04 Jul 2019 1034
Sandra Nobre Short Stories
#experiences #tips

A day at the PortoBay Falésia

"Oh dear, oh dear, I shall be too late...” Just like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, we are always trying to catch up for a few days’ rest. The Algarve is the eternal holiday destination. Visitors acquire a taste for the sea and the wind. And every minute counts... 

6pm Happy hour

In Lewis Carroll's book, time stands still at six o'clock in the evening for the White Rabbit, making him mad about all the things he still has left to do. But on holiday, six o'clock in the evening can be a blessing, a time when the sky turns pink, orange and red, a sign of the heat of the day to come. The sun is still red but no longer burns. The seagulls flock down to the beach, harbingers of the coming storm, to be sheltered by the cliffs above, which are carved out like sandcastles by the wind, shifting like time itself. With their feet on the sand, with slow or hurried steps measured with some app or other, going this way and that, and no yearning for discovery, exercisers seek only to redeem themselves from their long hours stretched out on a towel. At this time of day, a dip in the sea is a breath of freedom. And if you stop at the Búzios bar, waiting for sunset, you can hear the lapping of the waves with an ear to the shell you bought in a souvenir shop, and watch the sunset with a glass of rosé or a strawberry vodka. And if you delay, a tequila sunrise will also arrive at six. Happy days!

8.30pm Show cooking

In the restaurant Falésia, there are mainly foreign couples dotted around the tables. Judging from their skin, the colour of the local shrimp, it seems they only began to discover the Algarve a few days ago. The region boasts 50 different wines, the flavours of the Mediterranean, local appetisers - tuna muxama carpaccio, tuna and shrimps with clams and crackling - and popular sayings - ‘an oven does not always make a doughnut’ and then a fillet of red snapper arrives at table four or ‘the bigger the fish the better the flavour’ and again the tuna, now grilled, or the fillet of gilthead bream and sea bass glazed in olive oil to whet the appetite, or ‘a good kitchen always has meat’ and the Loulé-style free-range chicken with Tuscan rice comes from the mountains.  You only know a place when you look at it from every angle and in this case you need to literally "passar as passas do Algarve” (go through the mill) because ‘the forbidden fruit is the most desired’ and how do you choose between the carob cake, orange tart or the sweet potato mille-feuille, when you swore that you would not break the diet that you have just started? The solution is always to leave your good intentions for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, at the Madeira restaurant show cooking is top of the bill. Here, André Sarbib, without his band today, brings a musical shine to the meal. His relationship with PortoBay group hotels goes back a long way and plays them all in turn, bringing the songs recorded over his long career and the shows with Ivan Lins (who he accompanies on the piano whenever he plays in Portugal). After a while, he invites diners to sing along with him. They can’t get the chorus to "Oh, Madalena, Madalena, Madalena..." but join in the final applause.

10pm Playlist

A set of coloured lights, a mirror ball and some dancing feet. The live band plays old hits from the musicals. The cocktails get the pairs moving slightly clumsily to the centre of the room. There is a fire in those who have dared to try "medronho” the typical fruit brandy. The show changes every night. From the terrace of the suite you can see other lights, the city in the background; a city that doesn’t sleep. The sea does not rest either: you can hear it, like a murmur, the perfect sound to rock you to sleep. 

10am Menu of the day

Dawn peeps in through the curtains of your room. As the television shows you the world in the waking hours, can there be anything more satisfying than lying back and watching without the pressure of time? An activity menu tells you how much there is on offer. The spa seems like the perfect suggestion to prepare your body for the holiday rhythm. In the meantime, nourish your body with the Madeira restaurant's buffet breakfast. There are a few takers for the healthy options, with its wide range of produce. You can spot the regular customers who are on friendly terms with the staff and exchange holiday episodes. The memory of the Spanish series ‘Verano Azul’ comes to mind...

11am Sea of tranquillity

A dip in the Blu Spa. The image of Jacques Cousteau appears on the screen, the oceanographer who taught us to look at the sea and drew attention to the importance of preserving the oceans. The French explorer once said in an interview: "When you dive, you begin to feel like an angel. It’s a liberation of your weight". It will not be twenty thousand leagues under the sea that separates us from the treatment room, named after other famous oceanographers like Jacques Piccard or Sylvia Earle. Take a deep breath, the journey begins now. In the 55 minutes that follow, we indulge in the sensations of a Thai-inspired Blu Holistic massage with sea bolus and lavender. Tense muscles are eased, one by one, with pressure and stretching using precise movements. The sky of lights above the massage table changes colour. We enclose ourselves in the shell with our thoughts. We plunge into our interior, an authentic expedition into a world of silence.

1pm Appetisers

Returning to the surface, still enveloped in this ‘cocooning’ atmosphere that harmonizes us with the universe, we entertain ourselves with a snack by the pool and a fresh orange juice - if life gives you oranges in the Algarve... - while fishing for ideas for the rest of the afternoon.

2.30pm Checkmate

The next steps are decided in an outsize game of chess, reminding us of other stories. Beach or pool, is that the question? Better to forget the scorching heat of the middle of the day; there is no sunscreen and hat that will protect us until 4pm. Exploring the surrounding area is a better bet. At the Cerro da Vila Archaeological Museum, in Vilamoura, you can find out about the Roman, Visigoth and Arab civilisations that inhabited the region over the centuries in the villa built in the former port area, where there were public bathhouses and fish salting tanks in what may have been a factory, as well as funerary temples. A dozen kilometres into the interior, in Loulé, the Tasa project is worth a detour for those who enjoy crafts, with a combination of local culture, traditions and design. It sells beautiful pieces of furniture, fashion, decorative accessories and utensils, which recycle ancestral materials, techniques and knowledge for contemporary use. Imagine a tube-shaped treasure-chest of memories made of sugar cane to wear around your neck, containing aromatic plants, leaves, notes and messages, even grains of sand ...  Is there a better souvenir of this trip? Another afternoon, Zoomarine is a good option and don’t assume it’s just for kids: who can resist swimming with dolphins... There must be some who prefer to play golf and there are many options in the area, but not all of us have the aptitude for a hole in one.

4.30pm “Oh dear, oh dear, I shall be too late...”

Go down to the beach via the direct route, beyond the gate, and try the water sport menu or read Estuário by Lídia Jorge, which is set in the Algarve, a depiction of the fragility of the human condition. Praia das Belharucas, named for the birds of the same name (bee-eaters) that nest in the rocky cliffs, extends to Praia da Falésia and then continues to Maria Luísa Beach along three kilometres of soft sand. It is easy to spread your towel out and feel at peace. The pool and lounger are also worth considering. At 6pm the clock will stop and everything will start again. Soon the history will change: "Oh dear, oh dear, time is running out. My wonderful holidays are going by in a flash. Someone hit the stop button!"
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