Insider's Guide to Spas
Anantara Vilamoura


Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort

Irvina Lew

Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort, just 20 minutes from Faro airport, is located along the Algarve, Portugal’s 100-mile southernmost Atlantic coast. It’s the first European outpost of Anantara, a Bangkok-based brand known for its “destination experience,” which focuses on what is local, indigenous, and authentic.

For the April 1, 2017, opening of the sprawling and stunning 280-room hotel, the interior design team redecorated the existing building adding Portuguese art and artifacts, including cork, tin, and hand-crafted ceramics (in the spa, Jorge Marques’ hand-painted his ceramics with traditional olive tree motif) plus iconic local design elements, such as chimneys, a symbol of the region.

Having arrived post-midnight on the last half-hour TAP Portugal flight from Lisbon, I didn’t step out on my balcony until morning. That’s when I viewed the building’s yellow limestone blocks, which surround the grand main pool (one of five), and the Arnold Palmer designed 18-hole golf course (one of six nearby courses).

Breakfast offered a plethora of healthy options: baskets of oranges, peaches, and apples; glass samovar-like jars filled with freshly squeezed juices labeled Algarve orange, Alcobaca Apple, Tropical fruit, Carrot & Orange, ABC (apple, beetroot, carrot) plus, in pitchers, Tomato and Detox of the Day. A buffet offered sliced oranges, diced watermelon, quartered kiwi, papaya, figs, fresh and jarred yogurts, smoked salmon, assorted cheeses, and platters of sliced ham, including the famous Pats Negra—from pigs who eat chestnuts and almonds—and which is sliced by hand, because it is so delicate.

One bread table displayed baguettes, rolls, pastries, and whole breads on a board; another presented only gluten-free options. Still, the pastry chef passed around tempting croissants and pastries. Along with covered chafing dishes with scrambled eggs and a variety of meats, there was an English-speaking omelet maker who sautéed what I selected: onion, peppers, mushroom,scallions, and tomatoes before adding one whole scrambled egg and some liquid whites. Foodies, vegetarians, gluten-free aficionados, and people with dietary restrictions, can make special requests and eat well at Anantara.

Locally sourced Portuguese ingredients dominate in treatments, including a coffee exfoliation and citrus-based powders, oils, and citrus tea from the local orange groves.

At Ria, the lunchtime outlet, seafood reigns: fish soup, teeny local clams, sweet and huge Tiger prawns, octopus salad, oysters, lobster, a variety of grilled freshly caught, local fish and bacalao, the famous Portuguese cod dish. For fine dining, Emo offers a fixed-price tasting menu, which can be paired with some of the 350 wines selected by sommelier António Lopes. Mine started with grilled Atlantic scallops drizzled with truffle oil, pan-fried sea bass served with shiitake mushrooms, Portuguese beef in a red wine sauce, a light orange-sorbet pre-dessert, and a Madagascar chocolate-hazelnut dessert. Healthful fare is also available on the Lobby Bar menu along with seven Petiscos (tapas) which include garlicky cooked carrots, bruschetta topped with red and yellow peppers, and a bean salad served within a tiny glass.

The bar faces the Lobby “Tree” sculpture, made with grafts of acacia and pine and surrounded by small chimneys, where a soulful Fado concert is performed by a singer and guitarists each evening at 7:00 pm.

Promontorio Architects chose the uppermost floor for the spa and constructed window walls that separate the indoor heated swimming pool, hammam, and sauna from the terrace where guests can do yoga and Pilates on a grassy stretch and relax on chaises, enjoying the expansive views to the ocean. Each of the seven treatment suites has its own fully equipped dressing room with sink, a beautiful box for jewelry, a large mosaic tiled shower, and a lavatory.

The treatments fuse holistic Asian wellness rituals, including Thai massage on a dedicated room with mats on the floor, Tingsha meditation bells, and a future Ayurveda specialty. Locally sourced Portuguese ingredients dominate in treatments, including a coffee exfoliation and citrus-based powders, oils, and citrus tea from the local orange groves.

My therapist, Renata, met me at reception and escorted me directly to a double treatment room with a private outdoor terrace equipped with a whirlpool and chaise lounges. The 90-minute Anantara Signature Massage started with an almond milk foot bath and coffee scrub/exfoliation. The massage incorporated local orange and almond-infused oil, started at the toes, and worked its way to my face and scalp, before Renata twinkled the bell, announcing its end.

During the three days and four nights or my visit, I discovered the diverse appeal of the Algarve traveling by van, raft, jeep, taxi, and tuk-tuk along the 136-mile coastline. Portugal, Europe’s least costly beach and golf destination, offers countless coastal communities—from ancient Moorish fishing villages, to dense seaside high-rise communities, to golf resorts and hotels for every taste and budget.




Irvina Lew

Irvina Lew

Author and freelance travel writer Irvina Lew covers food for She has been writing about pure spa cuisine for decades. This peripatetic Long Island native credits her personal wellness to all she has learned from spa experts.