It’s becoming more and more popular to travel with purpose, to explore somewhere for its history, culture or even professional training activities such as offered by The Campus in the luxury resort of Quinta Do Lago, Portugal. An ideal place to get supremely fit and share a fantastic holiday with friends, and rub shoulders with famous football, tennis and golfing heroes.
Set amongst 2,000 acres of the picturesque Ria Formosa National Park, the Campus at Quinta do Lago, in Southern Portugal, is a multi-sport academy hub, designed as a sport and well-being destination and elite performance venue only 15 minutes south of Faro airport. The Ria Formosa is a stunning protected wildlife nature reserve, a unique coastal lagoon of outstanding natural beauty of about 18,000 hectares, protected from the sea by 5 barrier-islands and 2 peninsulas. The Algarve boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, which when you consider it’s only three hours flight from London, make it a natural destination for sportsman, golfers, families and holidaymakers alike.
The Quinta Do Lago golf course is world famous and frequented by top professional golfers including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. It is immaculately maintained and I can attest from driving around it in a golf cart that it is breathtakingly beautiful, a verdant green trimmed wonderland that contrasts magnificently with the numerous wild natural lakes, all bordering the sea.
The Campus is the latest addition to this extraordinary resort, a purpose-built sports facility aimed at training everyone from the highest athletes and sportsmen to the casual holidaymaker who would like to get fit or play better tennis or padel. The Campus consists of a stylish Campus Pavilion for drinks and snacks, alongside The Bike Shed where you can rent the latest high-tech mountain bikes overlooking superb tennis and padel courts. The courts are all of the highest quality, built to professional standards, and they employ top level athletes to train and teach guests, so you can benefit from the same instruction that professional sportsmen would enjoy.
Essentially The Campus is offering people of all levels the best teaching that money can buy, but at great value, and all in superb sunshine. The likes of Burnley football, the GB Para Olympic team, Chinese soccer team Beijing Guoan FC and many other top-level sportsman come here to train and warm-up before a professional game or event.
They also offer high-level football training for children with regular football camps led by Rio Ferdinand, Teddy Sheringham, and Bobby Zamora. This is the place to bring your child so they can polish their football skills with top professionals while you go to the beach, drink a Margarita by the pool or boost your tennis skills and hone that physical perfection under the tutelage of their talented instructors. A way of going on holiday, improving your tan and raising your fitness level so you can get through the winter without having to worry about the long business lunches ahead. Think of it as paunch protection.
There are many places to stay at Quinta Do Lago, but if you’re looking for comfortable, relaxed surroundings the Magnolia Hotel is the perfect choice. It’s also great value for money as you’re paying four star rates whilst staying in a five star resort with five star service and all the amenities. The Magnolia is just next to The Campus, so it’s an ideal base to warm up in the morning with breakfast in the family friendly restaurant and a swim in the pool, before setting out for a round of golf, tennis or cycling round the majestic nature reserve.
I spent a day with one of their charming and friendly tennis pros, Zé, who carefully observed and analysed my distinctly poor tennis skills, then clearly and succinctly showed me how to get each move right. He patiently took me through my backhand, forehand, and serve, explaining in great detail how I should be doing it. It was quite a revelation to be taught so precisely and extraordinary how quickly my tennis progressed. He taught me exactly how far the racket should swing, where it should stop and where it should carry on through, moving on to the application of speed, power and flow. This precise teaching was a delight as I now knew how each stroke should be made and could work with that knowledge to keep improving. Zé is charming with a lovely sense of humour, encouraging and very precise in his techniques so you advance rapidly. He identifies your weakness and develops his lesson accordingly, tailoring it to you. I learnt multiple techniques from him to dramatically improve my tennis. Zé also showed me how to rush for the net to gain advantage and numerous strategies to gain the upper hand. He teaches top professionals as well as beginners, so all levels can enhance their game at The Campus. I played using a Mantis tennis racket that was light and responsive, improving my game, which after a long winter of little exercise needed all the help it could get.
I had lunch at Koko’s Bistro overlooking the golf course, with its own driving range in the garden, so you don’t have to go far to keep your hand in.
