Vila Monte Farm House oozes boho chic luxury and offers a glimpse into real Algarve life
PUBLISHED: 13:33 05 July 2017 | UPDATED: 10:19 11 July 2017
© Nick Bayntun
Emma Bartholomew takes her three children to the Algarve's Vila Monte boho chic resort, where they try out a goat herding "experience", wood fire pizza making, as well as full-on out-and-out relaxing.
“We need to go fast at the start,” Nuno Coelho the goat herder told us as we set off into the Algarvian countryside.
Pepok his Portuguese sheepdog chased around the herd excitedly - apparently showing off because we had joined them on the journey today.
My eight-year-old daughter Ines was taking the matter very seriously, making sure strays at the back didn’t get left behind by prodding them gently with her staff.
We left the tiny village for the open countryside in sweltering heat, protected by sun hats and scarves we had borrowed from the Vila Monte country house where we were staying – a half an hour’s drive away.
“The goats like to walk and walk,” Nuno told us.
He left Lisbon six years ago to lead a more wholesome, laidback existence, eventually hoping to set up a milk factory.
He shared nuggets of interesting information as we made our way across the hillsides, populated with big white flowers and yellow gorse which apparently boost the goats’ milk protein.
The milk’s taste changes with the seasons, taking on a sweet tinge when the goats eat the fennel we can see.
Nuno doesn’t bother keeping count of his goats, and sometimes one will turn up he hasn’t seen in weeks.
Our afternoon ends sitting on a picnic blanket in the shade of the pines eating cottage cheese made by Nuno’s mother-in-law as the goats whose milk it was made from milled around.
It’s just one of the activities Vila Monte can organise, curated by Hugo Farey – who has been given the grand title of “experience creator”, and he has a badge to prove it.
The Frenchman explains he’s got the advantage of having an outsider’s eye.
While locals might consider outings with a fisherman or shepherd run-of-the-mill, he can see their potential for fascinating foreigners wanting to find out about the local way of life.
Had Hugo not made the connection with Nuno we’d never have hooked up with a goat herder and shared some moments that made our holiday all the more special, like holding Pepok’s two day old puppies or seeing the newborn kids in the barn.
Most tourists flying into Faro would head north for the huge seaside resort of Albufeira but Vila Monte is a 20 minute cross country drive east in Moncarapacho.
You know you’ve arrived somewhere unique when you cross a bridge to enter Vila Monte’s cobbled driveway, lined with Cyprus trees and lanterns – like a “magical garden” Ines thought.
A huge wood burning furnace takes centre stage emanating a rustic smell in the Design Hotel’s country house lobby.
Here you can see chefs at work in the A Terra restaurant, which is all about going “back to the earth” - but here you can do that in total boho chic luxury.
The entire resort oozes zen calm. The sounds of the birds, the grasshoppers and the frogs in the lake. The smell of orange blossom and the feast for your eyes of Vilamonte’s handsome white buildings and beautifully manicured garden.
Every sense is nurtured leaving you feeling blissfully relaxed and peaceful.
There are four buildings spread out in the landscaped grounds and we stayed in the hotel’s new family suite collection next to the family pool.
Effectively it’s two apartments joined together meaning there is plenty of space. Like all the décor here, the rooms are whitewashed, airy and simply sophisticated.
It’s bliss to wake up and hear the birds singing and look outside through trellis windows at the carp filled pond.
To reach the restaurant serving breakfast you past through an orange grove, and the spread is as good as it gets, from pastries to fresh smoothies and a particular surprise favourite the pumpkin jam – so good I brought a jar and the recipe home.
They’re big on experiences and that extends to food too.
We joined chef Gustavo in the A Terra kitchen for a pizza making workshop which even my 15-year-old twins loved – especially eating them at the end.
He showed us how to make the dough before designing our very own pizzas, adding infinite variations of buffalo mozzarella, courgette, egg, mushroom, anchovy – the tubs were endless.
The verdict? The “best pizzas ever”.
While Vila Monte might not be the cheapest hotel on the market, the long-lasting memories created here are worth splashing out a bit more for, and you might find it ends up being the best value for money after all.