- The recreation is obvious, but the place and the people get under your skin.
- The ocean down here draws you like the sirens’ call – little wonder the Portuguese are great seafarers.
- Its vastness doesn’t haunt you, it hugs you.
A Winter Sun Oasis
Ocean Blue HQ
If you fancy an active out-of-season ‘summer’ along with somewhere fabulous to stay while experts customise your holiday to the maximum, you may just find it on a hill in the Algarve. But it’s all a bit of a secret, as PBR’s new writer Grant Wyness reports …
A November morning, Yelverton, Devon. Our car looked like a cheap frozen prawn – all ice, no discernible meat. Hefting a bucket of tepid water over it is my usual winterising manoeuvre in readiness for my wife’s journey to work. A year out of practice now, the backsplash collected my dressing gown sleeve and one flip-flopped foot. Lynne, also out of practice, wound down her window to kiss me goodbye, just as I sluiced the car’s offside rear quarter. This would have been a grisly intro to the cold season were I not smouldering with inner gladness. We were off to warm new lands the next day.
A week prior to this I’d received an email from PBR editor HMS asking me to review an activity-based water sports venture down on the wild south-west coast of Portugal. It was half past six, dark outside and blowing a hooley over West Devon. Lynne, only hearing the words ‘Portugal’, ‘boats’ and ‘yoga’, gave an unquestionable look of certainty. It was on!
Thinking I’d better take a closer look at what we were in for, I checked out the Ocean Blue Portugal website. The pictures of the accommodation and facility all looked textbook perfect, as were the testimonials – a veritable national park wonderland. Now, I’m a bloke who looks upon ‘nice’ things with a good deal of suspicion, and wondered if it was a cluster of outdoor clichés, posh taps and zero soul. Looking deeper (well, Google) into our soon-to-be hosts’ background, it was apparent that I would blow the word count if I listed all their individual achievements. Lucy and Sean Strevens, it seemed, were no ordinary couple.
Portugal was fresh to me, so on arriving in Faro I did my ‘new country’ thing and paused on the top of the passenger stairs to inhale the essence of the place. Aside the whiff of combusted Jet-A fuel, there was an agreeable aroma I couldn’t quite place. But it was the light that impressed me – the visibility was flawless, and that’s a biggie coming from someone who grew up in Australia. The shuffle through airport security was painless and our bag was already doing circuits by the time we emerged. After a diabolical interaction last year with hire car company Goldcar, Lynne had booked an all-inclusive Toyota Yaris through Europcar via the EasyJet portal (€150.37 all up). We were ready this time if someone tried any funny business with the hidden charges, but on entering the Europcar office, everybody was so pleasant it disturbed me slightly. On reflection, so were the airport security staff …
Lynne keyed in the coordinates for the 60-mile trip to Burgau on my phone while I babbled on to her about how friendly the Portuguese were. What did I expect? The drive was a doddle with the A22 toll road well signposted. As in Spain, the locals here don’t like to pay the tolls, so consequently the road was empty, making for a relaxed cruise west. Conveniently, there are transponders fitted to the hire cars to communicate with the gantries over the toll roads – they suck a few quid from your card without you having to stop and find change (€7.38 in total).
Having made good time to our destination, we drove past our turning and stocked up on baguettes, good oil, local goat’s cheese (queijo de cabra), tomatoes and a knobbly cucumber in the village shop. The instructions Lucy gave us to find Ocean Blue HQ (37°04’49.7″N 8°46’41.0″W) were accurate, and the letter boxes really were an ‘eclectic mix’ at the foot of the drive. Lucy had been out walking the dogs, Bono and Foxy, so we met halfway up the hill. Just as she had come across on the phone, Lucy lacked any form of edge or pretence – one of life’s open people.
She introduced us to her daughter Sophia, who was a mini Lucy, and then to our ‘Oceano’ quarters, leaving us to decant our gear. Resisting the urge to gush too soon, I had a quick look-see around the apartment and grounds. It really was as impressive as the web pictures suggested. Owned originally by a sea captain, the hilltop oasis in front of me left no vestiges of the barebones hulk they originally bought. The succulent planting denoting a degree of privacy between the apartments was a triumph, as were the stylish and functional sails suspended above each al fresco area. The pool, ringed by agreeably retro sunloungers, was spotless and inviting, a huge mirror amplifying a bonkers-blue sky. The theme running through Ocean Blue HQ is most definitely blue – all shades of it. The only way to celebrate this was with brews and a sarnie. The kitchen was well appointed and lacked for nothing; you could self-cater like a prince if you so wished. For an appetiser, Lynne packed away a pastel de nata, a Portuguese delicacy, now world-famous. We were in a good space!
