Alison Jones enjoys afternoon tea in the Algarve, at a delightful boutique hotel owned by a British couple.
The author Henry James observed in Portrait of a Lady that “there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea”.
The fact that our hot beverages were accompanied by traditional Portuguese custard tarts, chewily delicious with their puff pastry bottoms and caramelised tops, rather than crustless cucumber sandwiches and scones revealed this was an English tradition with a continental flavour.
Newly arrived at Quinta Bonita boutique hotel on the Algarve, we had only just scarfed down a fine lunch of breads, meats and cheeses on the terrace.
Yet still we could not resist this daily ritual introduced by our hosts Chantelle and Fraser and we duly gathered on the verandah overlooking the pool for it.
It was a delightful pause in the day, a chance to meet our fellow guests and follow our English genetic programming to talk about the weather (the mercury had been nudging 90) and the traffic (the A22 had been clearer than an Olympic lane before the athletes arrived)
It was also an opportunity for bonding in our mutual bemusement over the still newish motorway toll system, which as a way of putting some much needed cash in the country’s coffers seemed badly flawed.
Because it is electronic there are no toll booths to pay at while you are actually using it. Licence plates are caught on camera, the tally totalled up and after two days you are obliged to go and pay it at the local post office.
The problem is that the savvy Portuguese know how to avoid the roads where they have to pay (leaving the motorways blissfully free of traffic, which for someone like me who uses the M6 daily is a holiday in itself).
And because many tourists use the toll roads for their journey back to the airport, the amount owed for that doesn’t come due until after they have left the country. Barmy!
The other main topic of discussion was food. Even as we were tucking into the delicious cakes, which included homemade offerings, our minds were already on our evening meal.
Chantelle and Fraser had helpfully put a list of local restaurants in the rooms for the guests to work their way through. Everyone had their favourites and all of them more than lived up to their rave reviews.
We were also invited to put aside Friday evening to enjoy a meal expertly cooked by the self-taught Fraser with ingredients fresh from the garden, by which time the regular tea time chats and the aperitifs before dinner meant we were such a convivial bunch we asked for all the tables to be pushed together so we could dine like family.
Indeed, staying at Quinta Bonita was a little like being at a house party.
It actually used to be a family holiday home. Just 15 minutes from Lagos and perched above the Algarve coast, it was the first house to be built in Matos Morenos – exactly 40 years ago.
Quinta means estate and Bonita is used a word used to describe a beautiful woman.
The Kortekaas family bought it in 1981 and Chantelle, who hails from Richmond – Fraser is a Scot – grew up spending her summer holidays there.
A great source of pride are the fantastic grounds. Divided into sections and nurtured over years, they are a blend of English country garden and Italian sensibility, with beautiful rose beds, lavender-lined pathways, trees laden with citrus fruit, terraces of flowers, a tiled garden room with marble table, statuary, fountains and a giant chess board.
When we arrived we found sprigs of fresh rosemary placed on the bathrobes folded neatly onto the beds, which was just one of many sweet personal touches.
Chantelle and Fraser decided to run Quinta Bonita as a boutique hotel after relocating there following nine years in the Antipodes and South America.
Adding another floor, they roped in the relatives to help with the renovations. Chantelle’s mum, Denise, took care of the interior design, Chantelle’s dad Hans worked on the garden and Fraser’s step dad, Willie (a civil engineer), rebuilt the exterior bathroom. Finally, paintbrushes were pressed into the hands of siblings and friends when they came to visit.
Fraser and Chantelle added a personal touch with mementoes from their travels and examples of local crafts – from the tiles (azulejos) to Monchique scissor chairs to the works of local painters – and opened for business two years ago.
It has just eight bedrooms, each with its own terrace or balcony, all of them charmingly named after the local beaches.
We were in Ingrina Suite. We didn’t make it to that beach but did spend a pleasurable afternoon sunbathing on the one that gave its name to the Salema Suite. Salema is a small fishing village with a few hotels and a beachside restaurant with superb sea views, catering to tourists drawn by the long stretch of golden sand beneath towering cliffs.