Portimão’s Crown Jewel and the Timeless Charm of Bela Vista Hotel

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Nestled in Portimão, a sun-soaked resort town on the western fringes of the Algarve, one can revel in the splendour of Praia da Rocha, arguably Portugal’s most renowned beach. With near-constant sunshine, abundant golf courses, vibrant nightlife, and a robust tourist infrastructure, this quaint town draws a global tapestry of visitors.

Though the town thrives on tourism and offers tantalising natural vistas, its architectural ethos is comparatively understated when juxtaposed with Algarve’s more scenic locales like Loulé or Lagos.

Amidst Portimão’s uniformity stands the Bela Vista Hotel, a beacon of elegance. This refined 19th-century family mansion, transformed into a boutique hotel, perches above the beach, offering commanding views of the Atlantic Ocean. Its presence predates the tourism surge, having served guests since 1934. “Bela Vista was established long before the tourist boom. Our unique features position us as a landmark in the region,” notes Gonçalo Narciso dos Santos, the hotel manager of Bela Vista Hotel.

Bela Vista became the first hotel in Algarve in the 30s, which also received the Relais & Chateaux status. Gonçalo Narciso dos Santos is overlooking the property from its inception; he’s putting his perspective towards luxury service and its meaning, as he shares: «Nowadays luxury is perceived as something completely different from what it used to mean. It should not be only about the opulence of the buildings, decoration or the abundance of the elements of luxury design/ outlets like spa, cafes on the property.»

Hence, here, Gonçalo’s goal is to ensure that each guest perceives a shelter-like feeling in the hotel; the noise and bustle from the outer world are left behind as one step inside this lost-in-time-interiors with uplifting, colourful design elements. The staff is enthusiastic about your well-being here; they might easily take the initiative and suggest things you haven’t said yet but were thinking about doing.

"Staying at a hotel like the Bela Vista, where every detail is meticulously considered, is undoubtedly special. However, we'd be just another Algarve hotel without our dedicated staff ensuring guests feel like part of the family. True hospitality is about treating guests as family," affirms Gonçalo.


Within the hotel’s walls lies a tapestry of tales and legends woven from its storied, century-old history and the illustrious guests it has hosted. A treasured relic, the piano gifted by a Finnish general seeking refuge during tumultuous wartime, holds a special place in the hotel’s heritage.

The interiors, masterfully crafted by Graça Viterbo, pay homage to the hotel’s historical legacy. The design harmoniously melds elements such as Brazilian wood, traditional Portuguese tiles adorned with motifs echoing ancient poems, and an exquisite stained-glass ceiling. Room 116, nestled in a turret, boasts an unusually vibrant fuchsia bathroom where sunlight dances through stained-glass windows, casting a kaleidoscope of hues upon the mosaics adorning the shower and bathtub. Complementing this is a lavish Moorish-style bar downstairs, punctuated with bursts of red and yellow furnishings set against a backdrop of monochrome checkered flooring. It feels as though one has stepped into a vivid, surreal daydream.

Externally, the pool mirrors the horizon, flanked by strategically positioned palms. It beckons guests to savour the sunset, cocktail in hand, evoking the essence of the Mediterranean before settling in for dinner.

The Michelin-starred restaurant Vista boasts a bright, white-washed dining room with stunning ocean views. With fewer than ten tables, gentle music, and gracious service, it offers an ambiance of tranquillity and relaxation.

Before taking over Vista in 2015, chef Joao Oliveira collected professional experience in some of the prominent kitchens of Portuguese chefs, such as the Largo do Paço restaurant in Amarante, the Yeatman Hotel in Porto, also with one Michelin star, as well as at Hotel Vila Joya, awarded with two Michelin stars.

Now, he’s proudly showcasing what the region has to offer, using 95% of products collected from the suppliers of Algarve. It’s been almost a decade since he was the chef at Vista, and after 2 years, the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star.

