings true for breakfast, which we found noticeably varied, with everything from Thai-inspired curries or fried noodles to a gluten-free section, a few vegan-friendly pastries, detox juices and much more on offer. A word to the wise (and the hungover): an adults-only breakfast area is conveniently available in La Cucina.
Right on time
While you’re Out There
We’ll be honest with you: the town of Vilamoura isn’t exactly our cup of tea. Luckily, however, the hotel prides itself on its experiential side, with many fun activities on offer. We booked a fun tuk-tuk tour to the red cliffs of Praia da Falésia followed by a gin masterclass that introduced us to Portugal’s pioneering gin makers (as well as Watenshi, the world’s ‘most exclusive’ gin). Our fondest memory is our private ‘Spice Spoons’ cooking class with chefs Ivo and Aziz, who took us produce-shopping at a small market in Loulé, before introducing us to a local copper ‘cataplana’ maker. Back at the Anantara, we cooked a hearty vegetable stew ‘cataplana-style’ and a zesty, lemon-flavoured rice pudding with chef Vanessa. Both were delicious, but getting to spend time with the hotel’s talented and lovely team was even more of a treat.
It’s no exaggeration to say that we loved the food here. At Ria, we savoured ‘peixinhos da horta’ (a 16th-century Portuguese import into Japan, which popularised the dish globally as tempura), Porto-stewed tofu, seaweed creamy polenta and almond crumble, while La Cucina served us pinsa pomodorini, vegetable caponata, tofu piccata dressed in lemons and capers, and a plant-based panna cotta with apricot jam. Our favourite was Sensai, however, where we sat watching a blazing sunset while one course after another found its way to our table as if by magic: green papaya salad, Vietnamese rolls, vegan maki with aguê tofu, sautéed asparagus and takuan radish, topped off with the creamiest sagu and coconut mousse.
We should mention that all our meals had been arranged specifically for us to suit our dietaries prior to our stay – just once, we went ‘off-menu’, for an impromptu lunch at the Palm Pool Bar, where plant-based options on the regular menu seemed suddenly a lot less available, with even the vegan burger being served in a non-vegan brioche bun… make of that what you will. The bottom line is that the hotel can happily arrange special menus for you prior to you actually sitting down for a meal (that, we’ve been assured of), and they can really deliver. Those curated menus did mean that we couldn’t be quite as spontaneous when dining as other guests, but we never found ourselves compromising on taste or choice, and that’s a huge plus in our book.
The one thing we found needed addressing is the property’s ubiquitous use of plastic bottles. Upon opting out of a glass of sparkling wine at check-in, the staff handed us a plastic bottle of water instead, which we found neither an exciting non-alcoholic alternative (welcome to your holiday: here’s some still water), nor does it go with the green initiatives the Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort, and the wider Anantara brand, have in place. This wasn’t a one-off, either, as we kept being handed plastic bottles during the off-resort experiences we had booked, which left us wondering why Anantara isn’t eliminating single-use plastics altogether: a feat other resort brands have already achieved.
That’s not to say we spent our time on the property worrying; quite to the contrary. During a visit to the hotel’s extensive fitness and wellness area, we found both to be generously equipped, with the latter featuring a rather impressive, black vitality pool on the top floor, as well as a large sauna and steam room running along its side. If you’re not looking to get wet, head for the stylish heated loungers or the enormous rooftop, ideal for sunrise yoga sessions. In need of a workout? Personal trainers are on call and pilates lessons are available – so is a tennis court on the resort grounds. Since our stay followed a three-night Mediterranean wedding bonanza in the Algarve, we prioritised the spa itself, where a soothing foot bath and a 60-minute signature massage brought us back down to earth after half a week of non-stop celebrations. Across some six treatment rooms, the lovely staff of the Anantara Vilamoura pamper guests with everything from Ayurvedic treatments to fully-blown wellness journeys including body wraps, reiki and reflexology, should your feet be so inclined.
What’s nice about this part of the hotel is just how designated of an effort has been made to turn a trip here into an experience. With its moody, slate-like interior, a mosaic pool and Thai-inspired wall decorations, the spa stands out from the rest of the hotel, which made us think of it as an ‘thing to do’, rather than just a space to spend time in. The same went for the numerous dining (and drinking) outlets across the property, with each having its very own, distinctive appeal, something that is often hard to pull off for hotels this size, and especially so if they belong to hospitality giants like Anantara. But this resort does something quite unique in being both the kind of hotel you’d typically find on an island – and especially a tropical one – while simultaneously leaning into local culture. With so much going for it, it’s a great option for anyone planning a trip to the Algarve.