By Chere Di Boscio
Urbanites often dream of escaping to the Algarve, to shop for ceramics, enjoy fresh seafood, and of course, luxuriate in the constant sunshine on one of the region’s many beaches. But what only a privileged few know is that surrounding the Portuguese coast are beautiful mountains, and hidden within them is a wonderfully indulgent retreat.
Far from the world of package tours and boozy stag parties, you’ll find the expansive MacDonald Monchique Spa Hotel. Once a private hospital, this is now a luxury destination for those who prefer to travel a bit off the beaten path.
Whilst most hotels in the area offer some form of pool, gym and massage therapies, the Monchique, as it’s known, has spent much time and effort in creating what I’d describe as an adult playground. Behind each of the many doors in its brand new, aptly named Sensorial Spa are spaces that offer sensual experiences designed to heal the body and soothe the mind. After working too hard for too long in a city where the only view is of tower blocks and the predominant smell is diesel, it seemed to be the perfect place for me to visit for some self-love.
Hours after arrival, I decided to treat myself to a full body massage. I’m usually a bit disappointed by anyone’s touch but my husband’s; no one seems able to provide the right amount of deep pressure, and this therapist was no different. At first, that is. After a few minutes of light touching, I reminded her I had asked for a deep tissue massage – turns out she knew this very well, but was merely slowly building up to one of the most intense massages of my life. Exactly what I was hoping for!
After spending a few minutes recovering from that experience with a tea in the relaxation area, I decided it was finally time to explore the spa area. There was so much to choose from: a steam cabin, aroma cabin, rock salt sauna, igloo, light relaxation room, and more.
The first room I tried was the aromatherapy hammam. Outside the steam room, there’s a panel that allows you to choose your scent. I selected cedar, and stepped inside. Inhaling the steam deeply was a pleasurable experience; after a few minutes, I felt not only my pores opening, but my sinuses and lungs, too.
My second visit was to the Himalayan rocks salt sauna, where a similar array of fragrances were on offer. This time, I chose eucalyptus, and sat back to do a bit of meditation in what certainly felt like a Nordic forest on a very hot day. The hot salt and dry heat further opened my lungs and pores; I regretted not having applied a mud mask!
After quite a few minutes, I could no longer ignore the sweat trickling down my nose and decided to brave the ‘igloo’, a refrigerated space complete with a bowl of ice. I scrubbed handfuls the stuff from head to toe, and could feel my blood pressure go from ‘basement’ to ‘penthouse’ in seconds. I was now ready for a dip in the heated pool, with a spectacular view to the forested mountains surrounding the hotel.
Now fully invigorated, I tried out the heated marble tile chairs with their built in foot massage baths – alright, but nothing compared to the blissful treatment I’d had prior to this. My spa day ended with a rainforest shower, imitating a tropical storm, complete with green and blue rays of light therapy. On my way out, I noticed products and candles for sale in the lobby – I couldn’t resist picking up a cedar scented one; it reminded me not only of the sauna, but the surrounding forests, too.
The entire spa experience took almost three hours, and by this point, I was famished., but also feeling fresh and clean. I was craving a light, healthy meal, so I was delighted to discover that the restaurant here offered a menu that included vegan options. I selected a table with a picturesque view, and dug into an aromatic pumpkin ginger soup, followed by a flavorful veggie curry on a bed of basmati rice, and topped it all off with avocado chocolate mousse. Stuffed and knackered, I could hardly wait to get up to my room and throw myself into my cool, clean double bed.
After spending a weekend where each day was pretty much a delightful repeat of the first, it was hard to return to the drudgery of the city. But whenever urban life feels overwhelming, I light up my candle, and recall that liquid feeling I had after opening all of Monchique’s magic doors. And that’s good enough, for now.
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