a weekend in paradise

I have a very special relationship with Portugal. I’ve gone there almost every year since I was about 14, and while we’ve been to several other places, nothing beats a little gem called Vale do Lobo in my eyes.

Vale do Lobo is not what you’d call a slice of authentic Portugal, but it is a bubble of sunshine-y, luxurious perfection on one of the most gorgeous coasts in the world. I’ve had a ridiculous amount of brilliant holidays here, the most memorable being the 3 weeks I spent there over my 18th birthday. With views like this, who could resist?!

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This year, my parents and sister were heading out for 11 days. My brother and I were supposed to be joining them for a long weekend at the end, but after the crash he couldn’t join them. Being the caring family that we are, we decided to invite my old travelling buddy Sophie to come along. We headed out there on Thursday night and, even though we were absolutely knackered after a spontaneous night out in London the night before, headed straight out for cocktails with my parents. I have a pet waiter there and a love for watermelon martinis, and although there were none of them available, my boy Tiago remembered who I was for previous years so I was a very happy bunny!

For the rest or the weekend, we spent the days relaxing on the beach or by the pool, and loving the gorgeous gorgeous scenery:

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And the evenings enjoying sunsets at some of my very favourite restaurants. One of my favourite places in the world, Julia’s beach bar is a walk down the beach from VDL and was a must-do for our first night (as it should be for anyone that is staying anywhere nearby!). This is actually where I spent the night of my 18th with all my family and it holds some very, very good memories – we always go at least once every trip, and we always make the walk during the most perfect light.

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The food at Julia’s is great – their prawns are AMAZING and the largest I have ever seen, and Portuguese speciality peri peri chicken is always a must, along with the African Rice. They are both pretty spicy though, so beware!

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But the real reason to visit Julia’s, aside from great service, atmosphere and food, is the views. If you can get a table “outside” (there is a covered and uncovered area), prepare yourself for one of the most gorgeous sunsets you will ever see. It is perfect. This time, we were lucky enough to also get a glimpse of Venus, just there above the moon!

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Another of my favourite restaurants is Sandbanks, which is on Vale do Lobo itself and specialises in seafood. This time, we ended up with arguably the very best table in the restaurant, and over my prawn & monkfish kebabs we watched yet another unbelievably beautiful sunset over my favourite beach.

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Nights in VDL, however, are a slightly less civilised story. It is home to one of the most infamously hilarious places in the world, a little club called Gecko. I wasn’t really planning on going this year – it is famously frequented by sixteen-year-olds and I have also been at least a billion times in my life – but when my sister arrived before us, I was delighted to find that some old friends of mine were also out there. On our second night, we were joyously reunited: I met them when I was here 3 years ago and we were out there at the same time 2 years ago, too, but I hadn’t seen them since then so a reunion was long overdue!

For old times’ sake, the boys soon persuaded us to join them in Gecko, and so after several dubious rounds of Blue Lagoon, we ended up there after all – and not on just one night, but two!

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It hasn’t changed one bit, but we have got older, and we were left feeling distinctly middle-aged after being told pityingly by some seventeen or eighteen year old girls “don’t worry – you don’tΒ lookΒ 21!” Devastating! We also bumped into one of the boys we had befriended just a week earlier at Lucy’s, which was a lovely surprise and it was great to see him again.

Post-Gecko, tradition dictated that we headed back to the boys’ villa to sit by the rooftop pool and watch the sunrise, which always happens somehow and is always a highlight of my holiday. This year, we made the very happy discovery that Jake has acquired a tiny and adorable French bulldog puppy since I last saw him. Few things beat coming back from a night out to play with a puppy!

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Out of the four nights we were in VDL, we spent two of them staying up all night at Jake’s house, which left us RIDICULOUSLY tired (and especially hungover and zombie-like for the hellish flight home). However, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. There is quite honestly nothing that beats sitting on the roof terrace watching the sun come up over the Algarve coast, before heading home through scenery like this (even if you are headed directly for the airport).

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As I said, VDL isn’t exactly authentic Portuguese culture but I love it. It was lovely to spend some time with my family (although minus my brother, who stayed at home but was well looked after, for those who are wondering!) and it was nice to spend some time relaxing. And on the flipside of that, it is always nice to indulge a little in some good old fashioned debauchery while we still can. I LOVE my Portugal boys and it was so, so nice to see them again – they are always what makes the holiday and I’m never entirely sure that I’ll see them again so every moment counts!

I say it a lot, but I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. I’d stay there all summer if I could, but it’s back to reality and the various disasters that haunt my life…although this weekend does, I think, bring a trip to Southwold, so I guess it’s not all bad!

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