Notably, the ownership has given him a desirable carte blanche that he executes to valorise the local product and tradition throughout his «Sea and sustainability» tasting menu of all kinds of fish and seafood from the Algarve coast.

On the day we met, chef Oliveira drove us to his vegetable supplier of 7 years, Bruno Inacio of Quinta das Castelhanas farm, located less than 6 km from the restaurant.

«There’re many producers around, but Bruno’s approach to gardening and cultivating vegetables is the one closest to me» - says Oliveira.


Bruno Inacio

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Bruno Inacio

Bruno guides us to a space within his farm, reminiscent of a garage, where he houses equipment and an array of vegetables. He’s readied six tomato varieties for his exceptional “tomato and camomile” dish. Additionally, there are duck eggs set to be cured and smoked for the vegetarian menu, celery, baby carrots, borage flowers, coriander, and zucchini flowers — all to be whisked away to a restaurant later.

Bruno reveals his two-hectare permaculture garden, a 17-year-old family enterprise, on our swift tour. Unlike the manicured and regimented plots in the vicinity, his land brims with life and polyculture richness. Fruit trees, vegetable plants, flowers, herbs, and shrubs coexist harmoniously, fostering mutual benefits.

Bruno also rears pigs, rabbits, and chickens. When he offered a freshly plucked goji berry, his octogenarian mother appeared, having been surveying the fields. Each day, she tends to the garden and often whips up a comforting Arroz de Pato, albeit with wild chicken instead of duck, the traditional choice in this authentic Portuguese dish that melds bay leaf, chouriço, garlic, wine, and rice.

Encountering this devoted family fosters reflection on the increasing rarity and privilege of accessing fresh, organic produce.

Before our return to Bela Vista, a descent to the golden sands of Praia da Rocha beach is imperative. The dining tempo at Vista restaurant mirrors the gentle waves caressing the shore of Praia da Rocha, particularly when a southwest swell dovetails with a northern offshore breeze.

Dinner unfolds with delicate flavours that lead one effortlessly through a dozen seafood and vegetable creations. There are no dramatic juxtapositions here; every element feels rightfully positioned.

Consider the sumptuous tomatoes from Bruno’s plot. They’re marinated in yuzu, Moroccan lemon, and camomile, then encased in a herbaceous jelly, accompanied by a tomato sorbet and a vibrant tomato water infused with coriander leaves, basil, and hints of hibiscus.

Chef has taken the classic Algarve fisherman dish, cuttlefish stew with paprika, garlic, and parsley, and innovatively served it with a doughnut crowned with cuttlefish carpaccio and caviar. Presented in a glass pan, it pays homage to fishermen who eat directly from such pans. The traditional Portuguese Canja de Galinha soup is accentuated with Alvor clams and halophytic herbs, achieving a medley of vivid flavours and impeccable seasoning.

The subsequent dish, featuring Scarlet shrimp from Vila Real de Santo António, with roasted pepper, showcases the pride of local seafood. The shrimp, sourced from Portugal’s warmer coastal waters, possesses an exceptional sweetness. The sauce is prepared tableside in a granite mortar, the grilled prawn head is ground, releasing its umami-rich juices. These juices are so delightful that they could even be served as a dessert.

Observing how chef Oliveira centres his culinary creations around local heritage is invigorating; drawing inspiration from Algarve’s fishermen and Portimão’s producers is invigorating. He pays tribute to traditional preparation methods, modernising them to captivate guests. Instead of seeking the limelight, he prioritises gentle seasoning and product-focused combinations, ensuring the ingredients shine.


Joao Oliveira


Biological Tomato & Chamomile


Cuttlefish & Roe


Pink shrimps, squid, crab and galangal

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Sourdough, seaweed bread, smoked butter, anchovies in olive oil


Grilled Scarlet shrimp head

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Scarlet shrimp from VRSA & Roasted pepper


"Algarve Orange" Cocktail

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