W Algarve review: 5-star paradise serving up playful twist on perceptions of south Portugal
Architecturally arresting sunseeker’s dream, with food and drink to die for: W Algarve brings a vibrant new energy to an old favourite
Mention the Algarve in conversation and you’re likely to encounter one of two responses. The naysayers will decry it as past its best - a destination that peaked in the latter decades of the 20th century. Those on the other side of the coin are likely to point to the region’s near-incessant summer sunshine, picture postcard beaches and beautifully rugged rocky coastline as reasons to go there.
You’d think it would be hard to find common ground between the two camps. But I think a stay at W Algarve would be enough to get them singing from the same hymn sheet.
Situated almost slap bang in the centre of Portugal’s southernmost coast, roughly a 10-minute drive from the party town of Albufeira and 40 minutes from the region’s largest airport at Faro, the 5-star hotel delivers a luxury, modern twist on the typical Algarve suntrap resort.
Opened in June 2022 atop a prominent headland, the west-facing buildings that house the hotel’s 134 rooms are architecturally arresting. In parts they hark to the wave-beaten rocky cliffs and caves that dominate the shoreline, while in others they recall the abundant catches of the Portuguese fishers you can see plying their trade just offshore through iridescent painted fish scales.
This feast for the eyes continues in the hotel’s brightly coloured interior, which is adorned with Algarve-inspired tiling and trendy custom-made furnishings. The rooms themselves contain headboards evoking traditional Portuguese rooftops complete with their own minaret-style chimneys (which, somewhat playfully, house the mini bar). It all gives you a sense of place you usually struggle to find in hotel chains.
The high attention to detail is matched by neat, sustainability-minded functionality. The air conditioning shuts off the instant you open the balcony or garden door separating you from the 30-plus degree heat outside. Light sensors mean you don’t accidentally leave bulbs blazing or face the ignominy of scrambling for a switch in the night.
A luxury embrace is provided by indulgent bed linen and rain shower heads. While I found the Fabulous suite (€669/£577 per night) more than met my needs, those with more cash to burn can opt for the luxury of an ocean view, or even a private plunge pool and sunbathing area.
When you’re not sleeping, it’s likely you’ll be out enjoying the sun. W Algarve’s pool area offers an array of sun loungers, sun beds and hammocks, all of which are served by a team of attentive staff who can be summoned to take your food and/or drink order at the click of a button.
Should you prefer the sound of rolling waves over the gentle beats of W’s playlist, the closest beach - Praia do Evaristo - is a 5-minute downhill trundle away. However, its jumble of rocks means those seeking out a sea swim are likely to be better-served by the slightly more distant beaches of Praia da Balbina or Praia do Castelo (the latter of which can also be reached via a regular hotel shuttle service).
For those whose mind, body and soul considerations trump cocktails and sunbathing, the hotel offers just the tonic. Its FIT gym contains an array of high-end equipment and offers several classes a day. Next door, the Away Spa offers several different massages and beauty treatments. An hour-long Deep Flow massage (€105/£91) was enough to disentangle tension throughout my body, leaving me feeling reinvigorated. If you still find yourself striving for further wellness, the spa also plays host to top-notch facilities including a sauna, ice tub and sensorial shower.
After nourishment for the soul, you may well be in need of some sustenance. There are four main options when it comes to dining out at W Algarve. Breakfast is served at Market Kitchen and offers everything from custom omelettes to custard tarts. Service was slightly patchy at peak time (around 10am) but proved to be fully attentive earlier on.
At lunchtime and dinner, the restaurant offers a selection of Portuguese specialities at high but reasonable prices. The whole roasted cauliflower was a delight, with the wide sushi-offering also proving to be a highlight. For lunch in a slightly more relaxed setting, the poolside SIP@Wet Deck serves up crowd pleasing burgers, light-bites and salads that are ideal for all ages.
While both of these eateries are great options, the hotel’s ultimate culinary gem can be found at Paper Moon. Founded in Milan’s fashion district in 1977, the Italian restaurant’s latest offshoot (it already feeds guests in Goa, Hong Kong, Istanbul and Doha) provides wonders for the tastebuds. Melt in the mouth gnocchetti and an immaculately presented raviolone were accompanied by Portuguese brut sparkling wine Murganheira. These slipped down very easily, moving from reality into reverie almost too quickly. Proceedings were rounded off by a light, zingy panna cotta.
There are also fantastic places to enjoy a drink as the sun sets. After eating at Paper Moon, you can move outside to enjoy a post-dinner drink at Sea Sky with the lights of Armação de Pera twinkling at you in the distance.
Two storeys below is the W Lounge, which has a menu of cocktails based around local ingredients, such as thyme and fig. But the real magic arrives when the talented servers venture off-menu. A playful, popcorn twist on a pornstar martini and the addition of marmalade to a whisky sour opened up a new world of flavour, just as darkness fell.
And that really sums up W Algarve. Not only does it add a new flavour of luxury to Portugal’s south coast, but it also brings a more vibrant, more modern feel to the region that may hopefully reinvigorate it in the eyes of any naysayers. Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean.