The Good Spa Guide was delighted to receive an invitation to the stylish new resort and spa at Macdonald Monchique, shortly after its official opening in June 2016. In a relatively quiet area of Portugal's Algarve, up in the mountains, surrounded by trees and woodland, the resort setting is peaceful and remote; you'll need local transport for day trips to the beaches or golf courses, a short drive away. The views stretch all the way to the Atlantic coast and, because you're in the mountains, cool breezes can calm even the sunniest of Portugal's sunny days.
The local spring water, in the small village of Monchique, has been famous since Roman times. Like all natural spring waters, it is considered to have healing properties (which is how the world of spa came into being in the first place). Local brand Monchique Cosmetics uses this spring water as a base in their products, which feature in the hotel bathrooms and are used in treatments at the spa.
What's on offer
The modern resort is extensive, made up of three buildings on the mountainside. You arrive at reception on the top floor, the eleventh, which is a large and airy open space. On the floors below are the suites -- the hotel rooms are all suites, in fact -- a gym, and a games room. A connecting corridor on the seventh floor takes you into the second building, further down the mountain, with more rooms, a shop, restaurants, a bar, the spa and the outdoor pool surrounded by sun loungers. Further down again is another building, the dedicated family area, with its own pool and children's play park.
The staff are friendly and helpful, and all speak English. They will furnish you with adapters if you forget to bring your own, help with transport and activities, and leave little sweeties on your bedside table during the turn-down service.
The suites are comfortable, with plenty of space for the flat-screen TV, Nespresso machine, and table where you can set up your laptop and make the most of the free wi-fi. In the bathroom, Monchique Cosmetics provides the shower gel, shampoo and conditioner. If you can, opt for one of the rooms facing south towards the coast, with balconies and huge windows to make the most of the view.
When you need a break from soaking up the sun, trying one of the many activities available at the resort, working out at the gym (open 24 hours) or taking one of the paths into the mountain woods for a walk, there's always the spa.
The adult-only Sensorial Spa, which you pass on the ground floor as you make your way to the outdoor pool, features a set of thermal experiences, as well as an indoor pool.
The changing rooms are fairly small but have everything you need in the way of white wooden lockers, slate-lined showers, loos, private changing spaces, and hairdryers, along with white towelling robes and slippers.
The heated indoor pool area, finished with mosaic tiles and a slate floor, has a large window overlooking the bright blue outdoor pool, with a cascade of water providing a soothing backdrop. The swan pipe, lounger and bubble chair in the pool add variety to your chill-out experience, or you could just relax on the loungers at the pool edge. The spa pool has graduated steps into the water, which is great for those with mobility problems.
The thermal area is beautifully finished in a variety of shiny mosaic tiles in varying colours: shimmering grey in the experience showers, blue in the frosty igloo room, bronze for the three footbaths. The nicely hot wooden sauna has a colour-changing wall of Himalayan rock salt (good for your breathing). You can also try a Turkish hammam, a steam cabin, and an aroma cabin, mixing temperatures and humidities to suit your needs and mood. The heated tiled loungers allow you to just let the world go by.
All of the treatment rooms -- seven individual treatment rooms and a room for couples -- are decorated in natural, neutral colours; they are calming and soothing spaces in which both men and women would feel comfortable. The light relaxation room is bright (with more views) while the darker one allows you to come to your senses post-treatment.
The VIP relax room allows you some together time and treatments in an area with your own private sauna and outdoor Jacuzzi, with -- once again -- inspiring views over the mountains.
Treatments to try
The spa offers treatments by international product house Espa and local brand Monchique Cosmetics. You can try massages with or without hot stones, facials, foot treatments and scrubs, as well as finishing touches including manicures, pedicures and waxing. We encourage you to try the treatments which use the local ingredients, such as the Monchique Honey Ritual or the Monchique Mineral Stone Roll Massage as you simply can't try these treatments anywhere else in the world. We tried three spa treatments particularly suitable for combining with a holiday and you can read more about those spa treatments here.
The resort had three dining options open for guests on our visit. These three main restaurants are on the seventh floor, and almost run from one into the other. The first, Petiscaria, serves traditional Portuguese tapas. Be prudent when you order: the portions are large for tapas plates; we couldn't finish what we had boldly chosen. Start small, because you can always order more. We recommend the semi-soft sheep-milk cheese Queijo de Azeitão, served with walnuts, home-made jam and fresh breads, as well as the marinated carrot salad: who knew that a little getting-to-know-you-time with paprika and coriander could make a carrot so delicious? Also, don't miss the smoked ham or the Portuguese sausages in Medronho, a traditional fruit brandy from the Algarve.
The next restaurant along is O Mercado Culinario, which is where you eat breakfast. Breakfast is a buffet, with a wealth of cereals, pastries, yogurt, toast, juices and hot items for your delectation. There is also an egg station where you can ask for fried eggs or omelettes to be made fresh for you. Waiting staff top up your coffee and tea at a glance.
In the evening, O Mercado Culinario transforms into a different type of buffet, with salads, grills, vegetables, and seafood. It opens at 7pm, but the first half-hour is dedicated to salads and starters, with families in abundance. If you prefer eating quietly, eat later.
We also ate one evening in Mon Chic, the fine-dining restaurant, which specialises in seasonal and local specialities: our cured mackerel dish looked amazing and tasted delicious. The loin of lamb in a herb crust even more so. At true treat for a special occasion.
The poolside bar offers a range of hot dishes, grills and salads. Tables in the shade or the sun allow you to tan or chill in equal measure. The menu spans the familiar -- ham and cheese toasties, burgers, Caesar salad -- and more local options such as melon soup. We opted for the salad bar (€12) where we chose a rainbow from yellow sweetcorn through orange carrot salad, via green rocket, to deep red beetroot. Exceptionally healthy and fresh, and the salads change daily to tempt your tastebuds.
Who would like it?
The active: The Leisure Team at the resort can arrange for you to surf, climb rocks, play golf, ride a horse, or have a go at archery, amongst other things. The "Monchique Challenge" is a day out that involves abseiling, kayaking and tree climbing, as well as other adventures, along with, you will be pleased to hear, a picnic lunch. Head along to see the team and find out what activities are on offer while you're there.
Anyone who wants to recharge or recuperate: Macdonald Monchique offers a wellness programme, featuring yoga, pilates and meditation. The resort is a world away from the tourist-filled beaches we often associate with the Algarve. It is a place to relax, refresh, recover.
Families: A family area with a dedicated kid-friendly pool and the Pizzaria restaurant opens in July. The family suites sleep up to four and have their own kitchenettes to make life easier, with a breakfast basket delivered daily. The Kids' Club is open every day and welcomes four to 12 year olds. Leave them having fun while you make an appointment with relaxation.
A walk up the mountain through pine and eucalyptus to the village of Monchique, where you can try the local spring water. Very alkaline, it tastes slightly sweet and feels very soft. The clear waters run through the village, and there are views all along the way. The Leisure Team will guide you or you can strike out on your own. When we went, the mountain slopes were wreathed in bright pink and purple flowers, and the lush green of a late spring.
Expect to pay
To use the thermal spa for two hours costs €35 per person, or is free if you book a treatment.
The Summer Glow Escape (three nights) includes breakfast, daily access to the spa, a "refreshing ritual" of wrap and hydration, starts from £397 per person.
The Macdonald Monchique Resort and Spa is a 60-minute drive from Faro International Airport. Staff will organise an airport shuttle for you (at a charge) which makes the transfer easy if you're not hiring your own car.