Lucy is a naturally good listener, having arranged three days of action to suit us based on our questions and requests before we’d left. After a quick debrief, she left us to blob in the winter warmth – 22 degrees … Yes, please. The only other guest was Lucy’s friend from the Isle of Wight, Vanessa, on a mini-break with her daughter Beau, and the sounds of Sophia and Beau messing about in the pool were the perfect white noise to send me into siesta mode. I didn’t expect to relax so soon but it seemed compulsory here.
Day Two: Yoga, bikes, surf, meat!
Sunrise pulled Lynne and me out of bed like zombie marionettes. The skyline blazed purple and turquoise as the big lifegiver poked its head over the horizon. Ann De Jonghe rolled up in her VW at about half seven to take the morning yoga session. The ladies wrapped up in blankets, placed their mats and that was that. Whatever happened during that indeterminable time rubbed off – I attained serenity by proxy … This was a cracking start to the day – focusing minds and bods for the morning’s bike ride. Ocean Blue use Ruze Expert 6Fattie Specialized bikes sporting 3″ tyres, 180mm disc brakes, dropper posts and one-handed gear shifters – meaning that beginner or pro alike can glide over the rough with impunity. The cycle from Ocean Blue HQ took us into the national park proper via rustic tracks. The mysterious Portuguese perfume in the air we discovered is hot fennel. Our capable bikes whisked us to spectacular cliff top vantage points, and down into the whitewashed village of Salema – a technicolour Cornwall with sunshine and heat. I imagined Portugal’s famous sardines being hauled out of boats with Fado singing and guitars playing. Some stray cats were feeling the vibe too. Lucy then steered us along the prom to Café Solmar for cakes and stuff at 1990s prices. Portugal, where have you been, my lovely?
Later that afternoon we were invited to Lucy’s free after-school ‘Splash Club’ held in front of the nearby Cabanas Beach Restaurant. Lucy has a natural ability to put everyone at ease, ensuring maximum fun – not easy when safety conditions are constantly changing. When you come to Ocean Blue, you could just opt to eat at Cabanas every night. It’s meat and potato heaven, with great staff and a romantic ambience.
Lucy is keen to share special places they have discovered with their guests, and suggested we took a 10-minute drive west to Figueira, then a short walk to Praia de Figueira. What an outstanding location. Looking at the map it dawned on us that there were dozens of these tucked-away treats nearby. Surf fishing is good sport here due to the abundant sea life, unlike the relatively dead Mediterranean.
In mid-afternoon, Sean returned home from delivering one of his Cheetah Marine catamarans – a research vessel for the French government. Immediately likable, Sean felt like an old mate – one who does cool things. He asked me if I wanted to go out on his boat. Yes please! Lagos (pronounced Largosh), the nearest big marina town, is just up the road. En route, Sean told us the story of how his dad’s Isle of Wight farm morphed from a strawberry farm (the Queen liked the early fruit) into the birthplace of Cheetah Marine Catamarans. The young Sean thought two beautifully made hulls were better than one, and selling 500 or more catamarans since suggests he’s probably spot on.
Our treat for the afternoon was going for a jolly in his 6.9m ‘trailer boat’. The thing slipped off and on its trailer rails like eggs on Teflon. Brunel would’ve loved the ‘Irn-Bru’ aluminium trailer Sean builds – most definitely made with girders. The 6-knot cruise out of the marina put me into a deeply meditative state. Golden skies saturated everything with supernatural colour. People dining al fresco, the air bursting with garlic-infused seafood … Coming from a grey and cold UK, it messed with my mind. Sean asked me to take the helm about a kilometre out. ‘Give it some stick’, he said – dual sticks, in fact. Well, the last time I experienced grip and poise like that I was hooning round a roundabout in a Lotus Esprit. Clever is our Sean.
The evening BBQ brought some new faces and a sack of hours-old sardines. Sean did what men tend to do and showed us his grilling skills. I concluded after a fish or five that if the apocalypse came I wanted him in my gang. Bono and Foxy did the washing-up …
Off to Lagos at 09:00, where we met Benoit and Linda, and their three children. Everyone boarded Ocean Blue’s other boat, the spacious 9m SeaSafari catamaran powered by twin Honda BF115 XU engines, while Sean and I manned the trailer boat. The Ocean Blue HQ gear room has wetsuits for every size with snorkels, flippers, full-face ‘alien’ masks, bodyboards and RED-branded SUP boards. Guests lacked for nothing. The morning sun lighting up the cliffs and exposing the geological marvels of erosion kept us mesmerised en route to the chosen playground. Towering spires and deep caves are the norm along this coast. The cove of choice was perfect for a paddleboard beginner. Lynne had only a moment’s tuition before she was standing up. Lucy had done that ‘thing’ she does again. From my vantage point on the roof of the 6.9m I could see Lucy in complete control of the helm and her human charges, the omniscient protector whose well-being radar was set to maximum.
On the way back to port I began to understand what a unique team they are. Sean, passionate about making the finest boats and holiday experiences, and just being an all-round good bloke. Lucy, by crikey, is an oceanography graduate, PADI accredited, Yachtmaster, powerboat instructor, entrepreneur and property developer – yet she chooses to be out here helping others to have a good time. Her most obvious and endearing skill to me is that she makes people relaxed while nurturing their potential. Any doubts I had that Ocean Blue Portugal wasn’t for real had been filed under ‘obsolete’.
My brief walk-through of our time spent at Ocean Blue and its environs doesn’t go deeply enough to really explain what happened. The recreation is obvious, but the place and the people get under your skin. The ocean down here draws you like the sirens’ call – little wonder the Portuguese are great seafarers. Its vastness doesn’t haunt you, it hugs you. I have lived on many shores and I wasn’t expecting a mini-break to the Algarve to make me reconsider my ‘retirement’ plans. It fits that Lucy and Sean have now split the IOW boatbuilding business to incorporate Cheetah Marine productions in Portugal. If you subscribe to the idea that there is positive and life-affirming energy in places, then this corner of the world has it in abundance.
Ocean Blue Portugal facilities
- Ideal for families, couples or groups looking to embrace an active and healthy holiday in the sun, Ocean Blue offers a full range of activities to suit all ages, abilities and levels of adventure. Choose to relax and unwind by the pool, organise your own itinerary or take them up on the fantastic experiences on offer.
- Three two-bedroomed Scandi-style luxury self-catering apartments
- A one-bedroomed studio apartment with wheelchair access
- 40ft swimming pool
- Specialised mountain bikes for all abilities tailored to suit
- Range of wetsuits for all sizes
- Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) – locations to suit conditions – beach to beach, river or lake. Lessons and guided tours to suit groups or individuals
- SeaSafari boat excursions with SUP, snorkel and alien mask swimming
- Guided fitness runs from the resort
- Guided walks linking remote villages and the coast
- Guided bike rides tailored to all skill sets
- Personal fitness training
- Wild gym classes
- Yoga provided by Ann de Jonghe – Fit2lovelife
- Splash sessions and surfing with children – all water sports gear used depending on conditions. Surf instruction will run over winter
The Strevens Family’s Favourite Places to Eat
- Tasca do Kiko, Lagos – tapas, seafood, Portuguese, in commercial boatyard Sopramar. ‘The cool stylish interior delights’
- Tasca do Lotto, Lagos – typical Portuguese BBQ restaurant, between marina and boatyard. ‘Very cheap!’
- Terra, Sagres – vegetarian, vegan, meat, international fusion and ‘lots of quirky dangly things’, above Beliche beach (sunset spot)
- Three Little Birds, Rua do Mercado, Sagres – ‘home-made soul food, chilled-out vibes and a simple but outstanding menu’
- Cabanas – bistro on the beach, ‘chilled vibes, bean bags and a great selection of dishes’
- Zavial – beach bistro, restaurant-style food in a shady sheltered spot above the beach
- Ingrina – ‘typical Portuguese seafood tavern above a pristine little bay’
Ocean Blue Portugal
Exclusive hilltop retreat in the Vicentine Coast Natural Park.
Location: Colinha dos Sonhos, Burgau, Algarve, Portugal: 37°04’49.7″N 8°46’41.0″W
Contact: Lucy Strevens, 07980 986232
www.oceanbluequay.co.uk for IOW-based holidays
Lucy will try and accommodate all sorts of ideas to make your time memorable – even something deeply intimate, like the scattering of ashes at sea (where permitted) or a marriage proposal. The essence of Ocean Blue is that it’s personal. This is not obligatory, of course, as you can duck in or out of whatever you like – the time is always your own. But it’s nice to know that there are two very competent hosts always on tap to make your adventure the stuff of memories.