A renovated 19th-century family farmhouse, Fazenda Nova Country House hotel in the eastern Algarve has kept all its original country-house charm while transforming into a secluded boutique hideaway. The orchard, herb garden and olive trees are still in place, but the chic saltwater pool, stylishly simple suites and delicious dining make it a modern holiday heaven.
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A bottle of local wine or other locally produced treat on arrival
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Check-in is from 2pm to 10pm; guests planning to arrive after hours should check if a later check-in is possible when booking. An express check-in service is available too.
Double rooms from £211.68 (€235), including tax at 6 per cent.
Rates usually include a buffet breakfast.
Call reception to book yourself an in-room spa treatment; a variety of massages and beauty services can be arranged. Private yoga classes are available on request.
Little Smiths can tag along during family weeks (2 to 19 April 2020 and 21 July to 4 August 2020), but the hotel is adults-only the rest of the year.
Mid-November to 1 March.
At the hotel
Library of books and DVDs, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod dock, free WiFi, desk, air conditioning, hair dryer, bathrobe, Ren toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
The garden suites are lovely, and have their own terraces ideal for sunning yourself. Or, splash out on the terrace suite on the hotel’s upper floor: it’s got a bigger terrace and amazing countryside views.
Pull up a lounger by the saltwater pool, part shaded by olive trees, or take a 15-minute taxi ride to the beach.
Bring your reading glasses: the library is stocked with a variety of cool architecture books and vintage magazines, including the entire back catalogue of The Face (founded by hotel-owner Hallie’s dad in the 1980s).
One garden suite has wide doorways and an ensuite bathroom adapted for wheelchair users; all rooms are on the ground floor, and there are ramps for entry at both the front and back of the house.
The fazenda (Portuguese for ‘farm’) is generally a grown-up stay. In 2020, children can only stay from the 2–19 April and 1 to 31 July.
The hotel grows its own fruit, herbs, vegetables, olives and almonds, and sources all other food locally, and has a creative approach to recycling: tables and headboards were made from the building’s original shutters and outdoor furniture was made from a 100-year-old pine on the property. Organic waste is composted or shredded for use on the hotel’s orchards and vegetable gardens, and water is treated on-site to be reused.
If you fancy eating outside, ask to dine by the pool below the carob tree.
Dining’s a laid-back affair, but something vintage and interesting would make sure you fit right in among the hotel’s countless collectables.
A Cozinha offers a daily menu of modernised traditional Portuguese dishes for lunch and dinner, made with local ingredients. You’ll dine on the likes of freshly caught fish with seasonal vegetables or fig and roasted goat cheese salad. The restaurant is closed Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays, when you'll find tempting fare at neighbouring restaurants.
Try one of the delicious Portuguese wines on offer in the bar, next to the restaurant, any time – once the staff have gone to bed you can pour yourself a drink, honesty-bar style.
Breakfast is served 8.30am–10.30am in A Cozinha or on the terrace.
Fazenda Nova is on the edge of Tavira, an historic town in the eastern Algarve, about a 15-minute drive from the beach.
The most convenient airport is in Faro (www.ana.pt), around 25 minutes’ drive from the hotel. It’s served by regular flights from London, Edinburgh, Dublin and throughout Europe.
Tavira’s station – Estacao de Comboios, 15 minutes’ drive away on Largo de Santo Amaro – is on a train line connecting it to other coastal cities in the east and west. If you need to head north, change trains at the larger station in nearby Faro (www.cp.pt).
There’s onsite parking at the hotel; it’s a three-minute walk to the lobby, so staff will pick up your luggage when you arrive. If you’re travelling from the north, take the A2 towards the Algarve. If you’re coming from Seville, it’s about an hour and 45 minutes by car via the E1. You might find GPS helpful: N 37 07 15, W 7 45 19.
Worth getting out of bed for
The Algarve is a full-fledged holiday heaven, where you can hike, cycle, ride horses, take boat trips, enjoy watersports, go quad biking, head out on a jeep safari, shop at local markets… or just lounge on the beach.
If Tim and Hallie’s eclectic decor has inspired you and you happen to be in town on the first Sunday of the month, head to quaint Fuseta for the flea market to pick up vintage toys, magazines and ornaments. The nearby beach at Praia de Fuseta (a 10-minute drive from Fazenda Nova) is nice and sandy, and in an area that’s much less built up than the rest of the Algarve. And if you take the five-minute ferry journey from the beach to the tiny island of Ilha de Fuseta, you're guaranteed to have plenty of space to yourself.
Another small island (from the nearest town, Tavira, it’s a quick ferry ride), Ilha de Tavira has a 14km stretch of white sand feels more like the Caribbean than Portugal. For a particularly romantic journey, there’s also a water taxi service.
If you fancy going back in time, visit Olhao, a small fishing port packed with Moorish-style houses and plenty of welcoming bars, restaurants and market halls. Hungry? Order the catch of the day.
A Barquinha is a laid-back and friendly restaurant by the river that serves up hearty home cooking in stomach-filling portions (Rua Dr José Pires Padinha 142, Tavira 8800; +351 281 32 28 43). Colibri is a top local choice for lunch or dinner, popular for its fresh fish and locally sourced meats, particularly the steak. It gets busy but the service stays friendly; head through the bar at the front to the restaurant tables at the back (Rua Prior Simas 14, Moncarapacho 8700; +351 289 79 24 07). Generally full of locals, Antonio’s is a relaxed café decorated with rustic flourishes in the heart of Moncarapacho; it might not look like much from outside but it’s ideal for simple meals that won’t empty your wallet (Avenida Maria Lisarda Palerma 14B, Moncarapacho 8700; +351 289 791 267.