I was joined by Michael Breen, project coordinator for The Campus, responsible for delivery of concept, vision, equipment and quality. His philosophy was to design an environment for high performance athletes, then offer this level of equipment and service to all. Superior quality tennis courts and training, but without the superior price tag. No membership, just a pay and play system in place, so no barrier to entry for affordability and commitment. Easy and simple to play when you want to. They have a frequent player program but they are simply trying to offer families and everyone the best facilities and coaching at a good price. Previously the resort aimed at an older very wealthy demographic who liked to play golf. There is a lot of wealth here, as the 20 million Euro villas scattered around the golf course amply demonstrate, but they are aiming to provide activities for all ages and pockets now, all year round.
After the tennis we were introduced to the very charming and helpful Mark Rohan, the double Paralympic gold medal cyclist, who is in charge of the Bike Shed at The Campus and has stocked it with expensive, high quality mountain bikes. We headed out across the golf course, lead by a marine biologist from Greece, who could name all the wildlife and shared the wonders of this marvellous nature reserve in great detail. The route lead us down to the lake, over green hillocks by the beach, along the salt flats, past shimmering lagoons, and over sun bleached causeways. These all afforded mesmerising views of the landscape and the sea beyond, including the charming island that stretches along this coastline up to Faro, reached by a charming two hundred metre wooden pontoon. It is enchanting, you could cycle this for a lifetime and see new things every time. Pristine golf mounds, the Atlantic caught between island and shore, with lakes and lagoons dotted everywhere, birds swooping over the waves, all under an azure sky drenched in a sharp, golden light. The Bike Shed offer a wide variety of these aesthetic routes and even longer cycle tours around the Algarve, for those looking for a greater challenge.
We ended the day at The Shack for dinner, a bar and grill with a wooden balcony overlooking the freshwater lake. A few beers and glasses of fizz went down well, accompanied by a range of tapas, from spicy chicken to burgers, while the sun set over the tiny causeway that separated us from the sea. They even have a golf hole on a miniature island in the middle of the lake and kids can take out a canoe, pedalo or windsurf while you watch from the comfort of your terrace table. The next morning we visited the nearby Loulé market, with typical Portuguese wares, including fresh fish stalls, leather goods, fruit gins, Port, pottery, shoes, almonds, oils, bread, cheeses, meats, textiles and linen. A fine place to sit in any of the local cafes situated around the large central fountain and watch the world go by.
The afternoon was devoted to Padel, Portugal’s latest new fad, now more popular in Spain than tennis, which is somewhere between tennis and squash. The court is smaller than in tennis with glass sides so you can bounce the ball off the walls. The bat is like a beach bat, a short handle with a hard plastic frame and large regularly spaced holes. Padel is an intense, fast and energetic game, without the pauses you get in tennis and a great cardio vascular workout. It tends to even out the difference in skill levels as the better tennis players will have to relearn some of their instincts, though squash players should take to it pretty quick. It’s both a strong physical work out and a brain teaser as you really have to keep your head in the game, playing the bounces off the walls and responding speedily to a wide variety of tactics. The instructors Paulo (they call me George Michael) and Manel (I hate your backhand) were very encouraging, instilling the basics until it became an absorbing, exciting game.
We took a late lunch at Casa Do Lago overlooking the lake, between two small beaches, poised on a slip of land between sea and lake. We sat on the steel and glass balcony that juts out over the water, by the pool, and started wth tapas and some magnificent olives. I enjoyed the tuna sashimi and soft giant prawns, followed by a superb lobster in garlic sauce, then a chocolate tort in mint ice cream, all safe in the knowledge that I’d burnt off at least as many calories playing Padel and cycling. This modern and attractive white adobe restaurant is an ideal place for a long lunch or drinks in the evening and the service is fast and attentive.
The Campus also run an outreach program for local schools as well as teaching schools from all over the world, such as Harrow School in the UK. The Paralympics team stayed and trained here for two months and McElroy recovered here after his recent injury. They are aiming at providing wellness and training for high performance athletes plus a relaxed atmosphere for families and children. Tiger woods played here recently and Rory McElroy stayed while warming up for the US PGA Tour. Even John Terry plays golf here. It’s sports fan heaven, and a chance to brush up on your tennis, football, Padel or cycling next to your sporting heroes.
The Campus aims to be at the forefront of this new trend as Padel’s popularity is growing fast and new teams are emerging everywhere in Europe, including the UK, enticing professionals and newcomers alike to their excellence facilities. This sporting paradise in the Algarve is the place to train, get fit and have a great time doing it, all whilst enjoying a relaxing holiday in gorgeous surroundings.
Images: The Campus, Quinta Do Lago