EDIT Summer 2020: I have sadly heard that the hotel’s response to COVID 19 has been incredibly poor – as documented by many readers and friends across social media who, in more than a handful of cases, chose to check out of the hotel after one night. The review below is a few years old. Our last visit was in 2018 when we decided we really did not want to return as the service was not great and the whole beach situation absolutely needs to improve.
Some hotels really become part of one’s life. And the Pine Cliffs Hotel, in the Algarve in Portugal, has been part of mine and my family’s for many many many years. Decades, really. The Pine Cliffs Hotel – I never quite got how a hotel could be double-branded, but that is now a thing of the past.
In the Summer of 2015, I was able to stay at the hotel’s first batch of brand new rooms which were the first stage of a complete renovation.
I am not quite sure how old I was when I first stayed at this hotel… maybe 10-12? Most of you can work out how old I am, so it is just a question of math.
Located on one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in the Algarve, the Pine Cliffs Hotel gives us our yearly dose of a Portuguese Summer in a week. Mr. O started his annual pilgrimages 10 years ago (on our second year together) and we agreed to make this weeklong stay part of our pre-nuptial agreement. You think this is a joke? It is actually not.
The hotel has quite an interesting style – quite Moorish in a way, which gives you a little bit of sense of place. But what I like about it the most, is how spacious and quiet it is. There is something about the hotel (and the rest of the resort), which has a very beach chic and very unpretentious feeling about it.
Like many of my trips last year, I travelled with Sovereign who offer a range of exclusive benefits on all of its holidays including private resort transfers and complimentary lounge access. However, this time I already had my flight booked so I just booked my accommodation with them and instead I made the most of chocolate dipped strawberries and sparkling wine which are a complimentary welcome gift for all Sovereign guests.
The new rooms
We stayed in a premium deluxe bedroom (instead of the normal junior suite we book every year), as it was the only room type that had been refurbished.
I have to confess I was worried about one thing: that tiled headboards would go. A very first world problem, I know – but it is one of the things that makes this hotel truly unique. And they stayed. They were actually moved (each tile, one by one, in some cases), so the room design would make more sense, but they are there for the next generation to enjoy.
This room type is really quite spacious (so if you upgrade, it only gets better than this), and I loved the new décor. It was simple, very neutral, but so homely. We do not like a lot of bling in Portugal. It is a beach hotel – I really could not ask for more.
All Sovereign guests get a lovely welcome treat – chocolate dipped strawberries and a bottle of sparkling wine.
All the beds (and bedding, and pillows) have been upgrade to The Luxury Collection current standards and were excellent. The bathrooms are brand new and I cannot point a finger – again very tastefully done (can’t go wrong with beige), with a full bath and a kick-ass power shower (so good, I actually took a photo). And one of my bathroom weaknesses are built-in toiletry holders, which as you can see, were provided.
The amenities were Elemis (an interesting choice, not common at all in Portugal), which are good. My only comment is related to the size of the bath towels which are tiny (and is a very Starwood thing at the moment, which could be improved). I don’t know about you, but I like my bath towels to cover everything. Everything.
On the tech front, it was the second hotel I have ever seen provide USB chargers (the first being Ikos Olivia in Greece). I was really quite impressed.
The only issue I had was with the turndown service – and this happened for the first time in decades. I would come back to the room at 7.30pm from the beach (a very Portuguese time) and find the room in complete darkness. We complained every day, as the whole point of turndown is to have the room ready for when you arrive in the evening and only on our 5th night it got sorted – as I said before, this never ever happened before as the hotel caters for Portuguese and ‘foreign’ eating times. And beach times. And G&T times.
Food & Drink
We always stay on a B&B basis, as there are so many places to explore in the area, and I did not want it to change our stay in any way.
Breakfast at the hotel is excellent – and you have a few options. We prefer the outdoor one, which is always lovely. If you choose to be outside, you have access to a smaller buffet, but also have made to order options for eggs and the like. I love how Portuguese the buffet is – but worry not, there is something for everyone, promise.
