I first visited Vale do Lobo 23 years ago and have returned every year, bar one. 14 years ago we spent an indulgent couple of months there, between jobs, during which time we investigated the possibility of making Vale do Lobo our full-time base and running a business from there. Although we didn’t follow it through then, I have never given up on the hope of retiring there. In 1995 I was asked to write an article on Vale do Lobo for a magazine. So, 14 years on, are my feelings still the same? Of course, they are!
The resort was originally started by Trusthouse Forte plc and Costain Plc in 1962. It was the first development in The Algarve of its kind which, up until that point, was a fishing and farming community. It was taken over by Dutch Entrepreneur Sander Van Gelder in 1997 who developed the resort into a self-contained community of villas and apartments, but it has so much more to offer. Two beautiful golf courses, the Tennis Academy, two kilometers of beach, many restaurants and, just so you don’t have to go out of the resort at all, a supermarket. In 2006 Van Gelder sold Vale do Lobo to a group of Portuguese and International investors, by which time had earned itself the label ‘Europe’s Finest’.
So what is it about this resort in Portugal’s Algarve that makes it feel like home to me? Why is it such a magnet? Is it the heady smell of the pine trees? The classic white Portuguese villas and apartments with their terracotta roofs? Where Bougainvillea thrives in abundance and the beautiful Jacaranda trees that bloom in May? Is it blue skies or the miles of Atlantic kissed terracotta tinged beaches?
The people? Why do I have such an enduring love for a country that isn’t my own?
I suspect, deep down, it is something to do with my grandmother’s Greek genes that keep pulling me back here. I love the heat. Two hours from the Mainland UK and it is 10 degrees warmer. I have spent New Year here, played tennis and sat in the early January sunshine enjoying a coffee afterward.
The people we have met over the years have come and gone. Owner’s and renters alike have come for multiple summers with their growing families who have now fled the nest. Some of them keep a pied à terre here whilst new families with their growing broods have taken their place.
There are many grand opulent villas, tucked away behind the well-manicured shrubbery, seemingly only inhabited for a few weeks during the year.
Some of the more sumptuous villas are indeed owned by the rich and famous who come and go, but many of the apartments are occupied 12 months a year, mostly by ex-pats.
There has been much development in and around Vale do Lobo over the last 23 years. Some of the beach restaurants and bars that we accessed via bumpy, undeveloped tracks, now have purpose built paved roads leading out to them and the restaurants themselves have been raised to the ground and rebuilt to accommodate the ever-increasing influx of tourists. Some of the restaurants, happily, are still being run by the Portuguese families who started them.
When the Euro came into force in 2002, local developers seemed to start building with a vengeance. Villas began to erupt amongst the pine trees in the area surrounding Vale do Lobo. Will the building ever finish in Val do Lobo? I can’t say. There is always something new being built, revamped or rebuilt, every time we go back, in the name of progress.
With the exception maybe of August, Vale do Lobo never feels overcrowded. In May, for example, there is no need to book to go out for a meal and we, pretty much, had the swimming pool at the Tennis Academy to ourselves during the May half term.
I have a Bucket List as long as my arm but the draw that Vale do Lobo has for me is immense and know that one day, I will spend more time there. It just a question of when.