As you may know, I struggle to relax without working out. When I’m stressed, I run. When I’m happy, I run. It’s how I switch off, and how I stay sane. If I’m honest, I’m probably a little too reliant on the endorphin rush of a heavy sesh. But I mean, could be worse..
As a consequence, I’ve always struggled with super indulgent holiday-ing. Traditionally, holidays are a time to break all your daily rules. Which is all well and good, except that a key element of my relaxation is working up a sweat. I remember one ex taking me away on a yacht trip and gazing open mouthed as I systematically lost my sh*t because swimming round the boat five times per day wasn’t giving me my fix.
Now, though, it’s fashionable to be quasi-obsessional about working out. The VS Angels made boxing cool, and all my friends are on first name terms with team Barry’s. And slowly, the trend is migrating into holidays, too.
At the more extreme end are the likes of Hybrid and No. 1 Bootcamp, with strict regimes, punishing workouts and borderline starvation diets (I’m being extreme. But I was really, really hungry in Morocco). At the more pleasant end, regular holidays are now including things like detox menus and dedicated fitness staff. The most recent wellness break I tried was Macdonald Monchique.
Now. I should start by admitting that I took the whole detox thang with a pinch of salt. Quite literally, since a 3pm frozen margarita pool-side became something of a ritual (and 5pm. And 7pm..). The nice thing about Macdonald Monchique is that the whole ‘Wellness Retreat’ thang is a relatively subtle addition to what has been maintained as a family resort. Whether or not your choose the wellness activities and foods on offer is totally up to you, and you do as much or as little as you like. Sort of like a health pick ’n’ mix, I guess.
We booked a three-night stay, book-ended by crazy early and late BA flights out of London Heathrow, so as to make the most of our time. We landed and were immediately greated by a transfer that the resort had pre-booked. Thoughtfully, the driver connected us to wifi, chargers and icy air-con as soon as we hit the seats. Good start.
I’ve been to Portugal several times before – when I was growing up, the Algarve was ‘our place’ (we didn’t branch out towards the Atlantic coast and surfer beaches nearer Lisbon until I was way too teenage to appreciate the sprawling villas we’d take for weeks on end). The first foreign words I learnt to speak were ’bom dia, Maria’, since that was our maid’s name. In my memory, this was chirped adorably by two identically chubby, angelic little girls, but I am aware that it is less cute and possibly bordering on the wanky now that I’m adult. So we won’t dwell.
Monchique is part of the Algarve, but very much higher than the coastal resorts (Carveiro, Dunas Douradas et al) that most tourists are familiar with. In fact, it is just 9km south of the highest point – and best views – of the Algarve. Macdonald Monchique is one of few luxury hotels in the region, and certainly has the monopoly on wellness, with the large spa, thermal rooms and well-equipped gym. There’s a fully packed schedule of classes, some more fitness & wellness orientated (core, meditation, hiking etc), and a few fun slash family ones, like archery and pool zumba. We tried out a meditative walk, which was next level peaceful. The hotel sits right amongst the beautiful Portuguese trees and undulating forestry, and tuning into all the sights and smells is a great way to decompress after flying.
So day one. After a mega night’s sleep (I had the master bedroom of our suite, Sabrina had the sofa bed. I almost felt bad for her until we realised she had control of the wifi via her TV so things weren’t all bad), we got up early to try out the gym. The main crux of it is cardio machines – two bikes, two treadmills, one cross-trainer, and one stepper. But there are also two TRX machines and a load of dumbbells. After a dip in the pool, we headed back to the fitness centre for Core with George.
There’s a choice of tapas, pizzeria and buffet restaurants, and we quickly settled on the Veranda as a firm favourite, thanks to breezy outdoor tables and sweeping views of the mountainous setting. The standard menu is very fish and meat heavy, but on the final day we discovered there was a Wellness Menu, which offers gluten-free, vegan and sugar-free options, clearly labelled.
Sundowners felt boarder-line obligatory, given the holiday vibes, so we tried out the Mezzanine cocktail bar. I opted to drink frozen margaritas almost exclusively, since i’ve been trying to cut-out sugar and this seemed the easiest option to ensure minimal intake through alcohol (white spirits are best for this). We had the occasional G&T, too. Just for research purposes natch.
On the second morning, we were booked onto the 9am shuttle bus down to Alvor beach. Alvor isn’t the prettiest of beaches – there are a few rock formations waaaaaay to the left (I really tried to figure out a more accurate direction, but I am useless at geography), but mainly it’s just sand and sea. When I was younger we used to call it Doughnut Beach, a reference to the awesome home-made buns we would always buy from a small shop on the way through the town.
While we were there the hotel was at full capacity, but somehow it never felt over-full. There were always spare beds around the pool, and we had the entire thermae rooms to ourselves. Plus I never saw another person in the gym. Except of course Sabrina.
Day three was spa day – we each had a deep pressure massage (possibly the best I’ve ever had, I have to say), followed by two hours using the spa facilities. The thermae rooms are one of the real highlights of the resort. You can book a session for two hours whenever you want, and there are discounts if you’re also having a treatment. There’s a sauna, steam room, arctic room, and both storm and rain showers. There’s also a beaut indoor pool with mini jacuzzi area. My favourite part was the heated stone beds, which are crazy relaxing for lounging.
The great thing about Macdonald Monchique is you can really tailor your stay to what you want to get out of it. The active holiday trend isn’t going away, and the five star resort nicely bridges the gap between total indulgence and punishing detox breaks.
British Airways flies direct from London to Faro twice daily.