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Dolphin Watching in the Algarve

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What is it? An apartment at Quinta de Sao Roque, a small complex with two pools (one of them specifically for young children).

Where? A few miles outside Lagos in the Portuguese Algarve.

Description: [portugal_family.jpg]Fancy some sunshine? Portugal’s western Algarve comes up trumps, with a luxury family-friendly apartment near the resort of Lagos. The combination of pool, stunning sandy beaches and a bustling night-life proved a winner for Jo Waters, husband Mark and their three daughters

Sunshine, beautiful beaches and a laid-back atmosphere.

The apartment has a shared pool and is less than a mile from Meia Praia beach – one of the longest sandy beaches in the Algarve. Meia Praia is largely unspoilt with some low-key beach bars and restaurants. The town of Lagos with its marina, restaurants and bars, is a short drive away, and the apartment overlooks farmland, the sea and the distant mountains of Monchique.

Lagos has a promenade culture where locals and tourists walk around the cobbled streets of the old town to bag tables selling fabulous locally-caught sardines and listen to street musicians. It has a buzz but is a world away from the Spanish Costas, and you won’t find any Rover’s Return English pubs here.

A babysitting service is available at the complex and the sister golfing resort of Parque da Floresta in Budens has a creche and sporting activities for children.

None at the complex itself but Parque da Floresta has a health and beauty spa.

Local activities: Meia Praia beach is glorious but you’d kick yourself if you missed out on the some of the other fantastic beaches in this area – including Salema, Burgau and Prai Da Luz. Lagos has a marina where you can get on a boat and see the rocky and rugged Algarve coastline and its caves from the sea, and go dolphin-watching or deep sea fishing. You can also drive up to the mountains to the Spa town of Monchique or visit the historic town of Silves. Larger more built-up resorts such as Portimao and Carvoeiro are close.

Wish we had known: Quinta de Sao Roque is off quite a scary narrow country road – arriving in darkness after a tiring flight and driving from the airport was not the best start. Arrive in daylight to avoid rows about directions!

Our top tip: Lagos town centre is a nightmare for parking but if you drive to the marina you can park easily and walk across a footbridge into the town centre. You can also get hotel reception to call you a taxi into town.

Kids say: “The pool was so cool – we went in every day,” says Annie, eight. “The Dolphin Safari was the best ever thing I’ve done – we got to see so many dolphins,” adds Holly, 11.’ “I loved the ice cream parlour in Lagos and all the musicians,” says seven-year-old Phoebe.

Getting There: Quinta de Sao Roque sleeps six, available through www.holiday-rentals.co.uk, from L450 to L895 per week. The apartment is an 80-km drive from Faro airport; just follow the A22 motorway from Faro and come off at the first Lagos exit. We flew from Gatwick to Faro with Easyjet www.easyjet.com) for L845 for five flights, and hired a Peugot estate car for 12 days through Zitautos ( www.zitautos.co.uk) for L350.

About our stay: We wanted a pool and beach holiday with interesting things to see and do nearby within a short haul flight of the UK. Because it was peak summer holiday time at the end of July/beginning of August, we knew we’d need air conditioning too. As a family of five we know from experience that hotels are too cramped for us and don’t offer the flexibility that a self-catering apartment or villa does. Booking packages can be prohibitively expensive so we decided to use the website www.holiday-rentals.co.uk, where you can cut out the middle man and book direct with holiday property owners, making substantial savings. We chose Quinta de Sao Roque because it looked luxurious and its location seemed to provide the best of both worlds – peaceful beach views but within striking distance of lively Lagos with its street entertainers and bustling restaurants. We weren’t disappointed in either. Our apartment had three double bedrooms with two huge bathrooms and a well-equipped kitchen with dishwasher and washing machine, and a huge lounge/dining room with big squashy sofas and satellite TV and hi-fi. It also had a balcony that overlooked some farmland, the beach and the sea, plus a Jacuzzi. I don’t mind admitting it was better than our house at home and really lived up to the “luxurious” description on the site. The children loved all the space and we didn’t get the claustrophobia we’d had on some of our previous trips. We spent quite a few afternoons retreating from the scorching afternoon sun and enjoying the cool of the apartment. [portugal_pool.jpg] There were two pools on the complex but the one specially designated for children tended to be dominated by toddlers and babies so we opted for the other one. It could get a little crowded some days but most people alternated pool mornings with afternoons at the beach or exploring in the car so it was never a problem. The apartment was within walking distance of Meia Praia beach, which was sandy with low-key beach bars and restaurants. The people on the beach seemed to be mostly Portuguese families which is often a good sign. After a couple of days unwinding and soaking up the sun we branched out farther afield to explore some of the stunning beaches the western Algarve offers. At Praia da Luz we sheltered from the scorching sun under sun loungers and canopies you can hire for the day, and lunched on sardines and chips at one of the nearby beach bars. We went for a high-speed ride on a banana boat (much screaming from all of us!) and loved the laid–back atmosphere. Another day we drove to Cape St Vincent – the blustery and most Westerly point in Europe and scene of famous sea battles. The cliffs were dramatic and very atmospheric and you could almost see how this area of coastline was once regarded as the edge of the earth back in the -world-is-flat days. Our favourite day was the trip we took out with Algarve Dolphins (www.algarve-dolphins.com  (351) 282 764 670 on a dolphin watching trip down the coastline in a rigid inflatable boat. It was expensive (about L150 for five of us) but worth every penny when we saw the kids whooping and screaming with delight as a school of 50 of more dolphins swam alongside us for over half an hour. The marine biologist onboard answered all their questions and our eldest used up an entire disposable camera snapping their antics. You just know it’s a childhood memory they’ll always treasure. The off–the-beaten track resort of Salema was one of our favourite beaches with its fishing boats and authentic Portuguese atmosphere. On a particularly scorching hot day we drove up to the cooler hill town of Monchique and enjoyed wandering around the old-fashioned cobbled streets and craft shops. Development is creeping up around Lagos (we noticed a huge difference since our last visit 20 years ago) but the town centre has narrow cobbled streets and it’s virtually impossible to spoil its charm. We loved going out to eat in the town at night and sitting outside to eat the sardine paste and bread every restaurant provides as a cover (strangely addictive!). Musicians, mime artists and break-dancers all made for a lively holiday atmosphere and there were hair braiders, cartoonists, street traders and a carousel too. [portugal_cutie.jpg] Quinta Da Sao Roque is a holiday apartment I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to families. The apartment was luxurious, the views stunning and the near-by resort of Lagos a pleasant holiday town. As a holiday it did everything it delivered everything it promised – and more.

Created: 2008-09-17 19:21:42.987

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