Before we left the Luna Miramar for our second hotel, we were invited to join the Age UK group to visit Lisbon and the largest Hindu Temple in Portugal. This is a long drive, around 150 miles, mostly along motorway. The toll charge seemed very expensive at €35 each way plus an extra €6.10 to enter Lisbon via the Vasco da Gama bridge (like paying to get into Wales via the Severn Bridge!), though this is an incredible structure. However, it is worth a visit if you are hiring a car, but otherwise there are organised coach trips available.
It is interesting to see different rural landscape along the route, particularly the storks on their untidy nests on top of any tall post available. They seem to have taken a fancy to the tops of a long row of electricity pylons, in one case developing a multi-story set of desirable residences. It must be a family thing.
We were graciously invited to join the group for a fantastic spread of different vegetarian dishes prepared by their friends – a very hospitable welcome. The temple is very beautiful inside, and we were fortunate to experience the celebrations of music and song, and to take part in the final candle-lit prayer.
On Sunday morning we moved to the second hotel, Luna Alpinus, on the outskirts of Albufeira, though not in walking distance really. An excellent hotel with a comfortable reception area, free WiFi, a bar lounge area serving bar snacks, and a beautifully appointed apartment. This is top of the range 4* with excellent accommodation and all kitchen facilities available. We were greeted with lots of fresh fruit and bottled water, although the tap water is safe to drink. We were treated to a bottle of Portuguese tawny port Porto Monge, Favious – a rich smooth port more like a ruby than a tawny port. Very drinkable considering we would normally keep a bottle of port at home for a year!
There is an oven as well as hotplate and microwave, full instructions to use all the equipment, and a state-of-the-art sound system. The hotels have good heating /air conditioning systems so are warm during the winter months. The room was very comfy, lovely and warm so we were soon into siesta mode – helped along with the port maybe.
Dinner in the hotel was excellent. All freshly prepared, the soup was chicken and rice, so a bit like a Chinese soup. We had the best ever Cataplana, the typical Portuguese dish, with great chunks of seafood – king prawns, mussels, clams and white fish cooked in the traditional round metal dish, layered with onions and peppers in a delicate sauce. Really exceptional quality, as you know we love fish dishes, and worth a second visit to top up. There were other dishes to choose from which looked just as good, including a rich dark goulash which smelled divine. There was a good range of desserts on offer, then on to the bar for coffee to finish off.
After breakfast, a typical choice of continental and English breakfast foods, we sat on the balcony sunbathing, blue sky, sound of the water bubbling in the pool below and background music from the bar downstairs. With just a little breeze, it was a good walking day, but we were off to visit the Cork Museum so no time to explore further.
A visit to the Cork Museum sounds like an odd trip, I suppose, but it was really interesting based in a beautiful old house in Sao Bras de Alportel bequeathed by a “cork baron”! Cork trees are a form of oak tree, planted then waiting for 20 years before the first layer of bark is cut away to ‘undress’ the tree. This is a rough, more porous layer of cork so has little commercial use, but they believe the link between this cutting away by man leads to the tree becoming more vigorous in its growth. It is another 9 years before the first dense valuable layer of cork is cut away, then a further 9 years between each cut, so clearly a long-term investment.
The most fascinating bit was the film that shows the traditional methods of cutting away the bark, still used today, though clearly the health & safety lot have not cottoned on yet! Apart from using as corks for wine bottles, new production techniques mean they now cut fine 1mm layers of cork and join them with a soft textile backing. They now have an incredible range of soft, flexible fashion items including bags, shoes, and clothes – see the link. It is definitely worth a visit to the museum where they also have an exhibition of typical clothes worn in earlier centuries and a very good cafe.
We would choose this hotel for at least a couple of weeks to explore, walk to the beach and catch a bus into Albufeira. There is no indoor pool or spa facilities like in Luna Miramar, but there is a golf course opposite open to visitors, and they have their own golf professional available to instruct guests. A good option would be two weeks at each of the hotels, Miramar and Alpinus, as this one is ideal for a relaxing stay but with little other entertainment nearby during the winter.
It is a pity that so few guests are around at this time of year as it is a comfortable, high quality hotel that is perfect for a peaceful break away from the worst of the British winter weather. It would be an interesting option if the Luna chain were able to offer special interest breaks, with a 1-2 week break, such as writing/ studying the arts/ walking/ food and wine so that it becomes more than just a quiet relaxing break.
For more information, please visit www.lunahoteis.com