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Algarve – the world’s top superstar hideaway

Forget Monaco, Saint Tropez or Cannes, when the rich and famous want to enjoy some real rest and relaxation the Algarve is seemingly their location of choice. Sir Cliff Richard has been an Algarve advocate for decades but now a different generation of celebrities are endorsing the region and elevating its status to one of a super-cool destination that is both sophisticated and discreet. In this report The Portugal News explores what it is that makes the Algarve so appealing to the A-listers and what role Southern Portugal plays in their celebrity lifestyles.

At this time of year pictures of international celebrities and their families frolicking on the Algarve’s famously beautiful beaches or lazing around pools in the grounds of stunning villas are a common sight in the world’s press.

A few weeks ago Liverpool footballer Steven Gerrard and his wife Alex Curran holidayed in the Algarve with their two daughters, Lilly-Ella, five, and three-year-old Lexie. The family own a home on the exclusive Quinta do Lago resort, of which the Beckhams are said to be huge fans and where former England footballer Teddy Sheringham and Formula 1 race driver Rubens Barrichello also own villas. A few days later galactic Real Madrid footballer Cristiano Ronlado was pictured holidaying at the equally prestigious Vale do Lobo resort, just up the road from Quinta do Lago.

Other celebrities who own properties in the Central Algarve’s ‘Golden Triangle’ include footballers Alan Shearer and Michael Owen, Irish pop band Boyzone front-man Ronan Keating, singer Bonnie Tyler, health queen Rosemary Connolly, and popular UK TV presenters Charlie Dimmock and Carol Smillie.

‘The Special One’ football coach José Mourinho, who once owned a holiday home in Ferragudo, between Lagoa and Portimão, is now said to have purchased a property at the six-star Palácio da Quinta resort, next to Quinta do Lago, as have Robbie Fowler and manager Gareth Southgate.

Other celebrities, such as David Seaman, preferred to invest in the Western Algarve, attracted by its natural wilderness and rural beaches where famous faces including Prince William, pop band Blur’s Alex James and rock legends Metallica’s base player Robert Trujillo have all been spotted surfing.

But when it emerged one particular Hollywood heavyweight was looking to buy a home in that area, all previous celebrity stakes on any part of the Algarve were spectacularly blown out of the water. That celebrity was the award-winning actress Angelina Jolie: long-term partner of mega movie-star Brad Pitt, UN Goodwill Ambassador, mother-of-six, and an all-round glamour icon, Angelina was rumoured to have shown interested in buying a cliff-top property in Lagos named Casa do Pinhão, which is evaluated at €10 million and includes its own private island. And despite being (as-yet) unconfirmed these reports still, nevertheless, placed Lagos firmly on the up-and-coming celebrity hot-spot map.

But what is it about the region that gives the Algarve an allure unlike any other European region? For years it has been overshadowed (in terms of quantity) by neighbouring Spain’s ‘Costas’; Costa del Sol, Costa Dorada and Costa Blanca, to where holidaymakers flock in their masses and second homes once sold like hotcakes.

But unlike its ‘Bigger Sister’s Costas, the Algarve blossomed by maintaining its modesty and, years later, slowly but surely emerged to achieve a reputation of its own in terms of quality, with stringent building laws ensuring en-mass tourism was politely curbed.

Nevertheless, the Algarve has always been home to a number of exclusive set-ups which prize themselves on being as low-key as possible.

A prime example of this is the afore-mentioned Quinta do Lago, which is home to some of Portugal’s most expensive properties and high-profile personalities. Villas at Quinta do Lago can sell for anything from €2.5 million to well over €10 million.

According to Hermes Alberto, executive director of VigiQuinta, Quinta do Lago’s private security firm, it is the peace and normality found at Quinta do Lago that attracts the world’s elite. It even names some of its streets after former residents, such as legendary Formula One driver Ayerton Senna, who inspired Ayerton Senna Avenue.

“I will never forget one year when Ayerton Senna was staying here he came up to me and said, “Hermes, this is the only place I feel normal”. He was talking about how nice it was to just walk down to the beach and talk to the fishermen about their catch without being hounded”, Hermes Alberto told The Portugal News.

Quinta do Lago prides itself on offering owners the chance to enjoy maximum normality and privacy in luxurious surroundings. Ironically, for one of the most exclusive resorts in the region, visible security is minimal, the resort’s elitism being enough of a deterrent.

Vila Joya (which has Portugal’s only two-Michelin-star restaurant and can cost over €2,000 per night for a room) is another good example of how discreet the Algarve can be. Its exterior would, in fact, go completely unnoticed unless visitors knew exactly what they were looking for.

The same can be said for the region’s vast range of eateries and watering holes, many of which are used to serving the rich and famous, but due to innate Algarve etiquette chose not to cash in on it. And it is this reluctance to trade in on a name that has kept Portugal in favour with the world’s elite.

As well as its potential for investment return.

In 2005 TV programme ‘A Place in the Sun’ published its ‘20 Best Places to Make Money’ list, on which Portugal ranked third. At that time it predicted 360% investment growth prospects within a 10-year period, based on the fact the property market still had room to grow. Any property bought then for £100,000 would, it forecast, by 2015 be worth £460,000. Meaning savvy celebs with the cash to invest were presented with a win-win situation.

But a handful of international celebrities were not content with just buying one property in the Algarve; they chose instead to develop entire resorts.

Famous Portuguese footballers Figo and Rui Costa both have their own developments in the region, and in December it emerged another international footballer was about to join them.

After retiring from professional football in 2001 former Chelsea, Leeds United and England footballer Tony Dorigo has turned his hand to developing and now runs Premiership Developments, which is responsible for the future five-star, 15-acre Parque Vale da Lapa resort in Carvoeiro.

Exclusive international brands like Hilton, Formula 1 and Nikki Beach, as well as mainstream brands like Starbucks and Subway, have only in the past few years discovered the Algarve’s high-end pulling potential. But that little volcano is now bubbling furiously and five-and-six star hotel projects are emerging thick and fast with no signs of drying up despite the current economic crisis and dwindling tourism figures.

So while the Algarve, with its chic restaurants, boutique hideaways and exclusive hangouts may have earned itself a reputation of being something of a ‘cool’ celebrity playground, it remains true to its down-to-earth roots that offer the rich and famous the privacy to be who they want to be far from the glare of the media’s lenses, an inconspicuous destination that can effortlessly outshine its more glamorous rivals by simply being itself and giving its visitors the opportunity to do the same.
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