For lunch, we always go to the next beach (outside the hotel) to a little seaside shack called Golfinho Azul, and have the best fish and sangria we can possibly imagine. They know us well, we have to call on the first day to book a table and then have a daily reservation at 3pm. The service is quite decent and every day we have something different – but the same sangria.
Lunches come out at between 20-35 Eur per person, depending on what we eat (e.g. sardines are cheaper than other fish for example – but not less delicious).
I have never been particularly inspired by the hotel options for dinner, but that does not matter as new restaurants will open this Summer. Hopefully Olivier will continue to be part of the Summer programme – we always have dinner one night at Yakuza by Olivier, which has a pop-up Japanese restaurant at the resort during the Summer – and excellent drinks too.
With regards to drinks, well… When we leave the beach, we always have our sunset G&T at the Mirador Champagne Bar. This means being in our best beach attire – whilst half of the guests are already showered and ready for dinner. This is where the hotel handles very well the Iberian (Portuguese and Spanish guests) and the ‘more European’ guests which have different habits. They have been doing this for decades, after all.
After dinner, we tend to go to Olivier for a drink as somehow everyone seems to go to bed at around 11pm!
Beach & Pool
Beach or Pool? Well, to be fair, we always go to the beach. Why? Because it is actually one of the most beautiful beaches in the Algarve, although erosion is really damaging the experience.
The sun loungers are packed quite close together, but that is because of the beach incline, which has gotten worse in recent years. I know the hotel brings in sand bags to even things out, but it is still far from ideal. Will be interesting to see how it will change this year – I would think a wooden decking on stilts could work, giving us more space between the sunloungers.
If you choose the pool, which we do in the afternoon sometimes, you then actually have all the space in the world. And if you choose not to be by the childrens’ pool, you will notice how quiet everyone is. Half the guests will be reading or napping under the pine trees and no one will make any noise. We love it.
Spa & Golf
A few years ago, the hotel started offering massages on the beach, which were quite popular and we have had a few. What I had never realised, what that the hotel actually had a spa facility. Duh!
I had a massage (equally priced) at the Tower room, with beautiful sea views – which I really enjoyed. At the same time, Mr. O (and my brother-in-law) enjoyed a complimentary 9-hole golf round, which they loved. It is not everyday you get to play golf and enjoy these views.
It was very difficult for me to review a hotel I know like the back of my hands. We have been going for so long, that the ‘older’ members of staff recognise us each year (and our family and friends) and that makes us feel at home. The day Sr. Filipe retires from the sunset bar, our holiday will never be the same. And hopefully we will have many years before that happens.
Things are not always perfect – so manage your expectations, namely if you are Portuguese (sometimes the staff like to think that everyone is non-Portuguese speaking and have the most interesting conversations that they should not, in front of guests – which is a ‘local’ issue that sadly still happens). But I still want to go back – and I always tell the hotel what goes wrong so that can be changed.
We could go to any hotel in the world for a week, but something draws us back to the Pine Cliffs Hotel each Summer – it feels like home. To be honest, to this day, my godson who comes to see us each Summer, still thinks that the hotel is Auntie Ana’s ‘house’. I am sure one day he will question why there are a few other people there too, but until then, well, I am not going to disappoint him.
We are booked again for this Summer, but we will go at the end of August instead of July, so we can get a little tan before my sister’s wedding. And again, booking a handful of rooms as the rest of the family and friends always want to go back. And if you go, you will too.
I was a guest of Sovereign on this trip, but opinions, well, you know the drill by now: they are mine mine mine!
Sovereign (Tel: +44 1293 762 003) is offering seven nights at the Pine Cliffs Hotel in the Algarve, on a B&B basis, from £1,285 per person. The price includes an exclusive welcome gift, UK airport lounge access (where available), private resort transfers and return flights from London Gatwick with British Airways. Based on departures 12 July 2016.