Casa Mãe, Lagos, Portugal
01 February, 2019
There's an ever-growing whisper among Lisbonites that an ultra-hip design hotel on Portugal's south coast is the escape-the-city bolthole to know. White-washed walls, linen deckchairs playfully painted with abstract nudes and swaying palms present an oasis from the moment you step off the sun-baked street outside. This abandoned 19th-century estate-turned-boutique-outpost gives Lagos - an ancient coastal town with a boho surf scene - a serious dose of cool.
Bridging the gap between inclusivity and exclusivity, the swimming pool is guests-only but linen-clad locals are known (and welcome) to pop in for their morning coffee and papers, listen to live reggae or join for the nightly BBQs. In the winter months, the hotel runs "Share and Stay" creative residencies focusing on scriptwriting, painting, photography, life coaching, entrepreneurship and more. Kicking back listening to the hotel's signature soundtrack - a relaxing mix of Manu Chao, Sébastian Tellier and Banda Do Mar - you could be at your most-modish friend's holiday home.
There are 30 rooms to choose from at Casa Mãe, spread over three buildings. Classicists will enjoy suites in the renovated estate house - overlooking the pool and vegetable garden - decorated in a refined, vintage style. For more privacy, choose from one of three beachy-feel cabanas on-site, each with their own patio. The main building features stylistically pared-back rooms (read: cosy minimalism) all of which come with a private balcony and a supersized hammock to laze the day away in. Rooms are TV-free (a testament to slow seaside living) and most come with a free-standing bath. We love the embroidered cotton-waffle robes and organic shower gel - so much so in fact, the on-site concept store was visited more than once over the course of our stay.
What's for breakfast?
Forget breakfast buffets, in keeping with Casa Mãe's zero food-waste policy, everything is made-to-order. In fact if you go for a walk during breakfast you might see a member of staff picking the greens you just ordered. Options range from an Algarvian smoothie bowl or overnight oats to the more indulgent sweet board (complete with mini pasteis de nata). Fresh juices, smoothies and seriously good coffee means breakfast can easily last an hour or two.
How about lunch and dinner?
Petiscos (small bites) and salads are served in the restaurant or by the pool for lunch - think linguine con vongole, roasted cauliflower, ceviche and Algarvian nicoise. Outdoor wood ovens and charcoal grills are fired up for dinner - you won't go wrong with the seared tuna, dry-aged ribeye or braised octopus.
Is there a bar?
Yes - the natural wines come from some of the country's most-loved wine regions including the Douro Valley, Barriada, Minho and Alentejo. Try a glass (or bottle) of Vinho Verde, Portugal's famous lightly sparkling green wine. Cocktails range from the classics, Daiquiri, Margarita and Old Fashioned, to the inventive, Pisco Green (with green tea) and the Algarvian Caipi (rum, figs, lime).
In line with the hotel's ode to slow living, resort-style facilities start and stop with the swimming pool. However, there's a small studio for yoga classes and staff can organise on-site massages, facials and reflexology on request. Farther-flung excursions include surf lessons and a "Sail, Fish, Grill" cooking workshop. Still, the star of the show has to be the hotel's concept store, which prides itself on stocking some of the country's coolest fashion, footwear and homewares. You'd be forgiven for walking away with anything from a hand-woven wall hanging to a new wardrobe.
Things you should know
Lagos can get pretty touristy in the summer months, bustling with families and partygoers in equal measure. For a more tranquil trip, consider avoiding peak season and look into the hotel's "Winter Residencies" offering freelancers and creative community a minimum 20 night stay at €80 per night (including breakfast).
Within a short walk you can find…
Bars, shops, restaurants and historical landmarks are all a few minutes walk away. The main beach, Meia Praia, is a 4km sandy stretch to the east, complete with sunbed rentals and cafés. To the west, the undulating coastline the Algarve is famous for offers up a series of secret bays and rocky coves (just be prepared for some steep cliffside steps to get down there).