TRAVEL: Why Vilamoura Is A Great Destination For Kerry Holidaymakers

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Dermot Crean sees why Vilamoura is so popular with Kerry people heading to the Algarve this summer… 

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The Marina at Vilamoura on the Algarve.

“EH, what the hell am I doing up here?”

It’s a pertinent question I’m asking myself, having spent the previous few minutes climbing 20 flights of steps, to get 32 metres on high overlooking the biggest, most spectacular waterpark on the Algarve – Aquashow.

I find myself near the top of the queue for an almost vertical waterslide called the ‘Free Fall’ billed as the tallest in Europe, which offers an unattractive opportunity for some bowel-emptying thrills.

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How was this ever a good idea? Everyone else in the queue is tanned, fit, around 20 years-old and capable of withstanding the sensation of being a human aquabullet. I’m an overweight, greying, middle-aged paddy with all the athleticism of a sloth on codeine.

The three Portuguese teenage girls in front of me – who are about to take the plunge – are playing the annoying “you go first!” “no, you go first!” game, much to the chagrin of the surly, aviator-shade-wearing female lifeguard.

Eventually she says something and they all look at me. Now my Portuguese is a bit rusty, but I’m pretty sure the girls’ reply translated as “ok, let ‘grey flubber’ go first”.

The lifeguard takes a good look at me and says (rather than asks) “first time”. I’m told to lie back, cross my arms over shoulders, cross my legs and get going.

Here goes…

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The Free Fall at Aquashow near Vilamoura in Portugal. Terrified middle-aged Irishman not pictured.

So, before I explain how I had to extract my swimming trunks from my lower intestines, let’s go back to the question at the start of this review.

We to go on a family sun holiday this year and convenience was a big factor considering we have a six year old girl.

We had been to Vilamoura twice before – the last time four years ago – and find it to be a laid back, family friendly resort. Most importantly though, it’s just 25 minutes (€50 return by private taxi) from an airport that connects with Farranfore.

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The Kerry-Faro service really is a fantastic way to reach the sunny Algarve and is especially perfect for families with small kids.

We didn’t fancy making the 90 minute journeys to Cork or Shannon airports and if you can get a lift out to Farranfore from a family member or friend – as we did – then there’s no petrol or parking costs.

We flew out on Saturday at 5.30pm and were in our room at the Hotel Vila Gale Ampalius, located next to the beach, a three minute walk from the famous Marina in Vilamoura, by 9pm that evening.

I don’t know if it was because we booked back in January or what, but we were upgraded to senior suite on arrival…which was nice (©The Fast Show).

Vilamoura is a manmade resort, built in the 1960s, but don’t let that put you off. It has a lovely, long beach, more golf courses that you can shake a nine iron at, fantastic restaurants and lively bars.

The whole area of food and entertainment revolves around the Marina though, which is thronged every night with families, couples of all ages, the odd hen and stag and the ubiquitous golfers.

It’s definitely not tacky or party central though. If you’re into clubbing and hedonism, parts of Albufeira down the road is the place for the gangs of girls and guys in the 18 to 30 set.

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People enjoying meals and drinks on the decking area as the sun sets on Vilamoura Marina.

There’s more of a easy-going vibe on the Marina, with many restaurants now having a decking area over the water which are either extensions of the eateries or cocktail/champagne lounges with Air/Zero 7 type music playing in the background.

We ate around the Marina area most nights and enjoyed good food every time with a lively atmosphere. It’s not cheap though compared to other parts of the Algarve.

The prices are more like home with a three course meal and bottle of wine for two setting you back over the €90 mark (as always, watch out for the ‘complimentary’ bread for which you’ll be charged around €2.50 per person unless you send it away).

If you go on the streets behind the Marina, the restaurants are just as good, if not better, and you’ll get better value too – the best meal we had all week was in a very stylish Italian restaurant called Stracta behind The Irish Cabin pub.

There’s loads to do for the family around Vilamoura too with boat trips, water sports, wildlife parks and of course the great beaches to visit, but we spent most of our afternoons lounging by the pool where the six year old had a ball with other children.

Then there’s the Aquashow.

This was the highlight of the holiday for our little one…ok, and for me!

A short €8 taxi ride away, it’s billed as the biggest on the Algarve. It really is a fantastic place with loads of rides, rollercoasters, slides and entertainment for all ages and three restaurants which mainly serve fast food.

We spent around five hours there and only went on half the attractions. It’s €25 per adult and €16 for our daughter – with the 15% discount at selected shops and online – which is great value as all the rides are free after that (how long would €16 last at Birds Amusements!).

So that’s how I found myself about to descend down a water slide faster than the mood of Welsh soccer fan at 3.50pm on Thursday.

The whole experience lasts around – in my case – the length of time it takes to wildly scream “oh shite!” 47 times. About four seconds.

You shoot down at about a 50º angle, hoping you can keep your shape and dignity, but by the end the legs have uncrossed, you’re banging from side to side  and arms are flailing.

At the bottom, I got up, a little dazed but exhilarated, with the lifeguard below nodding and giving a questioning thumbs-up. I reciprocated, dishonestly.

So with the holiday season now in full swing, if you’re dithering about a break in the sun, Vilamoura is a fantastic spot for couples or families with loads to do on its doorstep.

• Kerry Airport operates flights on the Kerry-Faro route on Tuesdays and Saturdays through Ryanair until September. Check the website for flight times and availability.

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