Portugal: High tees and pine trees

Golf held no interest for us. But the green of the Algarve did


Easyjet dropped us off, but it was a Mercedes that picked us up. V-class, chauffeured, air-conditioned and WiFied up from bumper to boot.

It was 10am, and as the luggage belt at Faro airport rumbled with golf bags, our driver, all in white and in army-clean shoes, rolled us down the coast towards Albufeira through villages scarred by economic strife, to a gated hideaway where
business was showing every sign of booming.

With a wave from security, we swept past squares and courtyards with fountains and lilac trees, lanterned walkways and lush gardens where the smell of lemon and pine would rise to meet us every morning, past a five-star hotel, and down to a small poolside complex and a golf course that unfurled all the way to the sea.

So this was Pine Cliffs, all of it, a blend of millionaire mansions, glistening pools and some of the finest dining on the Algarve, all set against a backdrop of what at first glance looked like an understated sense of sleep-walk calm.

"Don't worry," the driver fussed. "The weather will be better this afternoon." Better than what? I thought. The sun was bright enough for a scout to light fires with. And the last person to mention weather was the pilot at Luton as fog delayed our ascent into clouds so packed with rain that turbulence rattled us back into our seats somewhere over the Bay of Biscay.

Getting there

Fly: Faro International airport (FAO) is less than three flight hours away from most major European airports. Easyjet offer flights from £57 one way from Luton and Gatwick airports.
Stay: One-bedroom suite from €286 per night including breakfast.

Take note: Portuguese for warm is what we English call hot.

Anyway, duly noted. This is a place where the expectation bar is set higher than most.

Meanwhile, the pool - our pool, the one a barefoot and fluffy towel stroll away from the three-room terrace we were to call home, was already a-bob with suntanned dads, please-and-thank-you kids and the odd nanny in a wide-brimmed hat.

More smartly turned-out staff went back and forth with drinks from a circular bar and we were suddenly aware of the odd click from a nine iron on the fifth tee.

All in all, a good first impression.

The next day, under another blazing sun, it was time to see what gave Pine Cliffs the edge as a family resort.

First off, it's vast; so vast there's a satnav-style app you can download to stop getting lost. There are 72 acres - gated and fenced and a safe haven for your kids and your investment, if you're lucky enough to afford a townhouse, suite or villa where they guarantee rental returns.

There's also a hotel. A five-star Sheraton with a film-set lobby, and from the air the whole estate looks like Beverly Hills. Built over 30 years after investors saw the potential in a sun-drenched slice of clifftop and got the backing to grow it from a golf course to one with a hotel and eventually push its way wider and deeper along the cliff edge, adding a series of restaurants, townhouses, villas and apartments.

All part of the Algarve's push in recent times to widen its beach-and-fairway image to one of a health-and-spa paradise.

Everything is connected by a series of lanes and pathways that weave their way around the course, past tennis courts endorsed by Annabel Croft, a children's playground, cafés, pools and even a mini football pitch.

All very Algarvian. A mini, sanitised version, in fact. Swap the old ladies selling pottery and woven baskets and rickety streetside cafés for designer boutiques, fitness centres and as diverse an array of fine dining as you could cram into this principality of a retreat; bling it up a bit, and that's what you have - Algarve Club Class.

There's even a train. Well, a road train of sorts, which whistles, creaks and trundles between bus stops.

But it's more fun than functional and will shake the change out of your pocket. Fun for the kids but don't take it with an ice cream and clean shirt.

So, what does a typical family day out look like? A stroll to a poolside buffet for breakfast where a waiter brings an ice bucket to help a mum cool a Dr Browns bottle of formula, a brisk walk to the Sheraton's Wellness centre for a back scrub and facial by probably the best masseuse I've had in the past four years and a morning on their private beach. Arduous or what?

A lift then dropped me down to a walkway, which ran 100 yards or so between a wide cut of salmon-pink mountain, past an obligatory towel hut and alongside rows and rows of sun loungers that no one asked me for a few euros to use.

There were lads on the sand juggling plastic footballs; couples asleep face down holding outstretched hands; well-heeled retirees reading Kindles; lots of party people; and small groups of twenty-somethings, two or three to a lounger, nattering in Portuguese.

Over at the Beach Club, a wood-decked terrace restaurant, service was much the same; brisk, cheery and all in perfect English. "Where's the men's room?" one diner asked. A hand on the shoulder, the reply: "Ah, we're very natural here. We use the sea." Excuse me? "I'm joking. It's around the side."

Back up top, there was a wedding in the offing. There's a space set aside for it and staff were hanging flowers on a pagoda ready for the couple to make vows with an Atlantic backdrop.

Otherwise, the clientele preferring the wide expanse of grass that stands between the hotel and the cliff edge was much older.

More loungers, but this time shaded under tall trees, more Kindles and the odd disapproving glance at a group of children who brought the beach chatter back up with them.

But with an expanse of turf bigger than the Brent Cross car park to wander in, no one's in anyone's way.

Besides, this is a family resort. One that does the family thing seriously. Like Europeans do. Seen and heard. Buggies (tip: they're the one thing they don't provide) alongside tables in al-fresco restaurants. For every half dozen menus there was an iPad glowing.

They may have been dressed in Amani Baby and Little Marc Jacobs and the volume was as politetly low as discretion dictates, but there was no getting away from that song from Frozen as the starters arrived.

A designer dad in Men in Black sunglasses caught my glance and asked if it was bothering me.

It wasn't, but he turned it down anyway.

Over at the Mirador, the £20-a-glass champagne bar built on the cliff edge, the only sounds were distant waves but the odd youngster was still evident among the couples watching the tide roll in as a waiter set a series of torches aflame around us.

The talk on the next table was all about golf. Three men, one in Rupert Bear trousers, were talking about the ninth tee, the final one, and how it's played over a ravine, and how it compares with Quinta do Lago.

That bit I understood. The rest could have been in Portuguese, for all I know about the game. Thankfully, they didn't ask if I played.

I could, however, have told them my handicap.

Alas, a 1pm flight the next day.

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