“In a few years, I can see padel becoming more popular than tennis,” my instructor Sara Gouveia predicts about the racket sport sweeping through mainland Europe. “It’s easier to play than tennis — and much quicker to learn. It’s suitable for all ages and fitness levels, meaning you don’t have to be athletic or coordinated.”
o wonder I’m such a dab hand at the game. This introduction to padel is taking place in The Campus — a world-class sporting facility in Quinta do Lago, the Algarve’s exclusive resort currently celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Acquired by Irish entrepreneur Denis O’Brien in 1998, this resort — with its impressive collection of restaurants, boutiques, villas and, of course, sporting amenities — is noticeably popular with the Irish and British, helped by direct flights from Belfast and Dublin to Faro Airport.
“The Campus is one of our most significant phases, which opened in 2018,” says Joana Oliveira, Quinta do Lago’s Marketing Manager, as I refuel in Dano’s — the onsite restaurant and bar. “One of the key reasons residents and visitors are drawn to Quinta do Lago is our sporting facilities, which are suitable for all the family.”
Better yet, here, mere mortals like yours truly can train alongside elite athletes — for instance, international football teams, including Lille, Paris Saint Germain and Burnley FC, regularly descend on the Campus to train.
“Your children can be a part of holiday camps with the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen or Brian O’Driscoll,” Joana adds. “Being around such amazing athletes is very inspiring.”
In addition to The Campus, Quinta do Lago’s other key selling point for sporting enthusiasts is its three world-class golf offerings. Irish star Paul McGinley even hosts a popular academy here.
“Our courses are some of the best in the world,” Sara, my padel instructor, praises — and she should know a thing or two about golf, having moved here from the Azores at 13 to develop her game. Since then, she has been competing on the international circuit — and recently played in County Kildare’s Carton House.
“What makes Quinta do Lago’s courses so good?” I ask after learning that the South Course — the recipient of a €7-million upgrade — was named this year’s winner of Europe’s Best Golf Course by the World Golf Awards.
“We’ve got the weather here — there’s sunshine on 300 days of the year,” Sara begins. “But also, the course conditions — they’re brilliantly maintained. The resort invests heavily in staff and the machinery needed for their upkeep.”
The Magnolia Hotel
The newly opened Magnolia hotel is proving incredibly popular with golfers. Inspired by American motels from the 1950s — and teeming with eye-catching flourishes, including palm trees, neon signs, eclectic artwork and retro furniture — this family-friendly property defines cool and funky.
I overhear a guest describing the hotel as “Instagrammable” — an understatement, given how often I put my camera to use, capturing the imaginative touches inside and outside the property. With its gym, outdoor pool, cinema, 74 bedrooms and seven onsite cottages, The Magnolia claims many attractions and amenities — but best of all is its affordable rates, meaning Quinta do Lago regularly welcomes visitors of all budgets.
Over coffee and a plate of pastéis de nata in their effortlessly chic restaurant, I chat with Mark McSorley, Quinta do Lago’s General Manager Hotel & Residences. He says The Magnolia is ideal for those seeking relaxation, adventure or a sports-packed holiday.
Because many of the guests here are golfers, who spend most of the day on the courses, Mark acknowledges the importance of having relaxing, hassle-free bedrooms. And so, they’re equipped with high-quality mattresses, soft linen, and comfortable pillows to promote a good night’s sleep.
“We’re also perfectly located to maximise your time on the resort — or at any of the neighbouring beaches or hangouts,” Mark praises, adding that the team delivers the full Quinta do Lago experience at the best price in the area.
Food, glorious food
Because athletes and holidaymakers need fuelling, across Quinta do Lago, there are 14 gastronomy concepts ranging from Asian to local cuisine, fish to meat.
Throughout my stay, I’m treated to a selection of steaks in Bovino, seabass in Casa do Lago and Piri Piri chicken in the Magnolia.
As you’d expect in a resort of this standard, the experiences certainly impress, enhanced by the exceptional service.
“The chefs carefully prepare sustainable produce from our local suppliers and our own organic farm to create memorable dishes that awaken all the senses,” Head Executive Chef Gareth Billington explains.
“Whatever your tastes and dietary requirements, we’ll exceed your expectations.”
Sandra Lourenco, manager of café and juice bar Pure, adds that while their food and drinks aim to be healthy, it’s never at the expense of taste.
“You can create your own meal or drink here; add or swap any ingredients,” she mentions as I enjoy a prawn and salmon salad.
“We have something for everyone in Pure — even if you want a treat!”
Outside Quinta do Lago
To redress my overindulgences, before departing, I venture out on a bicycle — rented from The Campus’ Shed — and explore the surrounding Ria Formosa Natural Park, home to a wealth of fauna, flora and wildlife. I learn that 30,000 birds migrate to this shoreline — and with the help of some binoculars, spot pink flamingos, kingfishers and blue magpies, cutting fine figures in the distance.
While there’s more than enough to keep visitors occupied within Quinta do Lago, nearby is Loulé with its famous covered market, along with the often-overlooked city of Faro, with its enchanting old town and web of tiled, pedestrian streets. The popular Designer Outlet Algarve is also a stone’s throw away — not that you’ll need designer clothes to make you feel like a superstar, as Quinta do Lago resort successfully achieves that all by itself.
The Magnolia Hotel offers standard double rooms from €111/£94, B&B. The Family Cottages start from €198/£169 per night, B&B. Visit themagnoliahotelqdl.com