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Once I booked a ticket to Lisbon, I knew I wanted to visit one of those dreamy beaches in Portugal. My friend and fellow travel blogger, Stephanie from Ginger On the Go, was planning on meeting up with me somewhere in Portugal and told me that the Algarve region would be a great area to meet to see those beautiful beaches.
Before I started researching anything, I thought the beaches were pretty close to Lisbon but Algarve is actually 3 hours down south. I’ve heard of other beaches that were closer to Lisbon but found that they were very challenging beaches to get to and that’s not the kind of beach vacation I was looking for. If I’m going to a beach, I want to be able to walk right up to it, preferably from my hotel, and just relax.
I found a perfect hotel that was walking distance to the beach called Sao Rafael Atlantico in Albufeira. To get there, I took the First Class train from Lisbon’s Sete Rios station, which took 3 hours and cost 47 Euros. From the Albufeira train station, it was a 15-minute Uber ride to the hotel which cost about 9 Euros.
I arrived at the hotel around 1:30PM and although check-in was at 3PM, they let me check-in to my room early. They also surprised me with a lovely upgrade with a living room, two bathrooms and a pool view. It was a very spacious room and I was so excited about the unexpected upgrade. I loved that there were two separate large balconies, one from the bedroom and one from the living room.
The living room had a large couch, a wooden coffee table, two accent chairs, a large mirror and TV. Right next to the living room was one of the bathrooms with a hair dryer, a shower that had a rain shower head, a separate area for the toilet and a large sink. There was also shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and lotion by Rituals - The Ritual of Happy Buddha.
On the other side was the main bathroom next to the bedroom that had the same toiletries, a dryer, two sinks, a shower with the same rain shower head and a separate room with a toilet and bidet. It’s always nice for the ladies to have two separate bathrooms. I mainly used the bathroom by the bedroom and Stephanie used the second bathroom area by the living room. I also want to note that the tissue paper was shaped into an adorable bow.
There were two beds in the bedroom with nightstands and a bench at the end of each bed. I really appreciate it when hotels provide benches because it makes it so much easier to access my suitcase. My hotel stays are often short, so I don’t unpack everything from my suitcase. Picking out clothes can get a little messy and aggravating if I’m trying to sort through the suitcase on the ground or on one of those metal benches. These long benches makes that process so much easier when the suitcase is laid out flat with plenty of room and I don’t have to bend down as much. They also provided a robe and pair of slippers on each bed.
Also in the room was a TV with a personal welcome message, a large mirror, coffee table and two chairs with Nespresso coffee and various teas. In the back was a very large closet with hangers, a safe, a mini fridge and extra pillows.
I do wish they would have made the bedroom a tad bigger and given us bigger beds. We both had a twin size bed and they were so close to each other because the room was rather small. They gave so much space to the living room, which was unnecessary since we hardly used it.
The resort offers 3 outdoor swimming pools, two restaurants, a bar by the pool during the day, another bar on the rooftop at night, spa, gym, and direct (and private) access to São Rafael Beach. The beach access was, by far, the best thing about this place. I always try to catch the sunrise or sunset wherever I go on vacation and it was really nice to just walk to the beach instead of driving so early in the morning. Plus, parking can always be an issue when it comes to beaches, so I didn’t have to worry about that either.
The resort also offered free shuttles to the downtown area of Albufeira three times a day. We never took advantage of the shuttle but it was pretty cheap to just call an Uber. It was about a 10-minute ride and cost 5-6 Euros each way.
I was very eager to check out the beach since I’ve been dreaming of going to Portugal’s beaches for awhile. It was a quick 7-minute walk to São Rafael Beach and as soon as I saw the views, I gasped with excitement. It was so darn beautiful and exactly how I imagined it would be but far better in person, of course.
The Atlantic Ocean was bright, turquoise blue and the massive cliffs and rocks surrounding it were so gorgeous that it seemed surreal. I took my time taking in all the views from the top and snapping tons of pictures.
There were stairs leading down to the beach and a restaurant at the bottom of the stairs. We tried to stop by this restaurant but it was way too busy and chaotic, so we opted to dine at our hotel by the pool, which was a more relaxing vibe.
We visited Albufeira the first week of July and it was pretty crowded but we were still able to find some space for us to lay out and sunbathe. It was interesting that we were the only Americans on the beach as well. Most of the visitors were European vacationers. The water was surprisingly cold, about 35°F, so we didn’t go swimming but we cooled down our legs whenever we got a little too hot. The weather was perfect for the beach at around 80°F. I was surprised that the mornings and evenings were pretty chilly and got down to 65°F but I actually really enjoyed that. I’m used to Florida summers where the heat and humidity are unbearable that I rarely go to the beach. The weather in south Portugal was just right for the beaches.
There were two sides to the beach. The left side had lots of room for visitors to lay out and options to rent umbrellas and beach chairs. The other side was an enclosed, smaller area surrounded by the cliffs and rocks. The right side seemed a little more picturesque and you'll also come across a little waterfall too, which was a nice find by Stephanie.
We took full advantage of being close to the beach by visiting in the morning, noon and night. The sunrise and sunset colors were gorgeous and we were able to get beautiful pictures.
The food at the hotel was fantastic. I really enjoyed their club sandwich at the restaurant by the pool. It was a little different from the American club sandwich because they included a boiled egg and chicken (instead of ham or turkey) and I love eggs on pretty much any meal. The french fries that came with the sandwich was yummy too. I also tried their carbonara pasta which was delicious as well. The cream was very light and I didn’t feel like I was hundred pounds after I ate the dish. Some carbonara dishes are so heavy on the cream that I feel a little gross afterwards but this dish was excellent.
Their breakfast buffet was great and offered many dishes like roasted mushrooms, bacon, hash browns, cheeses, a variety of vegetables, fruits, cereal, pastries, bread, eggs and more. The fresh orange juice was so good that I had 3 glasses every morning. They also had an omelette station but I was a little annoyed that I had to continuously ask for the chef. More on that later when I reveal some of my issues with this resort.
There were some issues with this place that didn't quite qualify as a 5-star resort:
Breakfast buffet: We always had to ask for the chef to make our omelettes at the omelette station. Breakfast starts at 7AM, so you’d expect the chef to already be there but each morning, I had to find a staff member to ask for the chef. Eventually, the chef would come out to make the omelette but I thought it was so odd that we had to ask for the chef every time when there were already many guests wanting to get their day started with breakfast and have an omelette as well.
On our last night, there was really loud music playing by our room and at first, we thought it was a room nearby but it turns out it was a large tent blasting music from a wedding reception. The music went on pretty late into the night around 1 or 2 in the morning and I think it’s a terrible idea for the hotel to have a reception so close to the rooms where guests are trying to sleep. Of course, we can’t complain because we’re not going to stop a wedding reception.
The bar that’s open in the evening is way too understaffed. They advertise happy hour and live music at only one location in the hotel (with nothing else open), so of course, everyone is going to head up here for some appetizers and drinks. The bar was packed full of guests wanting cocktails right away and there was only one bartender and one waiter serving all these guests, so the service was super slow and frustrating.
You’re really paying for the location of this hotel and not for a 5-star resort. Of course, the staff that I encountered were all professional and friendly but there just wasn’t enough of that around. Overall, I loved my stay here and happy that I was able to enjoy the beach to the fullest!