Going on holiday often gives you a kind of out-of-body experience. You know exactly what I mean – you’ll be sitting on the beach, or by the pool, and your mind will start to wander. You think about things and you’re somehow able to look down upon your life and see it with a bit of clarity. I reckon it’s just the change of scenery but also the fact you have time to think and that, on holiday, you’re away from your everyday routine (and possibly the things that cause you minor stress) that allows your brain enough space to be able to do this.
Right now, I’m writing this while sitting on the terrace of my villa in Pine Cliffs resort in Portugal. I’m drinking a cup of tea and the four-year-old is sitting next to me, playing games on her iPad and munching dry Cheerios. It’s so quiet – well, it’s not even 7.15am yet – and the sun is rising, hitting the golf course and trees in the distance.
I feel like I could stay here forever, but that’s the beauty of holidays, isn’t it? They allow you to relax, get some perspective on life back home and spend precious time with your family. Even though I work from home, I work full time (actually, if truth be told, I probably work nearer 50 hours a week) and even on the four-year-old’s day off from pre-school, it’s Mr P who spends the day with her while I work. So having a whole week to hang out has been fab.
Every day, we’ve had a long drawn out breakfast in the villa, with rounds of cereal, toast and croissants plus cups of tea and coffee for the grown ups. Then the only decision we need to make is: pool or beach? There are three pool areas here – the main pool (which has waiter service to your sun lounger), a smaller pool area (with heated pool) and a tiny pool in the children’s play area. The beach is a ten minute walk away, down some beautiful paths towards the cliff edge (gorgeous views!) and then down in a lift to the sand. I have to admit, I’m definitely more of a pool girl. I love being near the sea, and I love sitting listening to the ocean, but that sand gets everywhere. Does anyone actually enjoy getting sand stuck to their suncream-smeared legs and hands?
So we have been spending most of our days by the pool. We did that classic holiday thing of spending €12 on an inflatable toy for the pool, yet the four year old still keeps eyeing up all the other kids’ inflatable toys – which seem much more desirable than hers. We’ve also spent a large proportion of our days playing with the random buckets, balls and spades, abandoned by holiday-makers gone by. We really should leave our inflatable, in pay-it-forward style for next week’s families.
The resort we’re in is a mix of different accommodation – a Sheraton hotel (which is currently closed for refurbishment – due to reopen in June 2015), time share villas and villas/apartments that you can book for a one-off stay. We’re staying in a Pine Cliffs Garden Residence III Villa, booked through James Villa – and it’s gorgeous. The fantastic thing about this place is that while we have our own space (three bedrooms, three bathrooms, two kitchens, a large living area and three terraces including a huge grassy area for the four-year-old to run around in – more than enough space) we also have the resort’s restaurants, bars, children’s play area, gym, kids’ club and shared pools. There’s the 18-hole golf course too, but none of us here this week are golfers, so it’s simply some nice green space for us to gaze on, rather than something we’re using (“Why are there lots of sand pits in the grass?” asked the four year old.) We love having shared pools on a holiday – isn’t people watching one of the best things ever? And the four-year-old has made a little friend, and together they have been playing ‘Fairies and Witches’ gathering up ‘treasure’ from the pool and taking it to their ‘cave’. Cutest thing ever.
So what are the things that sets Pine Cliffs resort apart from the other countless resorts you could book, along the Algarve coast? The grounds are beautiful. 72 acres of land right across the cliff tops above the soft white sands of Falésia Beach. Endless grass, pine trees, shocking pink flowers creeping up white walls, neat paths lit by ceramic lanterns, no litter anywhere. The staff are seriously friendly – everyone we have met has been smiley, helpful and polite. The kids’ play area is awesome, with a bouncy castle, slides, swings, pirate ships to climb up and explore, and a trike track. You can also play mini golf or basketball. Tennis fans can book some lessons at the Annabel Croft Tennis Centre and you can hire bikes of all sizes (and trailers for the really small kiddos) at the bike centre. The kids’ club looks awesome. Unusually for us, we didn’t use it once all holiday, we were having too much fun hanging out as a family. But they have a fab offer where you get three hours free at the kids’ club if you book two spa treatments!
The food here is on the pricey side – €18 for a club sandwich and fries, €19 for a salad Nicoise, €7 for a kids’ chicken nuggets and chips. The on-site shop (the Deli) isn’t cheap either, with a can of Sprite costing €2. But the food has all been fantastic quality and we have balanced things out by popping to the nearby supermarket (just outside the main exit) to stock up on food and cooking meals in our villa. Actually, if I’m more honest, I should say that every day we have had a picnic for either lunch or tea, which has consisted of salad, olives, cold meat, sardine paté, bread, crackers, brie and Ruffle crisps. Classic holiday stuff.
This being during school term-time, the resort seems to attract a variety of people – golden-skinned 60 something golfers who you only really see having lunch at the Golf Clubhouse or in the evening after they’ve finished their round. Families with pre-schoolers who toddle safely and happily around the grounds. And a few 20 or 30 something couples, who are serious about sunbathing and cocktail drinking. As such, things get a bit quiet mid-afternoon when the babies and toddlers are napping and the golfers are golfing. All the more sunbeds for us, then!
What has really impressed me about booking through James Villa is the attention to detail both before and during our holiday. We were sent an information pack, with details of our villa, directions to the resort and tips on what we should take (passport, insurance details) and what we don’t need to take (beach towels, hairdyer). The transfer to our resort (booked by James Villa with Yellowfish Travel) was fantastic – a friendly chatty driver who had a variety of car seats for different sized children. While here, we can contact our James Villa representative, Susan, at any time which adds that extra level of confidence that should there be a problem, we could easily speak to someone about sorting it out.
The easier a holiday feels, the more relaxed I become. Possibly adding to the relaxed feel is the fact that the resort doesn’t have free wifi everywhere, so we’re all being forced to switch off from reality a bit. The reception area has free wifi and you can pay €12 a day to have wifi in your villa, but we chose not to.
We’re as guilty as most people of checking our emails, looking at Facebook, posting a photo on Instagram, when we could be spending real quality time with the four year old, and I think she is loving having our undivided attention this week.
So for a week of relaxed, family time, Pine Cliffs resort really is one of the best.
• We travelled to Pine Cliffs resort near Albufeira, Portugal with James Villa Holidays for the purpose of this review. A 7 night stay there in 2015, room only, starts from £1451. The transfer from Faro airport is 40 minutes and we booked flights with Monarch who have some brilliantly affordable fares and great service.