Locality might be a well-worn trend, but Vila Monte digs deeper than most. Earlier this year, Portugal saw the launch of an all-new hospitality group, Octant. Taking eight boutique stays across the country and repurposing them to spotlight localism through food, furnishings and experiences, these guys are paving the way in raising the profile of smaller neighbourhoods and spotlighting local heroes. We visit Octant Vila Monte, located in the heart of the Algarve, in the village of Moncarapacho. Embodying the very essence of the Mediterranean spirit, the property is home to 55 bedrooms set amid centuries-old olive groves and fragrant citrus trees, all spread across some nine verdant hectares.
On arrival, the first surprise is the length of the driveway - this truly is an off-grid abode. Greeted with cool damp cloths, lemon-infused water and a map of the property, we suddenly appreciate the sheer scale of the space. A tour takes us past hand-etched signs strung with lanterns, something we will be thankful for come sunset. As we glide past the pool, we spot a barman skating around with an enormous jug of sangria: sangria o'clock, we are told, is a daily (complimentary) affair.
The hotel's entrance, left, and a cycle trail cutting through the gardens.
Throughout our stay, we are charmed by the ways in which Vila Monte showcases its locality through its people - beekeepers, florists, potters, bakers and weavers. This is translated to guests in handcrafted tableware, accessories, fresh bouquets and ceramics. On a wider scale, Octant works with talented locals to weave community into each property: Moncarapacho's beauty is reflected here in pieces by weaver Maria João Gomes and potter Francisco Eugénio. Gomes braids natural leaves to create bespoke items, using a technique once employed in the making of vessels for transporting figs and almonds. Eugénio, meanwhile, finds freedom as he sits behind the wheel and works with clay, a skill that has been passed down through three generations of his family. There's something remarkably special about seeing this concept at play, with the area's culture being so carefully incorporated into the hotel.
There's little in life more satisfying than slapping your key card against the door and stepping into a haven of serenity for the first time. Nor in taking in the scene that awaits as you first tour your boudoir at Octant Vila Monte. The 55 bedrooms, which span 20 categories, from Sunrise Suites to a three-bedroom villa with a private pool and butler service, are split into clusters of whitewashed buildings. Ours is an Ocean and Mountain View Suite, whose private balcony turns sunset-watching into a daily ritual. Inside, the light-flooded room is kitted out with a plush sofa, desk space, vanity area, built-in wardrobe units and a spacious bathroom complete with rainfall shower and organic toiletries. Beach wraps, panama hats and basket bags are provided for guests' use, and a turndown service sees a bottle of lavender spray, silk sleep mask and ear plugs being popped beside the bed - details that make for a memorable stay.
An airy suite corner, left, and a snapshot of a bathroom.
What's for breakfast?
We rarely find ourselves genuinely lost for words, but the breakfast at this place was enough to silence our hungry mouths for a solid 10 minutes. Luckily for us, breakfast was served in restaurant Laranjal, which was just a pastry's throw from our front door. For others, a citrus-lined avenue leads to the terrace, where terracotta-tiled floors, a braided roof and stunning coastal views make for a breezy start to the day. Inside, a buffet-style banquet awaits, with everything from fresh juices to ginger shots, traditional Portuguese pastries, grains, granolas and platters of fruit that are so fresh, it's almost rude not to stack your plate. This, might we add, is just a warm-up for the à la carte menu - but we'll leave that part for you to discover.
How about lunch and dinner?
Lunch and dinner are served at À Terra, an incredibly laid-back setting where a mish-mash of tables and chairs are spread across the grass beneath the trees. It's not too often that you can comfortably wear swimwear or your finest garms at the same restaurant, but anything goes here. Head chef Marco Alban (a native of Italy, but, in his own words, "made in Portugal") works delicately with the fruit and vegetables from the garden to create dishes that honour the region's culinary traditions. Unsurprisingly, we took it upon ourselves to try as much of the 10-page menu as possible during our stay - so that we could deliver you the must-try bites, obvs. Dinner should commence with at least three starters: guacamole with corn tortillas, houmous with crunchy vegetables and the creamy burrata. Then, it's time to get to work on the traditional octopus seafood casserole. Dessert? Carob churros drizzled in lemon custard.
The chef's table is something we'd strongly recommend everyone experiences at least once during their stay. During a seven-course feast, chef Alban will share the story behind each dish while he prepares and cooks the food in the outdoor oven.
Special occasion? The kitchen team will be happy to pack you a champagne picnic to enjoy at the beach.
The breakfast space at Laranjal restaurant, left, and a selction of spreads and honeycomb.
Is there a bar?
There's no designated main bar, but the outdoor pool bar more than makes up for it. Plus, you can pick up a glass of red at any time of the day.
Drumroll, please. Step into a boutique stocked with local salts, soaps, olive oils and ceramics. Shed calories in a fully-equipped gym that offers sweeping views across the surrounding hills. Wander around a herb garden, and be prepared to rub shoulders with chef Alban, picking produce. Dive into not one but two outdoor swimming pools, but be warned: the adults-only pool isn't heated. Both, however, are open 24/7 - midnight dip or it didn't count. Lounge on parasol-shaded daybeds and sip flavoursome cocktails at the outdoor bar. Plough through your reading list in secluded hammock spots. Work on perfecting your serve or challenge your travel partner to a game of singles at the tennis court. And, if all of that isn't enough to keep you entertained, we haven't even started on the activities timetable. On arrival, you'll receive a weekly schedule, with options including sunrise yoga sessions, guided hikes, cocktail masterclasses and wine-tasting sessions, all of which are complimentary for guests.
The outdoor cinema, left, and the chef's table.
How about their green credentials?
Vila Monte ticks all the boxes when it comes to social, environmental and economic sustainability: there are no single-use plastics, menus are local, and measured energy and water consumption policies are in place. The Octant group regularly hosts beach clean-ups along Portugal's southern coast, too.
What about accessibility?
There is a wheelchair-accessible bedroom, but be aware that the property itself is spread across steep hills and has narrow cobblestone paths.
What's the crowd like?
On a level of Zen we didn't even think possible - we were seriously tempted to greet our neighbours with a downward dog flex. We spotted lots of young, loved-up couples, a handful of which were babymooners and honeymooners. While the hotel was touching capacity during our stay, no single area felt overcrowded. Kids and dogs are welcome.
Things I should know
Each evening, an outdoor cinema shows classic titles with a set-up we can only describe as utter bliss. Grab your roomie and follow the chalkboard signs to a deckchair courtyard, where baskets of popcorn await beneath the starry sky.
Within a short walk I can find…
Other than dirt-track trails, absolutely nothing. Looking for an outing? It's a 25-minute drive to Olhão, where whitewashed villas and cascading bougainvillaea front a harbour lined with fishing boats. Visit the daily fish market, at Mercados de Olhão, or hop on a boat to the beautiful beaches of Fuseta island.
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