Travel: Escaping the winter in the Algarve

The Holiday Inn at Armacao de Pera.
The Holiday Inn at Armacao de Pera.

The clocks have just gone back and it's cold and dark outside, so here's the challenge. Where do you go to get some warm winter sunshine at a great value price, a quality hotel on a perfect sandy beach, with a flight that lasts less than two and a half hours?

Well, get your travel hit list out, and your bag packed, because having just returned from Portugal with my wife, staying at the Holiday Inn Algarve, for seven nights in the small but perfectly formed resort of Armacao de Pera, on a Saga Travel package, I now have the answer.

Sunset on the Algarve

Sunset on the Algarve

Here is why I was so impressed … let’s start with the hotel:

The Holiday Inn, Algarve, Armacao de Pera

‘Location, location, location’. This old adage in the property business is also very apt when it comes to holidays and it’s hard to imagine a more perfectly situated hotel. Walk out the back of the hotel, down a few steps and you are in the sand with the sea lapping around your ankles.

This was great for my early morning, pre-breakfast beach walks to photograph the perfect sunrise. Head out of the front door and you are right on the promenade, with shops and restaurants within minutes.

Saga offer four-star accommodation

Saga offer four-star accommodation

The four-star Holiday Inn, Algarve is a highly efficient hotel, with friendly and helpful reception staff who all speak good English. We had an immaculately clean and spacious room with a small balcony overlooking the sea and all Saga allocated rooms have air conditioning, a safe, tea making facilities, a fridge and a TV that gets the main British channels. No missing ‘The Great British Bake Off’ here!

Add to all that, a very nice outdoor pool overlooking the beach, a gym if you are that way inclined, a hairdresser and an ocean view lounge bar and it was almost impossible not to feel relaxed. A couple of nights during the week the hotel also offers live entertainment in the bar.

What about food? Well, most dining takes place in the main restaurant, which is buffet style. The view of the sea, through the floor to ceiling windows, gives the impression of almost being on a cruise ship.

Guests always have a choice of meat, vegetarian or fish dishes and the hotel thoughtfully offers sugar free, or gluten free breakfast cereals in the morning.

Footprints in the Armacao de Pera sand.

Footprints in the Armacao de Pera sand.

Like many guests, we were on the ‘all inclusive’ board option. This meant we got lunch and selectively listed drinks during set times of the day, which included wine and beer and of course as you would expect in Portugal… Port.

As an alternative, you could also choose to dine in the Raj, an independent Indian restaurant attached to the hotel, for an extra charge. The food and service here was outstanding and the night we dined there, we were treated to a very lively ‘hot jazz’ performance by the group ‘Cool Manouche’. A fabulous atmosphere and evening.

With all this it’s hardly surprising that many of the guests we met return year after year. We chatted with one couple, who were on their 21st visit. I think they liked it!

The Saga Service

The hotel pool

The hotel pool

One of the most important emotional touch-points of any holiday is the arrival and welcome and this could hardly have been better.

After a seamless pick up at Faro airport and just a 35 minutes transfer, we were literally met at the hotel door with a warm handshake from our very smart Saga rep Luis. Our bags instantly disappeared, only to re-emerge in our room by the time we got there.

We however, were immediately whisked away to the hotel lounge for 'white sangria' and a personal briefing from Luis – a great welcome and a wonderful start.

Amazingly, Luis maintained this level of enthusiasm and service to all Saga guests, throughout the whole week. Wherever you were in the hotel, Luis would almost magically pop up looking for ways to help. “I treat guests as if I were dealing with friends in my own home," he told me.

As a Portuguese local, he was very keen to share the local culture and to engage with Saga guests. One evening he led a discussion about local food and culture and on another he organised and ran a quiz. Low key, but very sociable and fun.

Saga Excursions

For guests who want to be a bit more active and do more than relax by the pool or beach, as part of the price of seven day holidays are two included excursions.

These are ‘The Cork Route’, which culminates in a visit to a traditional cork factory. The other is a great value full day tour of the Western Algarve, taking in Lagos, Sagres, and Cape St Vincent… the most south-westerly point in Europe.

Those guests, staying for two weeks, also get an additional two included excursions. These are… ‘Algarve Villages’, a full day exploring traditional pretty villages, churches and white washed houses. The other is the ‘Sardine Route’, a half-day trip to a fishing village and sardine factory.

A full list of other optional excursions is also offered to Saga guests, for an additional charge.

The Resort – Armacao de Pera

With a population of just 10,000 local residents, Armacao de Pera, has long standing fishing roots and traditions. In fact the name ‘Armacao’ means the setting of tuna nets, so called because of the fisherman who used to visit every spring and summer. Part of the beach is still known locally as ‘Fisherman’s Beach’.

Here you can choose from several very ‘lay back’ coffee bars, where for an amazing 2.5 euros you can buy a beer and a great cup of coffee, and sit for as long as you want, soaking up the sun and sea. By far the best of these coffee bars is Café Palhota.

Now of course, tourism also plays a huge part in the resort’s economy. With its mix of traditional Portuguese living, and the usual tourist souvenir shops and restaurants, Armacao de Pera makes an interesting and lovely holiday destination.

The holiday verdict

Wearing my travel writer hat, I have over many years, become a self-confessed grumpy cynic. So before our trip, when I read in the ‘Saga Europe and Mediterranean’ brochure – ‘quite simply the most relaxing beach holidays you can imagine’ – I took this as just marketing hype.

The simple fact however, is that this claim turned out to be totally justified. My short trip delivered on every level – great value and reassuringly high standards from Saga Travel.

As a region, the Algarve offers fantastic beaches; a climate that is generally sunny and dry all year round… perfect for sun bathing; walking and of course golf. I only wish I had stayed for two weeks!

Travel Facts

Saga Travel offer packages to the locally rated four-star Holiday Inn, in Armacao de Pera, Algarve from prices starting at £453 per person departing from London Gatwick for seven nights half board – all-inclusive options are also available.

It includes: All breakfasts and dinners, free Wi-Fi at your hotel, fruit and water in your room on arrival, porterage at the hotel, return flights and transfers, dedicated Saga Representative and welcome drink as well as two local excursions.

Contact: Saga Holidays 0800 092 0803, or visit their special website pages for full details of this holiday and other Portugal holidays.

For additional information about the Holiday Inn, Algarve visit: