Portugal: Bela Vista Hotel Praia da Rocha, Portimão
A stunningly elegant hotel with tons of character, there is nothing corporate about Bela Vista. Built in 1918 as a seaside villa, it still retains much of the atmosphere of the stylish 1920s and '30s. The villa was renovated and reopened in 2011 with a strong decorative style. The bright blue hand-made tiles that have survived through the years have been used as a starting point for the stylish modern interior, using strong aqua colours.
The hotel sits just above a wide sandy beach and the restaurant and terraces make the most of the wild Atlantic views.
The spa is in a new building across the courtyard, next to some modern bedrooms. Décor uses bright turquoise blues alongside dark woods and white floors. The spa is on the lower ground floor, but a clever light well brings daylight into the relaxation area where there is a large hot tub, steam room and sauna.
The hot tub water jets were a little too gentle for this Spa Spy, a bit too soft on the back if you are looking for a water massage. The nicely warm, fragranced steam room has two glass walls so it is light inside. The sauna is hot at 70-80 degrees celsius and the shower has a choice of very hot or very cold. The large relaxation beds mean you can lie back and enjoy the daylight streaming in through the light well. The treatment rooms are large and comfortable. The downstairs spa reception area has sofas and a drinks area.
Bela Vista Spa is a L’Occitane spa. This upmarket French brand has a wide selection of rich products, and offers a variety of facials and body treatments.
Tell us about the treatments
We had the signature treatment developed by L’Occitane and the Bela Vista Spa together, using the locally grown almonds and almond oils. First I had a 15 minute hydrotherapy bath with almond oils and an almond shower gel. I closed my eyes and drifted away in the warm bubbling water; the warmth, dark and the noise of rushing water was almost womblike.
When I opened my eyes I was almost buried in a mound of bubbles! Sofia, my therapist, rescued me from the suds and took me to another treatment room for the exfoliation. This used an almond paste mixed with almond oil. I expected to smell like a frangipani tart, but the aroma was very delicate. Sofia worked the exfoliant into my skin carefully, paying particular attention to the dry areas on my elbows and my feet.
I showered off the scrub and my skin felt silky soft and smooth. Next was a full body massage, and Sofia was very knowledgeable about her art. She worked each muscle group carefully, using soft, long, lymphatic drainage movements. She told me after the treatment that I should always finish my daily shower by spraying cold water on my puffy ankles, and suggested walking in the sea water as the waves will massage my feet. That wasn’t hard here given the lovely beach just outside the spa.
I finished my two hour treatment feeling wonderfully relaxed. My back, normally creaky and tight, felt looser and my ankles were noticeably slimmer.
The Vista Restaurant is decorated in blue and white to match the panoramic sea views. The modern menu is prepared by a chef who held a Michelin star at his last hotel, and those skills show in the unusual pairings of interesting foods.
We had several amuse bouche; tiny octopus tempura, an oyster served with caviar, and an eel dish which tasted much better than it sounds. Next came mackerel pieces in an Asian style dressing served with pea puree. The main course was melt in the mouth lamb. We finished with a chocolate dessert which was paired with a Portuguese tawny port. Delicious!
The sense of peace that this oasis of a hotel and spa offers. It is right on the seafront in the small town of Portimão, but feels more like a private villa than a hotel. a breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice and just baked croissants.
A morning stroll on the beach before a breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice and just baked croissants.
Watching the sun set into the sea from the terrace, with a glass of tipple.
Ordering the flights of wine. The sommelier described Portuguese grapes, terroir and wine blends.
Who would like it?
Foodies. This is exceptional, exciting food. Good wines make this an excellent duo.
Beachcombers. The wide sandy beach is tempting from early morning until sunset.
Sybarites. The hotel and spa are luxurious, the décor is exciting and innovative, and the rooms are small but beautifully appointed. The spa treatments are lovely and the service is very good.