You’re a hard-working father of three in your early forties and you have just been sent home from hospital after a suspected minor heart attack. Do you a) go home and spend a nervous night waiting for the test results the next day or b) pour yourself a glass of red wine, pop two aspirin and board the flight to Portugal for your family holiday as planned – Faro hospital has a good cardiology reputation, after all. The latter is exactly what Tim Robinson did – and it turned out to be the best decision he ever made. And lucky for us too: little more than a decade later we can enjoy – if all too briefly – the rewards of the now-or-never leap into the good life that he and his wife Hallie made when they fell in love with a crumbling 19th-century farmhouse 25 minutes from Faro.
It’s not often the more discerning travel publications descend on the Algarve, with its reputation for canary trousers and dental-bleached hotel complexes, but the recent opening of Fazenda Nova has had style compasses quivering towards its eastern corner. This boutique hideaway is an oasis of chic dropped amid the endearingly unglitzy salt-pans, gravel tracks, olive groves and briny fishing ports.
While retaining the original structure and features, the lovingly restored farmhouse set in 10 well-tended acres of land (Fazenda roughly translates as ‘country estate’) would be unrecognisable to the Portuguese old lady who lived out her days there – ‘polished concrete in my living room, nao?’ As you come up the lavender-and-rosemary lined path, the traditional exterior gives no hint of the cool (in both senses of the word) haven inside: modern edges and shiny surfaces are softened by offbeat flea-market finds that brighten the walls or adorn the vintage dresser behind the bar.
We were shown around by the lovely Hallie, who sports the kind of relaxed air- and sun-kissed glow, which only comes from long-term cohabitation with the sunshine. The couple joke about who has the true decor flair: Hallie, who worked in PR for some of London’s most exclusive hotels, has impeccable style pedigree, her father Nick Logan – who was involved from the start – was founder of The Face magazine, copies of which can be found in the immaculate mezzanine sea-view library.
Whatever – no expense has been spared and no detail overlooked. We were in the penthouse – mas e claro – a den of muted colours and understated elegance, with a terrace the size of our garden looking out over the hills. There’s no missing the beautiful Balinese bed (all the rooms have them) with its unforgettable (really) Egyptian cotton sheets. Then there’s the bathroom – this might once have been a farmhouse, but the super-contemporary finish (more polished concrete) wouldn’t go amiss in the hippest of city hotels. And it has one of those big drench showers that makes you wish you could always be on holiday, as well as a glut of organic Ren goodies.
You could easily spend a weekend lounging on the private terrace, or by the saltwater pool, or cocooned in one of the hammock pods (as heavenly as they sound) amid the almond and olive trees, but Tim and Hallie’s passion for the area and enthusiastic suggestions (with hand-drawn maps) of unmissable places to visit is impossible to resist. From historic, unspoiled Tavira, one of Portugal’s prettiest towns to the saltier charms of Fuseta (Tim’s favourite place on earth) on the edge of the Ria Formosa lagoon and nature reserve – the region is full of unexpected delights for anyone, like me, foolish enough to associate the Algarve only with golf buggies and Irish pubs.
We spent one long, blissful day starting out from the lively port of Olhão, which boasts the best fish and vegetable market in the Algarve, exploring the extraordinary Ilha da Culatra – one of the sandspit island that forms part of the Ria Formosa a short boat trip from the mainland. With no cars and precious few people, this fishing island seems lost in time. At its summer peak the tiny town of Farol has 3,000 residents, and the main drag is so sleepy that even the low houses seem to be snoozing beneath their bougainvillea.
But the real draw is the beach – an endless stretch of unblemished white sand buffeted by the Atlantic breeze. Were it not for the sumptuous bed waiting back at Fazenda Nova there would have been a real danger of missing the last ferry and having to find board and lodging in one of the magical toy houses. Happily sunned and sanded, we finished off in one of the noisy, tile-lined restaurants along the waterfront at Olhão, where the waiter peremptorily decided our meal for us, a monkfish cataplana (so named after the traditional copper dish in which it is served), a regional speciality and a piscatorial wonder.
The next morning – after melt-in-your-mouth croissants baked in the 200-year-old wood oven – we were able to take advantage of it being the first Sunday in the month to visit the infamous (at least to visitors to Fazenda Nova) Fuseta flea market. This is a must – but be warned, you need Tim or Hallie’s discerning eye for a bargain; were it not for the firm (bossy) hand of Mr Smith we would have returned to London with a cracked bed pan and a selection of rusty cow bells.
For lunch, we tracked down the much recommended but hard-to-find Marisqueira Fialho restaurant, an unprepossessing shack on the banks of the marshes, serving the best seafood I’ve ever eaten. It clearly isn’t a secret among the locals: as it was Portuguese mother’s day, the outdoor terrace was as bursting with tables of happy plump Portuguese matrons as the chill counter was loaded with even plumper fish of every variety.
In the closest I will ever come to a Grazia moment, I raced back to the ranch for a siesta before a private yoga lesson at sunset on our veranda (get me!). With my chakras buffed and realigned we floated down to dinner in Fazenda Nova’s bijoux A Cozinha restaurant for yet more delicious seasonal, regional cooking – then up to our roof terrace with a tipple from the honesty bar (well, I did do all those downward dogs).
As Tim and Hallie first spotted amid the tumbling-down walls, there is something special about this place and they have restored it to a true 21st-century sanctuary. Get on an early flight from London, and you could be enjoying grilled sea bass and a glass of chilly vinho verde under the carob trees by lunchtime. You don’t need a heart attack as an excuse to go.