Algarve Dreamworld

It’s hard to believe that a haven of beauty can still exist just minutes from the tourist-trampled Algarve coast. By the time you reach Albufeira on the 125 Motorway to Portomao you are in the land of the ‘Full English Breakfast’ and ‘Karaoke tonight!’ Will a short detour really lead you not only to a small hotel in a quiet location, but to the only kitchen in Portugal to merit two Michelin stars? It does. Drive on for ten minutes more, up past a sheep farm, around the elbow of a small vineyard and then through the gates of the Vila Joya.

The rules of engagement are set out immediately. You are being invited to enter a kind of dream world where everything is designed for your pleasure. The serene vila itself, in its lush garden setting, is like a miniature Moorish palace, the man in the flowing white robes who greets you on the steps is the ‘Maitre de Plaisir’. He will remember your name and, soon, your preferred aperitif. Joya means ‘jewel box’ and that expresses the ambience well. Against the white plaster walls of the light filled entrance hall, there’s a darkly upholstered antique Portuguese couch, under the sweep of the staircase, rows of books in every language.  And from the hall you get your first impressive view of the broad, blue Atlantic.

Originally a private home, the family established the Vila Joya as a

 five star hotel some 20 years ago. Joy Jung, the founder’s daughter, manages it now, carefully preserving the elegant and artistic atmosphere her parents created. There are 12 bedrooms and five suites in the vila and guests who have been returning every season, some for two decades, will have their favourites.What they have in common is that each has a private terrace overlooking the vila’s subtropical garden and an unobstructed view of the ever-changing ocean.

The Vila’s spa is an oasis of relaxation, staffed by skilled Asian therapists.

In this privileged world there are really only two pressing questions: how will you spend your day, and what will the chef propose for dinner? The vila is surrounded by golf courses, 12 of them in fact, in four of which Vila Joya’s guests pay substantially reduced green fees. But there’s also tennis, riding at a nearby stable (where you can try the paces of a Lusitanian horse), yachting, walking the long ochre beaches fringing the vila’s property, or driving into the hills to see some of the prettiest villages in Portugal. But surprisingly often, as Joy told me, visitors ultimately decide to do nothing more than stretch out on a chaise lounge, dabble in the vila’s curvaceous, heated swimming pool – and wait for dinner.

There is no denying that diner is a focus here, a ‘grande finale’ to the Vila Joya day. Whether served indoors in the elegant terra cotta and cream dining room, or outdoors with the garden and the sea before you it is orchestrated to perfection. Austrian Chef Dieter Kochina has been defending his two Michelin stars here for many years. Everything is perfection beginning with the evening’s handwritten menu beside your place at your candlelit table.  There will be at least six courses,  and each will be served on exquisite dinnerware. The wine recommendations are described and discussed with engaging clarity by the  sommelier. Soft classical music merges with the sound of the Atlantic surf. After dinner you may linger for a final drink before the fire in the sitting room, or in the bar with its overtones of Casablanca.

In the morning, you tell yourself, you’ll make a start on those activities. Or on the other hand, maybe not.

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