Vila Joya, Albufeira, Portugal
“A five-star restaurant with rooms”
NEWLY UPDATED FOR 2016!
Sometimes a hotel is so good at what it does, it makes it seem effortless. Like a swan, it’s all graceful on the surface, but underneath you know a huge amount of effort goes into making it all tick.
Sitting on the edge of the Atlantic, just outside the resort town of Albufeira, Vila Joya boasts a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, a fabulous Asian-inspired spa, and 22 ocean-facing rooms and suites. It’s so relaxing that once there, it’s nigh on impossible to leave.
Austrian chef Dieter Koschina is a well-known culinary genius around these parts, and at Vila Joya he never fails to impress with his nightly six-course tasting menu, featuring “surprise dishes” that literally melt in the mouth – foams and mousses and exquisite creations such as turbot in a beurre noisette with imperial caviar, and saddle of venison with ceps and parsley spazle. Yes. I just said spazle. No, don’t ask me what it is, but it IS delicious.
I felt like Alice in Wonderland throughout my meal, not knowing what would greet my senses next, but blissfully enjoying the ride. Ingredients are bought from carefully selected farms in the region, and fish is, of course, from the local waters. This being Portugal, the wine is impeccable. I sampled a local Algarve reserva and an earthier Alentejo number (2002 Quinta da Terrugem), and I finished off each meal with a glass of vintage port, naturally. The restaurant staff were both knowledgable and friendly, happy to recommend wines and dishes then leave me to enjoy it all.
The food here is the obvious highlight, so in a way Vila Joya is more of a restaurant with rooms rather than a hotel, though the rooms are all beautiful and overlook the sea. I stayed in the Royal Suite Joia, which had a separate living room, two terraces, and an outdoor heated jacuzzi. I like ordering room service anyway, but here it seemed crazy not to.
At breakfast, a long table in the dining room is filled with homemade breads, jams and pastries, cured meats, local cheeses, figs, nuts, fruit and cereals. I took a seat on the patio and was brought creamy scrambled eggs and fresh coffee, and quite happily sat there for two hours grazing my way through it all while staring out to sea.
The location couldn’t be better – beach walks, surfing and pine-studded hills are all on your doorstep, should you ever wish to leave the confines of luxury. The Moorish-inspired buildings of Vila Joya are covered in bougainvillea, jasmine and morning glory, and a heated pool makes a welcome dip at the bottom of the garden.
Guests come back year after year, and it’s easy to see why. Everything – from the wine to the food to the service – is sublime and immaculately executed. The property has been in the Jung family since the beginning, and it retains a cosy, family atmosphere. Its current owner – Joy Jung – has impeccable taste, and her eye for design and little details are what makes the hotel so appealing. Vila Joya is not just a blissful hideaway, it’s an unforgettable and highly recommended experience all on its own.
Details: Vila Joya, Praia da Galé, Albufeira, Portugal (00351 289 591795; www.vilajoya.com).
Damage: Doubles from 315 euros per night, including breakfast.
Highlights: Fine dining, fine wines, ocean views, chilling out, surfing (if you can drag yourself away from the hotel).